Back in August, after I wrote about it for Friday Things, I spoke with the New York Times about why Lisa LaFlamme’s firing resonated with people across (and outside) Canada. In short: many, many people—especially women—were outraged over the sexism she experienced, and particularly the idea that Bell Media higher-ups had a problem with LaFlamme's decision to let her hair go gray during the pandemic, because they’d experienced similar treatment. But during that interview, I tried to make another point, too: that the real takeaway from the LaFlamme story is not just that misogyny and ageism exist, but that if one of the most senior, decorated, respected, well-paid women in journalism can be treated like this, we have to acknowledge that those of us with significantly less power and privilege are facing even worse. So, while I was glad to see the outrage, what we really need as an industry is an acknowledgement that misogyny and ageism impact everyone—and to pay as much attention to the women of colour who have been talking about their experiences as to the white women we’ve already been listening to.
As an industry, we didn’t really do that over the summer. But now, we have another chance. That’s because last Friday, CP24 weather specialist and on-air personality Patricia Jaggernauth revealed that she had left the station and filed a human rights complaint against its parent company, Bell Media. (Yes, the very same Bell Media that fired LaFlamme; the company is also facing a lawsuit from conservative cultural commentator Jamil Jivani, who says he was “hired as tokenism and fired as wokeism,” according to the National Post. And let’s not forget former eTalk anchor Danielle Graham, who’s suing Bell Media over allegations of gender discrimination.)
First in an interview with CBC, then in a pair of videos posted on her Instagram, Jaggernauth, who is Jamaican and Guyanese, detailed a litany of unfair treatment: she was repeatedly passed over for promotions, all the while watching white colleagues progressing in their careers—even those with less experience than her. She was paid less than a living wage, something she credits to a “severe gender and race wage gap” at the station. Despite working at the company for 11 years, she didn’t have a contract and was technically a freelancer who was only guaranteed two days of work per week, which meant she had to take on freelance work to make ends meet, which “forced [her] to work weeks straight without a day off — an experience she says landed her in hospital with pneumonia because she felt she had no choice but to put work ahead of her health,” according to the CBC article. What’s more, according to the Star, “the CHRC complaint, dated Oct. 5, says the company… has restricted her from freelancing to earn money outside of the company.”
I can’t tell you how deeply I felt it when @Patricia_J said, “How come I'm always good enough to fill in but never good enough to invest in?” This industry is very good at exploiting people, especially women of colour, and making us feel like it’s our fault. https://t.co/Lg4TOOv73F— Stacy Lee Kong (@stacyleekong) October 8, 2022
But the part that resonated the most with me was when she said she was treated like a token, often given opportunities to fill in for white colleagues when they were off sick or on vacation, but never hired for those roles herself: “How come I’m always good enough to fill in but never good enough to invest in?” she asked.
Jaggernauth is not the only woman of colour in Canadian media who has asked herself that question. It’s one I have asked myself a lot, especially right before I started Friday Things. As I wrote back in 2020, throughout my career I have often been asked to take on very senior editorial responsibilities—but never with the paycheque, title or decision-making power that should come with those responsibilities. So, when I applied for three executive-level jobs in 2019 and lost each one to a white colleague, I came to a realization: the people who make hiring decisions in this country might never see me as a leader, so if I wanted to run a publication, I was going to have to create one myself. Getting fed up was what inspired me to really try this, so I can see how Patricia’s experiences eventually pushed her to leave Bell Media and to file a formal complaint.
But I don’t actually want to talk about Jaggernauth’s experiences as much as I want to talk about how this industry is talking about them—or rather, isn’t. To be fair, she’s not known across the country like LaFlamme, who was a national newscaster at Bell Media for decades. (Also, LaFlamme’s husband is a senior advisor at PR firm Navigator, so she may have had more resources when it came to PR.) But there is another recent case that’s maybe a better comparison: Jennifer Valentyne. The television personality was best known for her long-running tenure on Breakfast Television in Toronto, but in May, when she released a 13-minute video detailing the abusive behaviour she faced from a former radio co-host (she didn’t name names, but she was talking about John Derringer, host of Q107’s Derringer in the Morning, and the station’s parent company, Corus Entertainment) the response from the wider industry was immediate. Everyone was talking about it, and posting messages of support and solidarity.
I don't see @Patricia_J getting near the support Lisa LaFlamme got when she spoke out against Bell Media's discrimination. The lack of solidarity for Black people who speak out against racism is so typical. Nothing new! I believe you Patricia. I'm here for you. Still, you rise!— Birgit Uwaila Umaigba 🇳🇬 (@birgitomo) October 11, 2022
While I’ve definitely seen messages of support for Jaggernauth, especially on her own social pages, there hasn’t been a corresponding response from the industry at large, despite her and Valentyne having similar profiles. Her story didn’t become a days-long trending topic, there was only a smattering of media coverage and I’m not seeing the most powerful people in journalism come to defence—or even talk about what she says happened to her. And I think we have to be honest with ourselves about why that is. LaFlamme and Valentyne are white women whose struggles resonate with other white women—and that’s who makes up most of this industry. (According to the Canadian Association of Journalists’ first diversity survey, conducted in 2021, 52.7% of all newsroom staff identified as women and, among those who reported their race, 74.9% identified as white.) To be clear, it’s not that I think our industry sees nothing wrong with a racialized woman being tokenized, overlooked or exploited. It’s that I don’t think many people see the way women of colour are treated in this industry as part of a collective fight... which makes sense, tbh, because people are more likely to support or be vocal about an injustice they can identify with.
This dynamic also reminds me of the response to the journalists, most of them racialized women, who were subject to racist, violent, terrifying abuse this summer thanks to a literal hate campaign. According to the Star, “several Canadian journalists—nearly all of them women, many of whom are Black, Indigenous, and women of colour— [were] targeted by an escalating hate campaign using encrypted email services. The emails drip with racial hatred and include threats of violence and rape. In at least one case, threats were directed at a reporter’s family… Reporters were being surveilled, the messages said. An Edmonton Journal reporter was told those watching her were instructed to break her bones.” The first journalists to speak out were Saba Eitizaz, a co-host and producer on the Star’s podcast team, Global News political reporter Rachel Gilmore and The Hill Times columnist Erica Ifill, but others were targeted too, including the Star’s Raisa Patel, Angelyn Francis and Jenna Moon.
The campaign did receive industry attention, of course, including a well-attended Twitter Space about protecting BIPOC and marginalized journalists, which about 1,000 people tuned into. But it’s hard not to notice how widely LaFlamme’s story circulated and how many companies, institutions and regular people spoke out in support (brands redesigned their logos in solidarity!), compared to the much smaller reaction these journalists received, even though their experiences were objectively scarier.
Y’all I just read that email in full and I’m literally shaking. I have to swipe this tweet. In this email is:— Red Velvet Cake (@wickdchiq) August 4, 2022
☠️ death threats
☠️ threats of sexual violence
☠️ inference of further action
And it mentions me, Rachel and Saba directly#cdnpoli #cdnmedia
This all plays into another thing I’ve been thinking about, which is how eager the world is to go ‘back to normal.’ I’ve seen science journalists and Twitter experts talk a lot about how we can’t actually go back to a pre-COVID world; that our society has irrevocably changed and that we need to understand and embrace that. I think the same is true of our understanding of race.
To be fair, it seems like many people would prefer to pretend this isn’t the case, because despite all the promises corporations and institutions made in the summer of 2020, all the DEI trainings managers organized and new programs they instituted, there hasn’t been that much material change. In January, the Financial Times reported that, while “271 US corporations have pledged $67bn towards racial equity since Floyd’s murder, with funds to be used for everything from overhauling their own internal recruiting and inclusion programmes to investing in communities of colour and donating to civil rights organisations… only $652m of those funds had actually been disbursed by the start of 2022.” Just this week, Warner Bros. announced it was shutting down its Television Workshop for emerging writers and directors, as well as Stage 13, its digital shortform programming division, both of which have become important resources for diverse talent who wanted to break into the TV industry. (Warner Bros. exec Karen Horne quickly clarified that the workshops were being relocated from the TV division to the company’s corporate DEI team, but not before the Directors Guild of America reminded everyone that these types of workshops are mandated by its collective bargaining agreement.) And while I don't have data to back this up, but I also feel a... let's call it cooling interest in addressing racism, as if (white) people think because we have talked a lot about it over the past two years, everything’s fixed now. Spoiler alert: no.
Staff engagement in DEI efforts is dwindling across industries. Here are a few tips for overcoming fatigue in your workplace 🧵— Anti-Racism Daily (@ARDTakeAction) October 10, 2022
But while people might be tired of talking about racism and businesses might be trying to avoid following through on the investments and structural fixes they promised to make, there’s one inescapable fact: we have changed. Racialized people have been empowered to talk about our experiences, and to not only expect the world to listen but also to demand better, which isn’t something anyone can easily undo. And that’s why this industry needs to honestly assess how it responds to the allegations of mistreatment and exploitation, and especially who it throws its support behind. Because this isn’t just about Patricia Jaggernauth. It’s about the fact that there are many, many racialized women in Canadian media who have gone through exactly the same thing—and they deserve to feel just as safe, valued and supported as LaFlamme, Valentyne and all the other white women who receive our collective solidarity.
Chatelaine’s excellent as-told-to by Jane Johanson, the daughter of iconic Canadian sex educator Sue Johanson.
Food writer Bettina Makalintal on the shifting aesthetics of internet food photography.
This old Cut essay about why we love fall, which I’m revisiting because I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia marketing. It really gets at what that type of marketing tries to, but can’t really, accomplish.
This funny, relatable essay on the joy of being in your costume/“Rococo nonsense”/maximalist era.
Vox’s Rebecca Jennings on the Try Guys news cycle, including a smart section on the power of parasocial relationships—and a reminder that these guys create content, even around scandals they’re involved in, for a living.
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