This idea of storytellers versus story takers, and that’s something that, you know, I always try to keep in the back of my mind.
At a time of challenge and promise for gender justice, we need excellent feminist journalism. How do they do what they do best?
I’m Andrea Gunraj from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What? a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder, “why is this still happening?” We explore systemic routes and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
Women and equity-seeking journalists investigate important and under-told stories. Whether they write articles, do podcasts, or create other digital media, we badly need them to give voice to gender justice matters that otherwise go unheard.
Think about the most stunning contemporary stories you’ve seen on gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people, discrimination against Black women at work, gender pay gaps, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and more. Chances are that women and equity-seeking journalists were behind them.
This fact makes the harassment and abuse they experience at disproportionate levels particularly vexing. It’s harmful to them as people and media workers, and it runs counter to the goal of making things better and fairer in Canada. We can’t achieve that goal without a diverse news media landscape and truth in reporting.
Every year, the Canadian Women’s Foundation presents The Landsberg Award in partnership with The Canadian Journalism Foundation to acknowledge and inspire feminist journalism. It’s named after iconic journalist and author, Michele Landsberg. She was columnist for the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Chatelaine magazine and is one of the first journalists in Canada to address workplace sexual harassment, racial discrimination in education and employment, and gender equality in the law.
Journalists and activist Gloria Steinem said: “Those who make a revolution and those who write about it are usually two different people. Michele Landsberg is one of the few on earth who is trusted and effective at both.”
Past winners of The Landsberg Award include such journalists as Connie Walker, Robyn Doolittle, Christina Frangou, and more.
Today we’re joined by Molly Hayes, who won the 2023 Landsberg Award alongside Tavia Grant and Elizabeth Renzetti for their series on intimate partner violence and femicide in Canada. She is a national reporter with The Globe and Mail. She joined the Globe in 2017 as the inaugural recipient of the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s investigative journalism fellowship, and today reports on crime and social justice issues, including violence against women.
I went into journalism school straight from high school. I did a Bachelor of Journalism at TMU. So at that point, I don’t have like a profound reason… I was a teenager and was good at English class and it seemed like a job where I could get paid to write. Yeah, unfortunately I don’t have a real great origin story there. But I think it was once I was in university and once I was sort of in it a little bit more that I started to appreciate the value of journalism and the power that it can hold.
I think I was already doing it a little bit by the time that I really appreciated it. And you know the responsibility that comes with that and became interested in sort of focusing my career on issues of you know, unfairness and corruption and oppression and things like that.
What did this award win mean for you? And tell us more about how you use a feminist and gender justice approach to your reporting.
You know, it was a huge honor to have this series recognized, especially to have that recognition alongside Liz and Tavia. They are both incredible mentors and colleagues and friends, and it’s such a depressing topic. But an amazing team to work with on this one of the big things, like in terms of the feminist lens, was that we didn’t just want to write about the problem. We also wanted to make sure we focused on solutions and specifically, solutions that survivors themselves were pointing to.
It would be easy to speak to the, you know, the stakeholders in this arena and academics and things like that, but we wanted to hear right from women themselves like what would have helped them when they were going through this. This was a multi part series and we made sure to dedicate an entire part at the end specifically to their voices in their own words, and highlighting the things that they are calling for right now.
So that was a big thing that we were conscious of sort of throughout this process and we were particularly proud of.
So, I guess by nature, you’re reporting on things that can be pretty personal and tough from the voices of abuse survivors. What considerations do you think about when you’re grappling with telling survivor stories in the right ways?
That that was something we were very conscious of throughout this whole process and try to be all the time in our work. Duncan McCue has talked about, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this idea of storytellers versus story takers, and that’s something that, you know, I always try to keep in the back of my mind.
Similarly, when we talk about giving a voice to the voiceless. That’s something I think a lot of people hear early on in journalism training. And I think our perspective on that has started to shift. People are not voiceless, people don’t have platforms. So we’re not giving them voices, we’re giving them megaphones. In some ways, approaching trauma-informed reporting runs counter to what we’ve been taught. You know, rules around like everything is on the record, you don’t run anything by people before stories like I think some of that is starting to shift and we are finding ways without compromising, you know, journalistic integrity of making sure that our subjects, especially vulnerable ones, have agency over their story and aren’t surprised by what’s in the paper. And you know, don’t feel like just because they reach out to you about possibly speaking that that’s going to end up in the paper.
It’s a bit more of a delicate approach I guess and it takes a bit of extra time, but I think it’s worth it in the end. And we’re lucky to, you know, be with a paper that is willing to take that time and sort of to make sure that we’re doing it the right way.
How did your series on intimate partner violence come about? Was there anything that surprised you in your process of research and investigation?
I mean, we began this project in sort of the peak of COVID. And by that point, all three of us had been reporting on these issues for some time. We were very familiar with it. But I think there was sort of a moment during COVID where it was part of the broader public consciousness. This is something we were talking about a lot. You know, we were seeing the rates of violence increase. There were a lot of warnings going out. And so, we knew that this was something that people were talking about, but we weren’t sure what the broader interest would be because this wasn’t necessarily something new. You know, we were diving into issues that have been there for a very long time and we were very in the weeds of it and weren’t sure like, you know, what is this adding to the conversation?
And I think that happens on any sort of long-term project you know you’re so close to it you don’t know. But one of the things that surprised me was the level of response we got, especially to that first piece that looked at coercive control and sort of explained what that looks like and what the debate is around criminalizing it. But yeah, the response we got from the number of women who said, “this describes what happened to me and I never had a word for it.”
It was both surprising, but also, I think one of the things we’re most proud of. We heard directly from people who said that this gave them the language to sort of understand and describe what they had gone through. And yeah, that was just very meaningful and rewarding to hear that.
Let’s pause here. There’s no question to me that we need a strong news media landscape, well-supported feminist journalism, and open digital access to news and information. But the biggest search and social media platforms are ending access to news before Bill C-18, the Online News Act, gets enforced in Canada. Gender implications are huge. Women in Canada use social media more than men. And diverse women, girls, and Two-Spirit, trans, and non-binary people rely on search and social media to get information about their unique health, safety, pay, and employment concerns – the under-spoken, under-addressed issues of inequalities where we live, work, and play.
There’s a tech and time gap, too: women are heavier social media users, but they have less time for the internet than men. Women’s time is sucked up by higher care and housework responsibilities. And economic insecurity may mean that women and gender-diverse people can’t afford the latest devices and bandwidth. If we can’t rely on the biggest social media sites and search engines to help us find news about our experiences, gender gaps will widen, especially for those of us dealing with social and geographic isolation, marginalization, and unsafety.
So the journalism landscape in Canada is tough and only getting tougher. Especially for journalists who cover stories like the ones you cover. What would you say to aspiring feminist journalists trying to break into the media these days?
Yeah, it is bleak. The landscape is bleak in many ways, but I also think we’re sort of in a golden era for this reporting, you know, like I was looking at the list of recent Landsberg winners, and like what a list to be on. Christina Frangou, Robyn Doolittle, Connie Walker, Alyshah Hasham, Wendy Gillis. Like I worship all of those writers and I know most of them and they’re very kind and generous people.
So I think a big thing, especially for journalists who are starting out – seek out mentors and seek out the women who are doing this work. You know, again, I know most of those people are generous, they want to help, they want to talk, so I think that’s been a really helpful tool for me. And I also think it’s important to remember that we don’t have to just be chasing the hot new thing. Like a lot of these, especially these sort of seemingly tractable social issues, have been broken for a long time and they are just as worthy of our focus, even when they’re not sort of the night’s top story. Head down, do the work, find the people that inspire you, I guess.
Alright, Now What? Go to canadianwomen.org to read the Gender Gap in Digital News Access, which speaks to the gendered impact of digital news blockages in Canada today.
In light of these challenges, it may be helpful to you to bookmark trusted, evidence-based news sites, subscribe to news curation and feminist podcasts like this one, and follow feminist reporters doing stories about your lived experiences. These are not perfect solutions to our systemic digital concerns, but they may be helpful to you.
Please listen, subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. If you appreciate this content, please consider becoming a monthly donor to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. People like you will make the goal of gender justice a reality. Visit canadianwomen.org to give today and thank you for your tireless support.