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How the Daily News reacted to allegations of racism

By Gazette Staff

It was nearly midnight and Matthew Byard already felt bored. One down, seven hours to go. On this Friday night in January 2007 few customers shivered through the automatic doors into Sobey’s on North Street where Byard, 22 at the time, worked security.

To help pass the time, the former Atlantic Media Institute student tucked into his nightly collection of newspapers and magazines: Cosmopolitan, Frank, the Daily News and the Herald.
“They were about to become yesterday’s news,” remembered the African Nova Scotian, who now works at Dalhousie’s Black Student Advisory Centre and the Black Cultural Centre.
He leafed through the pages of the Daily News and began reading an article in the Opinions section by Alex J. Walling.
“Paris should stop playing race card,” the headline warned.
The small picture above Walling’s byline showed a smiling White man with two chins.
“I take exception to the allegations from Waverly-Fall River Beaver Bank MLA Percy Paris on the touchy topic of racism,” Walling wrote.
“This was a hot issue that week,” remembered Byard as he revisited the article from 2007. “Everybody and their dog had an opinion.”
“Here’s my point,” Walling wrote. “Why is it that every time something seems to go wrong for a Black man, the race card is used?”
“At that point I probably fucking flipped,” said Byard, who seldom swears. “To me it came across as racist.”
The next day Byard couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d read, so he sat down and typed his thoughts. On Monday, Jan. 22, the Daily News printed four letters to the editor after responses to Walling’s article flooded in over the weekend. Byard’s was the first.
“As a 23-year-old Black man who has had things go wrong that I admit have had nothing to do with my race, I take exception to the suggestion that I would have used some sort of ‘race card’ to explain my misfortune. As a Black man who has been the victim of both subtle and blatant discrimination, I take exception to his suggestion that my claims would be unfounded … To pinpoint a clear-cut undeniable list of examples of racism can be strenuous, mind-boggling and stressful to those on the receiving end. As a result, it often goes unmentioned, and frustration builds.”
Angry readers led Daily News editor Jack Romanelli to a critical crossroads: would he ignore or respond to the allegations of racism?
On Thursday, Feb. 1, his decision filled the front page: “Stolen Hopes, Stolen Dreams” the headline declared in caps. “Our Editor’s Round Table grapples with Nova Scotia’s most highly charged topic – racism.”
Coverage of the contentious issue comprised five additional pages that day in reaction to a “firestorm of letters”. The Daily News hosted, and printed the transcript of, a round table discussion that aimed to answer the question: Is there racism in Nova Scotia?
The dialogue was far from positive. At one point, the discussion brought tears to the eyes of Wanda Thomas-Bernard, head of Dalhousie’s School of Social Work. She challenged the Daily News for under-representing and misrepresenting visible minorities.
“You have a responsibility in terms of the education of the wider public,” she said. “People read your paper. Common, every-day people who have no exposure to people who don’t look like themselves read your paper. So what can you do to educate the public? I want to invite you to critically examine yourselves. You need to do that. And it can’t be one or two columns here and there every two weeks or so. You have to offer us something more. We have newsworthy stories; newsworthy experiences; we have a whole history that isn’t being taught and isn’t getting the kind of exposure it needs.”
An editor’s note ran below her statement:
“Newspapers, as a famous quote goes, should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. So we are happy to accept Wanda Thomas-Bernard’s challenge. As a first step, we have funded a $1,000 yearly scholarship, with a guarantee of a summer internship, for an African Nova Scotian in the King’s College journalism program. And we have asked members of our advisory panel to regularly review coverage. Now we issue our own challenge to policy- and decision-makers. Join us in a second round table to continue this discussion in the hopes of raising tolerance and balancing the playing field.”
The newspaper hoped to create a starting point for community debate. The round table successfully found the answer to its question about the existence of racism. But it didn’t “defuse landmines” as the Feb. 1 editorial suggested.
One year later, Transcontinental shut down the Daily News.

Newsrooms lack racially diverse reporters
As a former Daily News copy editor, Tattrie saw the round table on racism before it went to print. He had the impression Romanelli genuinely wanted to confront racism to compensate for a lack of balance. Romanelli could not be reached for comment before this article went to print.
“For most reporters, for most journalists, they really do want to see a balanced portrayal,” Tattrie said.
However, the Daily News wasn’t able to fully balance its news coverage because, as the former copy editor said, the newsroom was “pretty much a sea of white.”
Out of the approximately 100 employees of the Daily News at the time, Tattrie named three writers who were racially diverse.
A Diversity Watch report by the Ryerson School of Journalism found that newspapers lagged in hiring racialized people, who they called “racial minorities”. The study took a census of Canadian newsrooms between 1994 and 2004. In newspapers with circulations of over 100,000, the study found a four per cent representation of racial minorities in newsrooms. In reality, racialized people make up 24 per cent of Canada’s population according to Diversity Watch. In Halifax, racialized people make up about 10 per cent of the population according to a Statistics Canada report from 2006.
In addition, Diversity Watch found editors’ commitments to hiring racial minorities had dropped. In 1994, 26 per cent of editors said they had a “very strong commitment” to hiring racial minorities. In 2004, just 13 per cent had the same commitment.
When asked to explain the lack of racial minorities in their newsrooms, a large number of editors said, “Minorities just don’t apply here.”
Currently, ‘minorities’ don’t have a chance if they apply at the Herald. Due to the recession, the newspaper has a freeze on hiring.
A recent Herald intern who preferred not to be named said, “The newsroom is exclusively white, unless I’m forgetting someone, though it’s pretty balanced gender-wise. Most people have been there for at least 10 to 15 years. … I’d say that a lack of diversity is perhaps a side-affect of a lack of staff turnover. People don’t leave and they don’t hire.”
Canada’s Top 100 Employers for 2010 reveals that two per cent of Herald employees, and four per cent of managers, are “visible minorities”.
The Coast and Metro News do not employ any reporters or editors who are racialized people.
At the Gazette, our photo editor Pau Balite is from the Phillipines. However, the rest of us are White.
Tattrie said White people don’t instinctively see systemic racism, so it ends up in print. When White people make up the majority of newsroom staff, they don’t seek out stories from racially diverse communities. Therefore less racial diversity appears in the paper.
Tattrie suggested this problem could be remedied if editors hired more journalists from diverse racial backgrounds. As an example, he pointed to a Daily News article about the city removing “squatters” such as Eddie Carvery from Seaview Park, the former site of Africville.
“White people, I’m talking about, we wouldn’t see the ridiculousness of Walter Fitzgerald saying, ‘We can’t just let people take our land – we’ve got to kick them off.’ Somebody from an Africville background would immediately see that for what it was (Eddie Carvery grew up on that land). A lot of things like that. We would just hear them differently if we were from a different background.”
He said students in the King’s College journalism school are mostly White, so the reporters are going to be mostly White.
“It’s a difficult cycle to get out of given that there aren’t reporters coming from different (racial) communities, so (racialized) people don’t see that as a career path.”

As a King’s journalism student, I see what Tattrie’s talking about. My classes are unquestionably filled with White students, and professors.
In Discourses of Domination – a book that can be found in the King’s Library – Frances Henry and Carol Tator write: “White culture is the hidden norm against which the ‘differences’ of all other subordinate groups are evaluated. For those who have inherited its mantle, Whiteness suggests normality, truth, objectivity, and merit.”
White journalists must strive to be aware of this ingrained bias when we write, and when we look for story ideas.
As Keith Woods wrote in the Poynter Online article “Reporting on Race Relations”, representing race and racism in complex terms – rather than in euphemisms or metaphors – begs for “a strong focus on the fundamental tools of good journalism, along with an investigator’s resolve to work through this subject’s unique obstacles.”
Woods suggested reporters look for unfamiliar ways to frame a story, rather than simple, universal themes of oppression, supremacy, inferiority, conflict, fear, ignorance, love, unity, redemption, hatred, pain or confusion.
“Find a broader range of voices; employ more of those universal elements to tell what is surely going to be a complex story.”
Woods said reporters should be sure to include context because it helps their readers understand “why people respond to one another as they do.”
But Stephen Kimber, professor and Chair of the King’s Journalism department, said reporters aren’t given the tools or the time to look deeper.
“There’s a kind of catch-22 these days in coverage – that we’re reducing the number of reporters out there and we’re expecting them to do more to fill the space,” he said.
He suggested that because newsroom managers aren’t giving reporters enough time, they do not ask deeper questions or find the right sources – real people rather than experts.
“I think the best thing we can do as reporters is to go as deeply as possible into things, but trying to keep our minds open.”
When Kimber began writing a feature for The Coast about Uniacke Square, he hung out with kids in the neighbourhood and listened to them talk.
“The role of a journalist is really to go in and to be a foreign correspondent in your own backyard,” he said. “To go in and try and see the world fresh.”
Kimber said journalists have less of a problem reporting with fresh eyes and ears in an actual foreign country.
Asaf Rashid hopes copies of Racism in Perspective land in the laps of local editors. He wants them to digest it, learn from it.
“It is a lot of effort,” Rashid said of reporting stories that involve racialized groups. “You have to find people. You have to talk to one contact. They give you another contact. They give you another contact. Yes it’s difficult.”
But, he said, “It’s totally worth it.”

Thank you Fred Vallance Jones and Bruce Wark for your considerable help and advice. This feature was originally intended for publication in the King’s Journalism Review. Dan Leger rescinded his comments from an earlier interview because he did not want them to appear in the Gazette.

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