Black journalists in Atlantic Canada and beyond have come together to inspire the next generation of Canadian media across the country.
The second edition of J-School Noire Halifax took place on Feb. 13 to 14, 2021. The free two-day workshop provided journalism courses for Black high school students by Canada’s top Black journalists.
Held by the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ), J-School Noire began last year in Halifax. This year workshops took place virtually in Ottawa, Halifax, Edmonton and Toronto during Black History Month.
The goal of the program is to show young Black Canadians a career in media is possible for them, said Brian Daly, the CABJ Atlantic director who runs the J-School Noire program nationally.
“I couldn’t begin to list the number of different things that [the Black community] has to say and can contribute,” Daly said in an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette. “So part of our goal as an organization is to simply carve out more space in the Canadian tapestry for Black voices.”
The program provides training in video production, podcasting, writing and interviewing, but is always changing to adapt to media trends, Daly said. The program’s main sponsors are Google and the University of King’s College. It is also supported by CTV and the CBC.
Changing the media landscape
“When you’re a teenager and you come up with what you want to do when you grow up, being a journalist is just not on the list for Black families,” Daly said.
As such, the ultimate goal of J-School Noire is to make young Black Canadians see themselves in journalism, Daly said. After the first edition of the program in 2020, they saw some success.
“The big payoff came when one of our students informed us a few weeks after the event that she was going to apply to journalism school. She had wanted to pursue a career in law. But she said that she decided to change her mind, and she’s going to apply to journalism school,” Daly said. “That’s incredible right there.”
J-School Noire is working to combat the lack of racial diversity in Canadian newsrooms. Reporting that neglects issues affecting racialized people contributes to the mythology that Canada is not a racist country, Daly said.
“Part of the problem there is that Black voices haven’t been loud enough, haven’t been prominent enough in our culture,” he said. “These institutions need us. We need to take a bigger and more proactive role in being part of this extremely important institution called media.”
Daly said the current media landscape in Canada doesn’t accurately represent the country. “In [the Black community], we have an issue with the media where there is a small number, a really low number of Black journalists. The numbers in the media don’t come close to representing the population in the community.”
At the moment, Canadians associate Black people with racism, crime, sports and entertainment, he said.
Increasing diversity in Canadian newsrooms will allow for the broader acceptance of Black people inhabiting a variety of roles in Canadian society, Daly said.
An increase in the presence of Black journalists in Canadian newsrooms will also prevent tokenism from happening within media organizations, Daly said. Speaking from personal experience, Daly said Black journalists often feel isolated in their newsrooms by the pressure of being the only Black person within the organization.
“People are turning to you for solutions to problems you couldn’t possibly solve yourself,” he said. “Sometimes you wonder: ‘Are they looking at me for what I am? For what I am here to do, which is to do a job? Or are they looking at me as the Black guy?’”
The University of King’s College, is also working to improve diversity in Canadian newsrooms through the creation of new scholarships for Black Canadian students who’d like to study journalism at King’s.
In an email to the Gazette, Tim Currie, the director of the school of journalism at King’s, said J-School Noire is a great opportunity for King’s to advertise these scholarships to future journalists.
“The Canadian media industry needs a broader spectrum of voices within it,” Currie said in his email. “J-School Noire is encouraging students at an early age to consider a career in the media, and it’s offering them skills training and support to make that happen. It’s an important initiative and King’s is very pleased to support it.”
Providing the tools for a new age of media
Daly said J-School Noire seeks to provide students with basic storytelling and reporting skills that encompass the full definition of media in 2021, which can take many forms from social media reporting to traditional print writing.
“If a young person decides to get into the media, it doesn’t have to be the mainstream media,” Daly said. “It could be that they decide they want to start a YouTube channel or that they want to start up their own digital publication.”
Though the program was forced to become virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students in 2020 received hands-on training in the Nova Scotia Community College TV studio.
This year, the program had a heavier focus on podcast production and social media reporting to keep up with the trends in the media market, Daly said.
Thanks to the support the program has received from its sponsors, J-School Noire looks to improve in the years ahead, Daly said. Currently, there is work being done to make the program count as a high school credit. Likewise, the CABJ is working with YouTube to create a webinar on video journalism.