Women in a news room

It’s time for media to finally reflect the community it serves

March 11, 2020

By Kathy English, Public Editor

Here is a timely and vital message for Canadian media striving to demonstrate our trustworthiness to our readers and audiences: “You can’t have trust if you don’t have representation.”

That is a key conclusion of a new report called Reflect Reality by United for News, a global coalition of media, NGOs and businesses committed to supporting and sustaining media around the world. This is a report of critical relevance to the Star given its participation in recent months in a pilot project led by this coalition to find strategies to increase female expert sources in the news.

The Star’s project, Mirrored in Media that I told you about last summer, is an ongoing newsroom-wide effort to increase the number of women we quote and cite to 50 per cent and, importantly, to increase the diverse voices overall in the Star.

On this weekend when we mark International Women’s Day, it bears repeating the dismal fact that globally, only 19 per cent of experts cited in news stories are women, a reality that has changed little over the past two decades. The percentage is somewhat higher in Canada but, by anyone’s measure, the voices of women in Canadian news rarely makes it to 30 per cent.

While I cannot find any global — or even Canadian — measure of the diversity of news sources beyond gender, it’s not overstatement to tell you that most news organizations in North America fail in achieving any significant measure of broad representation of the communities they seek to serve.

In this time when considerable research tells us that news audiences are expressing unprecedented levels of mistrust and downright dismissal of media overall, the Reflect Reality report draws a clear connection between trust and inclusion, stating unequivocally, “Another trend breeding distrust is an enduring lack of diversity and representation in media.

“Around the world, media are continually shown to exclude or misrepresent marginalized and minority groups in the news,” the report states. “This means that many people do not receive information relevant to their experience and circumstances — causing them to disengage and distrust the media.

“While there are many factors needed to restore trust, one key, addressable element is ensuring that news and information reflect the communities they serve,” the report concludes.