Last fall, my mom, sister, and I popped into our neighbourhood LA Fitness for our regular workout. Mom and I had niqabs on our heads, my sister a hijab, and the three of us had burqas flowing down to our feet. We were on our way upstairs to the women’s-only exercise room. A man was working out by the foot of the stairs. His gaze rested on us for more than a fleeting moment. Then, he raised his arms to the sky and said, “Don’t shoot.”
“I might,” my mom joked back. But, caught off-guard, my sister and I weren’t amused.
The episode reinforced my reason for joining the Ryerson Review of Journalism, the annual publication you now hold in your hands, which critically examines the practice of journalism. I felt “the media” misunderstood me, and the impact of that treatment trickled down to everyday interactions with people. What could have influenced the fitness-conscious stranger to feel comfortable approaching us like that? When images of women dressed like we do are splashed across front pages, painting us either as victims of terror-loving, dark-skinned, and bearded men, or as perpetrators of violence, how could Joe Blow at LA Fitness be expected to think any differently?
At the RRJ, I set out to investigate how Canadian journalism covers Muslims and, more specifically, how newsrooms decide when to call someone a “terrorist.” I pitched the story because I knew it fit well with our mandate as a “watchdog on the watchdogs.” Months of research and interviews followed and, in the process, I came across a terrorism case that took place in Toronto—18 men and youths were arrested in June 2006 and charged in a bomb plot that made national headlines. The case had been highlighted as a major national security threat, and yet, I hadn’t heard about it before. I dug into the archives. How had the case been covered? What happened between the news breaking and the eventual verdicts being delivered? Had Canadian newsrooms drawn any lessons for reporting on future terrorism cases? I explored these questions in “Making a Terrorist.”
My colleagues also brought a bit of themselves into their stories. One of the best examples is perhaps our cover story, which tracks the trajectory of Toronto Star reporter Tanya Talaga’s career leading to the publication of her book, Seven Fallen Feathers. The writer, Rhiannon Johnson, is herself an Ojibway journalist who says she feels Talaga has helped carve out a space for emerging Indigenous reporters.
As journalists, we believe our profession is vital for informing the public. But we fail in that mission if those we claim to serve don’t feel represented in our stories. The RRJ’s job is to point out those gaps for both journalists and the public—in print, online, in our podcast, and through our conferences. I hope the stories you read will jumpstart conversations about our practice.
And I hope those conversations continue long after we leave.