There are a lot of different stories you can tell about how you got to where you are. This one is about perspective.
I grew up in northern British Columbia. My family is from here, I went to university here, and after some time away, I decided I wanted to live here.
I have a degree in political science/international studies, which is another way of saying no easily definable skill set. So I applied for a wide range of jobs. One of them was for the current affairs radio show for northern British Columbia (the same place I work today).
I don’t remember the exact wording of the job description, but part of it was essentially wanting a candidate who is passionate about the region and its stories.
Now, I had some background in media- I could write, I had volunteered at campus radio and newspaper. But lots of people do that.
But what there isn’t a lot of, I figured, is people who are from and actively want to live in northern B.C. applying for journalism jobs (my experience has been a lot of people see smaller centres as stepping stones to bigger ones).
So I leaned on that hard, in my cover letter and interview. What I really sold was my perspective as someone who knows this place. I sold my network and experience as an asset to digging up new stories.
I didn’t get the job, but I did get put on the call list for when an extra body was needed in the office. And eventually that turned into a part-time job, then a full-time one.
And all along, I think one of my greatest strengths has been my perspective as a person who is from here. Growing up in a certain way allows you a deeper understanding of issues and stories that other people don’t get, at least not right away.
* * *
I bring this up because of what happened this week when BuzzFeed editor Scaachi Koul revealed they were interested in hearing non-white, non-male perspectives. You can read the full series of tweets here, but the key ones are:
“Would you like to write long-form for @BuzzFeed Canada? WELL YOU CAN. We want pitches for your Canada-centric essays and reporting.”
“.@BuzzFeedCanada would particularly like to hear from you if you are not white and not male.”
IF YOU’RE A WHITE MAN UPSET THAT WE ARE LOOKING MOSTLY FOR NON-WHITE NON-MEN
I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU
GO WRITE FOR MACLEAN’S“
Now, granted, it was put a little more bluntly than most want ads, but a. this wasn’t a want ad, it was a series of tweets and b. ultimately what it says is that BuzzFeed is looking for diverse voices. In fact, Koul later clarified that yes, white men could pitch and, in fact, she was receiving good pitches from a variety of people, including white men. But it was too late because of bunch of (mostly white, mostly male) people decided these tweets seeking out diverse perspectives were a form of discrimination.
But in media, that’s a huge part of why you are hired: your perspective. You live or die based on your ability to pitch and deliver certain types of stories.
There are a ton of people who on a technical/training level are better writers/editors/producers than I am, and that was especially true when I first got my job.
But they don’t have my perspective. They don’t have my lived experience. They don’t have my roots and network in the community I cover. And the audience likes it, too! It’s amazing how often people are first surprised and then pleased to discover that I am one of them, a person from northern B.C. telling the stories of northern B.C.
* * *
Here’s another story about me being a white man in media. This one ends with me NOT getting a job.
It was for a cool series taking a look at the lives of young indigenous people in Canada.
At this point, I was pretty qualified on all the technical aspects. And I’ve done stories on young indigenous people, so I had pitches, too!
When I heard back on my application, I was told I would be a good fit, but ultimately they were going with a young indigenous person.
AND HERE’S WHAT I DID: I assumed the person who got the job was also qualified, with the added bonus of having perspectives I don’t. Heck, for all I know, they were way more qualified, and there were a ton of other people who applied who were more qualified, too. It wasn’t my job for the taking!
And the series was great! I don’t at all resent that they went with someone with an insider perspective. It made for a stronger set of stories.
* * *
Is it discrimination that people who are from a certain community be given consideration when a media outlet wants to reflect that community?
I say no. You get a more accurate reflection of the community when a person knows it first-hand. BuzzFeed is looking for stories from underrepresented communities, so they are seeking out underrepresented demographics. It makes sense!
And sure, maybe it means I as a straight white dude won’t get contracts when people are looking for diverse storytellers. But how is that different from when I’m not hired to work on a story about Toronto because I’m from B.C. and they want people who know Toronto? Or someone who’s worked in politics is later picked up as a political commentator? It’s all about having an authentic/knowledgable voice.
You’ll note Koul also said BuzzFeed was looking for “Canada-centric” stories, but no one’s getting pissy about them discriminating against Americans and Australians.
Why? Because we recognize that in writing Canadian stories, it helps to have a Canadian perspective. So why the heck would it not make sense to throw some non-white, non-male (and, I’d add, non-cis) voices into the mix to get some of their perspectives?
If you are a reporter or a writer or a storyteller, don’t be threatened by job postings seeking perspectives you don’t have. Instead, figure out what your unique perspective is, and pitch to that.
As a member of the public, I benefit from having the best possible reporting on a wide variety of issues. And that means seeking out a greater diversity of reporters.
If we want to truly understand this country, we must seek out the widest range of voices possible to share its stories.
And that includes ones that aren’t me.
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