How two publications are turning community members into journalists

Lela Savic and Emilee Gilpin are decolonizing journalism and making it more accessible to their communities.

Journalism is not an accessible industry.

For many people from marginalized communities, journalism school can be prohibitively expensive and not at all accommodating. Folks who identify as BIPOC or low-income often miss out on opportunities to break into the industry. As a result, Canadian newsrooms don’t reflect the diversity of the wider population they serve.

This is a barrier that Lela Savic, editor-in-chief of La Converse, is trying to destroy. La Converse is a community-driven francophone publication based in Quebec. It aims to make journalism and information accessible to everyone.

“We take a very different approach to journalism, not everyone can master it,” she says. “We invest a lot of time in our stories and think about the different angles we can take.”

The lack of diversity and accessibility in journalism is personal to her – she experienced it first hand. Savic was a single mother when she attended journalism school many years ago. Her mother would babysit her daughter while she attended evening classes to finish her degree. It took her a long time to finish her degree, especially since there wasn’t financial support for single mothers at her school at the time.

Savic now spends a lot of time working with journalists from communities traditionally underrepresented by Canadian media. She also trains her contributors who haven’t attended journalism school or worked in journalism before.

“I basically turned myself into a journalism professor. We talk about interviews, storytelling, solutions journalism… Our training sessions are pretty ad-hoc,” Savic says.

Savic focuses on the basics, like making sure to work with her contributors on how to thoroughly dissect and report on a story.

She also runs storytelling workshops and anti-oppressive training to help her writers develop their critical thinking skills to approach journalism differently.

For Savic, La Converse is not a BIPOC-centered media outlet; it is an outlet that accurately reflects the population of Quebec. The province’s media is still dominated by white people, which doesn’t reflect the diversity of the province at all, she says. Accessible journalism plays an important part in decolonizing Quebec media.

“It is hard for an emerging reporter of colour in Quebec to find a job because of systemic racism. If you didn’t get a chance for an education, or if you weren’t given the chance to do a paid internship, you will never be able to break into the industry.”

A similar model is being used at IndigiNews, an independent Indigenous news outlet based in the Okanagan and Vancouver Island areas. Emilee Gilpin, the paper’s managing editor, aims to decolonize the journalism industry by reporting on and amplifying Indigenous stories.

Many of her writers do not have formal journalism training, so she hosts workshops on topics such as anti-oppression and trauma-informed journalism. She also brings in other journalists to talk about their experiences and expertise in the field. Gilpin hosts these workshops on Zoom where she will screen-share her presentations, documents and other educational materials to her team.

“There’s not a huge amount of Indigenous journalists in Canada. When I first started at IndigiNews, I was an advisor to the project. I wanted to hire journalists who had experience and could hit the ground running, but the tricky part was that we don’t have a big population of Indigenous journalists,” she says.

But decolonization and anti-racism work should never be on the shoulders of BIPOC people. Journalism schools also play a large role in decolonizing the industry. Schools can start by reaching out to Indigenous communities and teach students the importance of journalism, says Gilpin. They also need to hire more full-time Indigenous faculty, because representation matters.

“If somebody says that an established Indigenous journalist is teaching at this particular journalism school, I am more likely to join that program because I can see what they do and read what they’ve written,” says Gilpin.

Journalism schools also need to break down financial barriers for students from marginalized communities. Savic had a hard time finding financial support as a single parent when she attended journalism school. She believes that there needs to be more scholarships for students who are low-income, BIPOC or single parents.

“If there are no scholarships, there are no ways for a person from a marginalized group to enter the profession. This is especially true if someone is required to apply to internships, which are largely unpaid, in order to graduate,” says Savic.

In the news


And one more thing… 

Today we want to highlight a great new initiative, Shared Bylines, a scholarship and mentorship program for BIPOC Canadian student journalists. Their team is looking for mentors and funders.

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