Putting colour in print

A growing anti-press climate should not preclude critical self-reflection on race in the newsroom

Putting colour in print

Freedom of the press, on a global scale, is under threat. From the alleged Saudi assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Turkey, to the US President’s ban of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta from the White House, the ability of media to criticize power can carry heavy consequences.

Trust in the press is fading too. The Varsity itself had to grapple with issues of trust following criticism of our coverage of Jordan Peterson in the fall of 2016.

Beyond campus, ‘anti-establishment’ forces accuse and dismiss mainstream media of ideological bias. In the US, outlets like CNN and The New York Times are labelled “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” by some on the right. In Canada, some call to defund the CBC.

Though not necessarily new, this is undoubtedly a dangerous environment. Journalists play an important role for the public in uncovering truth and holding power to account. They should be valued and protected.

However, this narrative of an oppressed press — which is important — must be coupled with an otherwise neglected story: that of race in the newsroom. Internal power dynamics demand as much scrutiny as external ones. In fact, racial equity can help media to better fulfil its role and legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

Freedom of the press comes with a responsibility to tell untold or undertold stories and bring underheard storytellers to the centre. In engaging in more self-reflection on its shortcomings, the media can take a step toward improving its commitment to the public interest and regain legitimacy.

The Sunny Dhillon case

The departure of reporter Sunny Dhillon from The Globe and Mail in late October exemplifies the importance of discussing race and journalism in a Canadian media landscape that is largely white.

In a Medium article, Dhillon revealed that he chose to leave the paper because of both a “single incident and a continuing pattern.” The instigating factor was that, in his coverage of the Vancouver municipal election, his editor told him to focus more on the election of women to the city council, and not on the fact that a city of almost-half Asian background had no corresponding ethnic representation at all. When he disagreed on the angle, she informed him that the newsroom is “not a democracy.”

Last year, a Varsity editorial argued that there is no such thing as unbiased reporting because “reports are created by authors and shaped by editors whose perspectives and personal experiences are inherently injected into the final product.”

The obsession with ‘objectivity’ is flawed because the very same ‘objective’ reality — such as the Vancouver municipal election — can be covered differently, based on who the reporter is. One’s personal identity, which includes race, class, gender, and more, cannot be divorced from one’s professional journalism. Identity informs what is valued, reported, discussed, and published.

But it’s not that this nexus is a shortcoming and that we should strive for total ignorance of colour. It is instead what makes the presence of journalists of colour so crucial.

Intrinsic and instrumental value

Representation in the newsroom has intrinsic value. Workplaces should look like general society, and they should actively seek to hire people of colour, given the discriminatory tendency of institutions to overlook qualified and competent racialized candidates.

But it also has an instrumental value: without it, the media risks insufficiently or inaccurately covering a story or missing a story entirely. This is as much about self-interest as it is about racial justice.

Last week, a Guardian article noted that “appearance is not the real problem. A democratic media is.” Not only should journalists of colour be ‘included,’ in a numerical sense, but they should take up space, voice, and power in the newsroom to identify gaps in a paper’s coverage and tell stories in a more accurate and nuanced way. In turn, the communities that they reflect can be better represented in media and become a readership that fully trusts such organizations.

Media reports also shape public opinion and dialogue. By not reporting on the racial gap in the Vancouver municipal election, the general public was left unaware of the problem. Instead, the public is left with misrepresentative and stereotypical stories that only portray Asians as “foreign real-estate buyers and money [launderers].” Until the media addresses its own race problem, the general public will continue to be misinformed and racism will continue unaddressed.

Dhillon’s story headlined because his experience of the fact that what he “brought to the newsroom did not matter” was shared by many other journalists of colour, who feel ignored, silenced, and overlooked when it comes to race. But many continue to endure it all because leaving the newsroom would mean abdicating responsibility to represent what is already so unrepresented.

In a follow-up Medium article, Dhillon shared some of these responses from other journalists of colour, which pointed to another side of the issue: they are not just their race. They are also individuals with a diverse range of abilities and interests. They should not be hired to serve as essentialized, go-to ‘ethnic’ reporters.

The Canadian media problem

Dhillon’s story should be understood in the context of other Canadian media’s shortcomings on racial equity.

In 2017, columnist Desmond Cole, best known for his activism and journalism on anti-Blackness in the Toronto Police, resigned from the Toronto Star. After being told that he wrote about race too often and that journalists can’t simultaneously be activists, Cole ultimately chose “activism in the service of Black liberation” over his column.

Writers like Cole are expected to deliver diversity quotas and improve media’s inclusionary image, but when they attempt to reshape journalistic culture and public conversation about anti-Blackness in this country, they are pushed out. As a Varsity editorial noted, media coverage on anti-Blackness had already been disappointing. The loss of Cole, who was also one of the only Black columnists in mainstream Canadian media, made the situation even worse.

Around the same time, prominent Canadian media figures defended disgraced Hal Niedzviecki in the ‘appropriation prize’ controversy. He had encouraged writers to “imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities” in their work. This swiftly drew criticism from Indigenous peoples, given the connection between cultural appropriation, Canada’s colonial history, and the record of Canadian media in the misrepresentation and exclusion of Indigenous communities and voices.

Last week, Maclean’s released the cover of its December issue, which unironically represented white Conservative Party leaders as “the resistance” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax plan. This decision dangerously reinforces the view of many far-right figures and movements today that white conservatives are oppressed and marginalized in this country. Furthermore, it co-opts the struggle of actually marginalized communities — queer folks, Black people, Indigenous communities — who are the real resistance in Canada to establishment leaders.

It is clear that Dhillon’s story is not isolated. Canadian media organizations must do much better in deciding which stories to tell and who to tell them — especially when it impacts how the public understands the world around them.

The responsibility of student journalists

In a Globe and Mail piece this summer, Amy O’Kruk, former editor-in-chief of Western University’s Gazette, Western University’s student newspaper, commented that for mainstream media, doing better on diversity starts with, and should draw inspiration from, student papers. After all, whereas columnists in Canada are mostly cisgender, straight, white men, student paper mastheads do better with representation.

However, this should not be cause for celebration alone. As Victoria College’s The Strand noted in an editorial last month, student journalism should strive not just to be accurate, but equitable. As student journalists, many of us are the future of Canadian media — and therefore we have a responsibility to be the generation that does better on equity.

At The Varsity, we realize that we are no exception when it comes to journalistic fallibility. Although we are proud of our diverse masthead, our reporting and publishing can and has come up short for underserved communities in recent memory. We realize that the presence of journalists of colour must be qualified with power.

We continue to strive to improve our newsroom culture and practices in order to better empower marginalized voices, including by building relationships with those communities. We know that what we cover — and don’t cover — has implications for student public opinion, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly.

Today, the press is threatened on multiple fronts. On the one hand, powerful actors seek to undermine the legitimacy of and trust in media. On the other hand, the press is undermining its own legitimacy when it fails to serve marginalized communities. This is especially concerning because, with the global growth of the far right, race and identity are increasingly at the heart of all things political. Media must therefore strive for sensitive, responsible journalism when it comes to race — more than ever.

And it starts with internal reform. Of course, media leaders should hire and elevate more people of colour to positions of power to ensure that they have a strong voice in the newsroom. But as as a recent J-Source article noted, it is not those at the top who will lead the change.

Rather, it is the workers — reporters, fact checkers, designers, photographers — who must collectively organize and demand change for a more equitable workplace. They are to whom the newsroom belongs.

When the Globe editor said to Dhillon that there is no democracy in the media, she wasn’t wrong. But there should be. Let’s start by putting more colour in our print.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Have hot takes killed sports journalism?

The inability to discern truth from hype can have serious repercussions

Have hot takes killed sports journalism?

Is quality sports analysis dead? As popular television sports reporters such as Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe, and countless others rattle off bewildering matter-of-fact statements supported by flimsy evidence, one may be led to believe that hot takes have ruined sports journalism.

I’m here to assure you that this is not the case. Let’s start by defining the notion of a ‘hot take’: an opinion on a topic that typically draws grand conclusions from limited information, and is often phrased in an intentionally polarizing manner for the purpose of capturing the attention of a large audience.

These headlines and opinions are akin to clickbait, as they seek to do very little other than try to grab a reader’s attention. Sports broadcasting companies employ personalities to deliver these often wildly uninformed hot takes on a daily basis, because they achieve high ratings, which in turn generate revenue.

While it’s believed that hot takes are a new phenomenon, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Hot takes in newspapers span as far back as the 1920s, and were even written by the likes of Grantland Rice, one of the most iconic figures in the history of sports journalism. Rice would describe players as “serial dopers” or “cockroaches” — hotter takes than anything we are likely to see on national television in 2018.

Even in the shift to “straight reporting” in the ’60s and ’70s, another iconic journalist, Dick Young, had his own hot takes on the sexuality of players, even sometimes comparing players to terrorists.

Realistically, I believe that hot takes were, are, and will always be a part of sports. As long as there are topics to speak on, someone will have an outrageous opinion on them.

However, hot takes seem to be more prevalent in our current era because we are in the age of information, in which we are constantly bombarded with headlines as companies vie for our attention in order to maximize profits.

The problem with hot takes arises when both players and audiences alike have trouble discerning the truth from the lies. A story as seemingly harmless as ‘X player is strongly considering a trade from team Y,’ when not properly substantiated, can have countless real world repercussions for fans and teammates who fail to consider the sources of this information.

There is a certain level of media literacy required for deciphering news from hype, and I believe that sports fans are already evolving in this sense.

For example, in the NBA, hot takes are often unsubstantiated until they are confirmed by veteran insider sources, such as Adrian Wojnarowski or Shams Charania, and fans will generally leave news on the backburner until they are adequately substantiated.

Although the greater distribution of information has led to hot takes becoming more prevalent, this new era of reporting has also given sports fans advanced metrics and other fact-based insights into the ability of players, which helps to debunk hot takes and offers fans a calibre of sports reporting that has never been seen before.

The beauty of our current age of information is that there is something for everyone. Those who thirst for drama can search out hot takes, while those who prefer statistical analyses are free to scour advanced metrics.

It’s clear that sports journalism has actually remained the same over the course of the last century or so, and I expect this trend to continue for as long as sports journalism exists. My hot take? Sports journalism will be just fine.

To not publish, sometimes, is the highest form of journalism

The publication of Jian Ghomeshi’s essay points to an urgent need for media organizations to recognize the relationship between platform, voice, and power

To not publish, sometimes, is the highest form of journalism

Content warning: this editorial discusses the intersection of journalism and sexual violence.

It has been almost a year since #MeToo became a viral social media movement, through which survivors exposed a slew of sexual misconducts, harassments, and assaults by high-profile perpetrators, among others. Yet a number of the powerful men exposed in the #MeToo movement are now attempting to make comebacks in the public arena.

Last month, comedian Louis C.K. performed an unannounced set at the Comedy Cellar in New York. He made no reference to the accusations that had ostensibly ended his career. He received a standing ovation before he even began performing. 

Also emerging from the shadows, though, are those whose ‘silences,’ a natural consequence of public scandals, have stretched beyond the #MeToo movement. These individuals are being aided by media organizations that choose to enable them to tell their side of the story.

On September 14, The New York Review of Books (NYRB) published an essay entitled “Reflections from a Hashtag” by disgraced CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. In 2014, allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Ghomeshi became public. He was fired by CBC, but following a high-profile trial, he was acquitted of all charges in 2016.

On September 16, New York magazine profiled Soon-Yi Previn, wife of director Woody Allen, in which she described her adoptive mother and Allen’s former partner Mia Farrow as an abusive parent. In response, Previn’s adoptive brother, Ronan Farrow, accused Previn of “planting stories that attack and vilify my mother [Mia] to deflect from my sister’s credible allegations of abuse” — referring to the longstanding allegation that Allen sexually assaulted his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow.

Both of these cases have resulted in backlash because they provided a platform for alleged perpetrators, or defenders of alleged perpetrators of sexual violence. The backlash is entirely justified: the NYRB and New York should not have published the pieces. In the era of #MeToo, the responsibility of media organizations is to report and publish in accordance with a sharp awareness of the power dynamics that underlie voice and narrative.

In the context of sexual violence, survivors are often pushed into positions of shame and silence. If they choose to come forward with their stories, they risk being treated with skepticism, disbelief, harassment, and threats. In contrast, perpetrators are shielded by public sympathizers who demand the legal principle of ‘innocent before proven guilty,’ and who criticize the ‘court of public opinion.’

The voices of survivors, then, are often not heard and are often overpowered by their abusers and their supporters. Given the risks, they already have less access to the media. For media organizations that seem to attempt to ‘level the playing field’ by publishing the perspectives of high-profile figures like Ghomeshi, their decisions reflect a false sense of journalistic balance that is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, dangerous in its reproduction of trauma for survivors.

Given his connection to Toronto, Ghomeshi’s case warrants a closer examination. In his essay, Ghomeshi manipulates the reader through a ‘self-humanizing’ narrative — a narrative that dismisses the stories of his accusers as “inaccurate” and fails to portray any genuine remorse. He attempts to rally sympathy by sharing how he became an “outcast”; how he was “weeping in shame”; how he has been reduced to a “singular, sexualized identity”; and how he has felt “hopeless,” “pathetic,” and “suicidal.”

Most reprehensible, though, is how he manipulates his identity as a person of colour. Indeed, he has, and wrongly so, received racist backlash from those who associate his behaviour with his cultural background. However, describing oneself as a victim after abusing others is a deflection tactic whereby a position of power is used to appropriate the status of the abused. This complicates the otherwise straightforward narrative that they are the perpetrators and should accept responsibility.

Rather than take responsibility, Ghomeshi largely blames the structures around him for his mistreatment of women, pointing to careerism and the attainment of success as a broadcaster. He describes how he tried to use fame to impress and manipulate women. “Dating and having sex became another measure of status.”

The conclusion of the essay suggests that anonymity — no longer manipulating his fame or being “a Somebody” — is the way forward. Indeed, perpetrators should pursue the route of silence and cede space for the voices of those who have long been voiceless as a first step toward rehabilitation.

But the reality of Ghomeshi’s essay contradicts this very suggestion. Ghomeshi emerged from his silence last year with a podcast commentary series, The Ideation Project, with no acknowledgement of the circumstances surrounding the downfall of his career, just like Louis C.K. He decided on the terms of justice and unilaterally made a comeback. And with this essay, he demonstrates that he still capitalizes on his fame — or infamy at this point — to draw an audience and attempt to polish his image. He may no longer be abusively “dating and having sex” to attain status, but by manipulating his status, he challenges the naive assumption that #MeToo would be a turning point in existing power dynamics.

The circumstances surrounding the publication of the essay are also troubling. Following backlash against the essay, the editor, Ian Buruma, felt forced to resign after the threat of an advertiser’s boycott. However, Buruma continues to stand by his decision to publish the essay.

Furthermore, the NYRB amended the essay with a preface stating that they should have made an acknowledgement of the allegations against Ghomeshi, and that the following issue would feature letters to the editors in response to the essay. Yet this preface does not reflect any remorse for having published the essay in the first place. There is therefore concern as to whether it was the financial threat of an advertiser’s boycott, rather than the ethics and responsibilities of journalism, that compelled the NYRB to take action.

Last year, alongside the emergence of the #MeToo movement, The Varsity Editorial Board noted that the role of the media is to ensure that journalism “does not further contribute to the conditions that make coming forward about sexual violence so difficult.” Ultimately, it is difficult to understand what media organizations hope to achieve by featuring the perspectives of alleged perpetrators. It does not advance meaningful conversation about sexual violence; rather, publications like these undermine it by confusing perpetrator for victim.

The Varsity’s mission statement expresses a commitment to the “provision of meaningful, just coverage for our readership.” A diverse range of opinions, perspectives, and stories, and reasonable debate and discussion between them, is what renders media coverage holistic, fair, and credible. However, coverage must also be committed to justice.

For publishers and editors of influential media organizations, meaningful journalism means making principled choices. The heart of ethical and responsible journalism is to amplify the voices of those who have not spoken, as opposed to those who have always spoken. By locating the maldistribution of power in society, media can recognize that, sometimes, to not publish and provide platform is itself a worthwhile ideal of journalism. 

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Canadian Association of Journalists criticizes U of T over handling of student media request

U of T rejected a media request from UBC's student paper on August 20

Canadian Association of Journalists criticizes U of T over handling of student media request

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has released a statement criticizing U of T after the university’s media relations office refused to answer a media request from The Ubyssey — the University of British Columbia’s student paper — on the grounds that its staff were unable to accommodate student media outside of U of T.

“Due to the high volume of requests we receive we are unable to assist with requests with student media other than our own,” read the email from U of T to The Ubyssey’s Coordinating Editor, Samantha McCabe.

After receiving U of T’s response, McCabe tweeted, “Hey, @UofT — just a reminder that all student media is media, and has the capacity to hold you accountable!”

In response, the CAJ, which is an organization representing over 600 journalists across the country, released a statement in support of student journalists.

“The University of Toronto and other post-secondary institutions must recognize that student journalists are journalists,” the statement read. “If the university requires more staff to fulfill the basic mandate of its media relations department, the correct way to address that is to hire additional staff, not ignore questions.”

Evan Balgord, Vice-President of the CAJ, called the move “unacceptable.”

“It’s the role of student newspapers to cover their schools and often it’s student media that break stories holding these institutions accountable,” said Balgord. “It’s concerning that the University of Toronto is ignoring requests coming from journalists enrolled at other schools.”

In an interview with The Varsity, U of T Media Relations Interim Director Elizabeth Church said, “We’ve been listening to the debate and we’re considering how we can revise our practice to address some of the issues that are being raised.”

She added that her office has been trying to expand their services in recent years “to respond to our campus media the same way we do to other members of the media.” This includes arranging interviews with senior staff for The Varsity’s multiple requests per week, as well as for all other U of T campus media.

“I just want to stress that we think it’s important to give priority to our student media and to make sure that they have a chance to talk to senior leaders and staff about issues,” said Church.

When contacted by The Varsity, McCabe said that she was working on a story on what Canadian universities and postsecondary institutions are doing in terms of sexual violence prevention and education.

“I think their response takes a media request regarding a very serious subject matter and oversimplifies it into ’merely’ a student journalist’s request,” wrote McCabe.

“While I recognize that I’m from an entirely different university and that I don’t pay tuition to U of T, as a public-facing institution they need to be accountable to both their own students (which, I would say, would have made up part of the audience of my story) as well as to Canadian students in general, especially on a subject as importance as sexual violence,” she continued.

McCabe sent the initial email on August 16 and received U of T’s response on August 20, denying her request. She replied a day later, stressing “the importance of their comment, given the topic and that I was speaking to other universities,” but U of T has so far upheld its decision.

U of T lists four staffers in their central media relations office, and 22 more communications officials in other academic divisions.

— With files from Josie Kao

U of T alum Tamara Baluja receives Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Journalism Education

Baluja worked with The Globe and Mail, CBC, The Varsity

U of T alum Tamara Baluja receives Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Journalism Education

She started her journalistic career by writing for The Varsity and volunteering as a news reader when she was an undergraduate student. Years later, U of T alum Tamara Baluja has won the prestigious Michener-Deacon Fellowship for Journalism Education. She was presented with the award at Rideau Hall on June 12 by Governor General Julie Payette.

The Michener-Deacon Fellowship is presented to a single journalist who becomes a journalist-in-residence at a Canadian journalism school.

“Every year, the Micheners honour the best in Canadian public service journalism, and it is awe-inspiring to be among so many brilliant journalists,” wrote Baluja in an email to The Varsity.

As the current Social Media Editor for CBC Vancouver, Baluja will be taking a semester-long sabbatical at the University of British Columbia to develop a workshop centering on social media, its metrics, and how to develop editorial strategies.

“When I was accepting the fellowship, I also acknowledged my start at a student newspaper. My husband, then boyfriend, and I both were studying at U of T and he dared me to write for The Varsity,” wrote Baluja. “I took up the challenge, and I was completely hooked on journalism from that point on.”

“That dare of writing for The Varsity set me on a completely different career path from becoming a doctor, and since then, I’ve gone on to work for The Globe and Mail, CFRB 1010, and CBC,” continued Baluja. “But The Varsity is where it all began and so the paper and U of T both hold a very special place in my heart.”

Editor’s Note (July 30): A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Baluja was taking a year-long sabbatical, not a semester-long sabbatical. This piece has also been updated to reflect that the Michener-Deacon Fellowship is awarded to a single journalist. 

Breaking down the Toronto van attack

The chaos in North York last month compels us to scrutinize toxic masculinity, racial double standards, and irresponsible journalism

Breaking down the Toronto van attack

On April 23, a van struck and killed 10 pedestrians, injuring 16 others, on the sidewalks of Yonge St. Eight of those killed were women, including 22-year-old U of T student So He Chung. The alleged perpetrator, Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old Seneca College student, now faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

In trying to explain conflict and violence, the gender variable is frequently overlooked — particularly the ways in which toxic masculinity and misogyny push young men to express their anger and disaffection through violence against women. The Toronto van attack is an example of the gender variable close to home.

Misogynistic ideology

Prior to the Toronto attack, Minassian posted a message on his Facebook page referencing an “Incel Rebellion” and expressing admiration for Elliot Rodger, who committed a massacre in Isla Vista, California in 2014, also motivated by a hatred of women.

Minassian’s Facebook post has shone new light on a little-known subculture on the internet. ‘Incels,’ or ‘involuntary celibates,’ are an online community of men who attribute their lack of sexual success to biology, feminism, and society as a whole. Due to genetic factors such as appearance or height, incels believe themselves to be inherently undesirable and destined for a life without sex. They typically view their lot in life as unchangeable, describing themselves as having lost the genetic lottery. Incels hold particular contempt for women, whom many incels feel owe them sex and romantic attention. Some incels are more extreme, discussing and encouraging violence against women.

Like Minassian, some of these more extreme incels also idolize Elliot Rodger. Before carrying out his attack targeting women, Rodger recorded a manifesto about his lack of sexual success, his disdain for women, and his desire to seek revenge. After the Yonge Street attack, some incels celebrated online when news of it broke and said women were to blame because they wouldn’t have sex with the accused person.

Racial double standards

Even though far-right extremism — a category to which Minassian surely belongs — is a far greater threat than Islamist violence in Canada, mass murders are frequently  associated with Islam because of the political weight the religion carries in the War on Terror climate.

Following the attack, CBC’s Natasha Fatah tweeted a witness statement that the attacker appeared “Middle Eastern.” Although Fatah later deleted the tweet, it  went viral and was exploited by right-wing media outlets, including the Toronto Sun, Breitbart, and Infowars, and far-right personalities like U of T alumnus Faith Goldy. For hours, an unverified and politically charged statement was treated as fact. Although Fatah had later tweeted another witness statement accurately describing the attacker as white, it circulated far less on social media.

The National Post’s Barbara Kay, immediately after the attack, with no confirmation of the motive or identity of the attacker, argued that it was reasonable and preferable to assume that the attack had been inspired by ideology — namely Islamism — because “patterns lead to predictions,” and Islamist van attacks are one such pattern. She argued that ideological attacks provide some sense of order and hope because they can be understood and addressed, whereas isolated attacks produce chaos.

In her column, she cited University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson on his explanations of order and chaos. The very same Jordan Peterson was quoted as saying, in a recent New York Times piece,  that Minassian was “angry at God because women were rejecting him,” and that the “cure for that is enforced monogamy” — a model for the redistribution of sex.

The problem, however, lies in the fact that we generally do not ascribe terminologies like ‘ideology’ or ‘terrorism’ when the motive is gendered and when the perpetrator is white, as we would when the attack is somehow connectable to Islam. Even though Minassian’s ideology is clearly misogyny, he is conversely justified by comments like Peterson’s that suggest that the responsibility lies upon women to not anger or reject men. Minassian’s misogyny is protected by our culture’s misogyny: we blame the victim while we afford the attacker humanity.

Indeed, the media granted Minassian a complex narrative which warrants the reader’s sympathy: a “socially awkward software developer,” a “failed military recruit” with “health challenges” and autism. The problem is stripped of ideology and individualized. Yet we would never do the same were the attacker to be brown, Black, or Muslim and their motive linked to Islam. The fact that the Toronto Police were praised for their de-escalation and arrest of Minassian, for example, stands in stark contrast to the notoriously fatal cases of police escalation against racialized men like Sammy Yatim and Andrew Loku.

Evidently, terrorism remains restricted to a particular script that is invoked only when the attacker and their motives relate to a politically charged issue. The facts remain that we fail to identify misogyny as an ideology that informs mass murder, and that Black and brown people who are suspected of violence are not afforded the same humanization as people like Minassian.

Necessary conversations

From the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montréal to the recent Toronto van attack, misogynistic violence should compel us to have difficult but necessary conversations. It is an urgent problem that we must address ideologically and institutionally, not simply in the context of the attacker’s ‘mental health.’ Our culture must encourage young men to deal with emotions in healthy, constructive ways. We must also scrutinize the racial double standards in legal and political reactions toward mass violence. This includes the media, which must commit to a more responsible journalism that evaluates the consequences of reporting in politically sensitive contexts.

At U of T, there must be conversation on misogyny and how it operates within our institutions. The work of Silence is Violence on campus and Tamsyn Riddle’s human rights complaint against the university and Trinity College remind us that educational institutions must answer for their role in violence against women. Whether in our campuses, workplaces, or homes, there is much work to be done if we are to realize gender justice and eradicate the ideology known as misogyny.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Masquerade marketing

How sponsored content is compromising journalistic integrity

Love it or hate it, everyone under the age of 25 seems to have an opinion about BuzzFeed. It’s the clickbait capital of the Internetwith astronomical levels of web traffic and a jarring valuation of over $1 billion. But how exactly is BuzzFeed able to achieve this with no banner ads and no subscription model to generate revenue?

The answer is sponsored content, of course.

Also known as native advertising, or advertorial, sponsored content is intended to be indistinguishable from editorial content. It’s the ideal way to grab the reader’s attention, and it integrates seamlessly with the user experience. The ad becomes something to be engaged with, instead of something that sticks out — like a banner ad.

Brands create native ads by commissioning publications to create content that looks like an editor-approved article or a photo spread; in this way, they pay to promote their business with a subtlety and nuance. Some examples of sponsored content include BuzzFeed’s “10 Quotes Every Grad Needs to Read,” sponsored by publishing house Harper Collins, and The Atlantic’s “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year,” commissioned by the Church of Scientology.

There are some subtle giveaways that indicate that you’re reading sponsored content. Phrases like ‘presented by’, ‘delivered by’ or ‘sponsor post’ can sometimes be found in the byline, or on other parts of the page. It is this subtlety that makes native advertising so appealing for branding companies; furthermore it’s immune to the increasingly popular ad blockers that many people use on their phones and computers.

While sponsored content is nothing new — it’s been in magazines since before the digital era and exists as product placement in TV — it’s become an unnervingly ubiquitous part of the Internet experience, with websites like the aforementioned BuzzFeed as well as VICE, Gawker, Forbes, and even The New Yorker indulging in the revenue stream. Canadian publications like Toronto Life and Financial Post also publish sponsored content. While great for inducing clicks, sponsored content compromises what should be the most important thing to any respectable publication: the trust and respect of readers.

Publishers are being intentionally deceitful when they disguise ads as content. It’s disappointing to begin reading an article, only to find out you’re having something sold to you. The editorial integrity of the publication is compromised.

That’s not to say that ads can’t be enjoyable, or should be banished entirely. Ads are one of the biggest draws for viewers of the Super Bowl for instance. The key difference, however, is that we can distinguish a Super Bowl ad from the main event; in contrast, studies have shown that most people can’t tell the difference between real articles and sponsored content.

Perhaps more concerning is that native advertising also hinders a publication’s ability to be independent. Last April, BuzzFeed staff writer Arabelle Sicardi wrote a post that criticized a Dove ad campaign, which was later taken down by upper management because Dove is a brand publisher with the website. The juxtaposition of journalism and advertorial compromises outlets’ role as a social conscience.

Corporate interests will always impact journalism, but native advertising goes a step further. It intentionally deceives the reader. Imagine a parallel in the university system — for example, it would be an outrage if students discovered that the supposedly independent scholarship we read was actually sponsored by massive corporations. The same way we value the independent voices of scholars, we should value independent and uncompromised journalism.

As students, we are significant consumers of mass media and journalism and consequently, we should be both wary and critical of the way advertising is increasingly woven into the fabric of the press. Though it may seem we, as individuals, have little sway over these larger trends in society, but we can stay alert and call for integrity and accountability from our journalistic outlets.

Jaren Kerr is a third-year student at Innis College, studying bioethics and writing & rhetoric. He is The Varsity’s associate features editor.