How young journalists are tackling race reporting

'It's on everyone to keep an open mind'

The Journal spoke with two young journalists about how they're tackling issues of race and racialization.

Race reporting, often at the intersection of journalism and activism, concerns reporting on issues of race and racialization. It’s crucial to accurately represent marginalized perspectives in the media.

Pamoda Wijekoon, ArtSci ’20 and Internal Content Editor at The Pigeon, feels media outlets have a responsibility to ensure high-quality race reporting.

“[Readers] can see that if [outlets] fall short, or they aren’t committed to reporting equitably, that they’re not going to be successful in the long run,” she said.

“We’re at a point in the world where if you’re not thinking about what the diverse perspectives are on an issue then you’re not covering that issue accurately.”

The Journal spoke with Wijekoon as well as Ayesha Ghaffar, graduate student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Journalism, on how young people are leading the charge on race reporting and what exactly that entails.


During her undergrad at Queen’s, Wijekoon was assistant arts editor at The Queen’s Journal. In a predominantly white newsroom, it was challenging to introduce race reporting.

“[In media], you’re not always working directly under people who share the experience of being racialized. I’ve not found it’s been an incredible issue because I feel like they have a base understanding—at least people our age—of ideally what is considered appropriate even if they might not understand some of the nuances of certain things,” Wijekoon said.

Despite this, it was still difficult for Wijekoon to walk the line at a student paper between being a friend and peer, as well as being a co-worker and one of the few racialized voices in the room.

Ghaffar, who has also worked in mainly white newsrooms, has had similar experiences. At The National Post, one of the stories she pursued was on racism experienced by the international students in British Columbia.

In her courses, she often encountered journalism professors that didn’t have an adequate grasp on the prevalence of racism in Canada.

Though she was scared to pitch the story due to these experiences and The National Post’s reputation as being white male-centric, Ghaffar was supported by her team.

“I was lucky to be working with a team that was okay with me doing the story. I did not have any issues. I did not have to make a case for why I need to do these stories.”

At The Pigeon, Wijekoon’s relationship with race reporting changed dramatically. In contrast to her time at The Journal, when she rarely spoke about race or interviewed BIPOC, she now works with subjects of colour and issues concerning them “all the time.”

“In a way, the race reporting is almost not intentional. I think it’s kind of a consequence of the things that I’m interested in and the things The Pigeon is interested in. I usually end up interviewing racialized people.”

Ghaffar recognizes the white supremacist history of many news outlets in Canada, as well as the importance of challenging those structures. At the same time, being from Pakistan, she noticed a stark difference between the two media landscapes.

“I have seen, by and large, in Pakistani media that we don’t talk a lot about a lot of racialized minority groups in the way that we should,” Ghaffar said.

In Pakistan, Ghaffar worked on a story concerning refugees from an ethnic minority and received severe backlash—including the tapping of her phone and threats being sent to her family.

“Not to say that it’s not horrible here, news media in every part of the world has their own set of groups of people that they do favour and they do not favour. I don’t think Canada is unique in this.”

When asked if news outlets in Canada have adapted over time to highlight the experiences of BIPOC, both Wijekoon and Ghaffar noted that much more change is needed. In particular, the responsibility of race reporting cannot fall only on journalists of colour.

“If you want to say something and you want a journalist of colour to say it to make it ‘appropriate,’ then it’s important to remember that journalists of colour aren’t tools, they’re journalists,” Wijekoon said.

“[Journalists of colour] should have the same freedom to cover the stories they want to cover that you would give to other journalists.”


While more diverse newsrooms and a greater commitment to showcasing racialized perspectives both enhance race reporting, one of the most important aspects is building relationships with racialized communities and individuals.

Ghaffar, being from a South Asian background, was extra cautious when incorporating African perspectives into her National Post piece. It was naturally easier for her to get in touch with South Asian interview subjects, but it would have led to an incomplete perspective on the international student experience if she didn’t branch out.

The first challenge was finding folks to interview.

“I had to try really hard to find sources to talk to because it’s natural for anybody who’s an international student in a foreign country to feel anything they say can be and might be used against them,” Ghaffar said.

Many of Ghaffar’s interview subjects wanted to remain anonymous, a request rarely granted by mainstream media outlets.

Eventually, Ghaffar was able to find “a mix of different people from different racialized communities,” but still struggled to honour their perspectives.

“My biggest challenge was that none of my team members were from minority groups. Most of them were white, so they were not in the position for me to ask them for anything,” Ghaffar added.

To ensure that she was using appropriate language and appropriate resources, Ghaffar tapped into her network at the University of British Columbia. There, she spoke with professors specializing in race theory to inform her writing and interviewing.

Wijekoon has also grappled with finding support in race reporting when working with mostly white editors. For her, it’s important not to “manipulate interviewees’ words” and ensure they have the power to tell their own stories.

“Making sure I’m staying really true to what [interviewees] meant to say is a lot harder when working with white editors.”

In Ghaffar’s experience, editorial decisions by publications often come down to what head editors want their paper to cover.

“If my editor is racist, and my colleagues aren’t, the problem is with him,” she said.

Ghaffar added that, while formal training on race reporting can be helpful, it isn’t effective in isolation. Critically assessing colonialist and racist mindsets is crucial. 

“I don’t think a 2-day training changes anything. This needs to start from the top-down.”


While the Canadian media landscape still hasn’t made high-quality race reporting the industry standard, there are many ways that individual journalists can bring about change.

Ghaffar said that, while it can be difficult to find a home for a story that you believe in, persistence is crucial. When a mainstream media outlet rejects a pitch on race, journalists of colour shouldn’t feel discouraged.

“Even if it’s not a mainstream publication, there’s so many niche magazines or newspapers that you can write for,” Ghaffar said.

Both in journalism school and in newsrooms, Ghaffar is often confronted with white journalists that sometimes struggle to see the relevance of race and racism. That can make it difficult to have a pitch accepted, but it can also make it all the more rewarding.

“It’s totally worth it if you know, in your heart, that what you’re doing is right.”

She also noted the importance of staying true to your vision, even in the face of backlash. In light of her National Post story being released, many invalidated the experiences it publicized, the reaction itself demonstrating the prevalence of racism against international students.

“You have no idea how many white people were offended,” Ghaffar said.

“That is kind of the reaction that made me realize that this story was so important.”

Wijekoon also added the importance of holding white journalists accountable without taking on more work as a journalist of colour. Accountability can look like asking people to do their own research rather than acting as an educator.

“It’s not your responsibility to smooth things over and figure things out for people. It can be exhausting to have to explain your experiences and your perspective on things that are more sensitive to you again and again,” she said.

For white journalists looking to improve their race reporting skills and support their peers of colour, Wijekoon explained it’s important to listen and accept the discomfort that comes with discussing race.

“It’s on everyone to keep an open mind and not get defensive. Accept that you’re not at the finish line of your journey of learning how to navigate racial politics and that you’re just existing in a diverse community,” Wijekoon said.

“When you do that, you have to understand that, in certain places, it’s not your place to share your opinion. The only thing you can do is just listen to what people have to say and share what they have to say in the most accurate way that you can.”

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