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J-School panel part of Social Justice Week 2022

By: Dania Ali
October 11, 2022

The approach and techniques suggested by the founder of a new initiative called Solidarity Journalism, may help journalists better explore how to cover systemic and social injustice.

Professor Anita Varma, who leads the Solidarity Journalism Initiative (external link)  at the University of Texas at Austin, told a Toronto Metropolitan University audience that this approach asks journalists to reframe the way they think about reporting and to “leave neutrality behind.” 

“It is not a one and done transactional mode of taking their story, but actually revisiting throughout the process,” she said as part of a panel organized by the School of Journalism and the Journalism Research Centre during Social Justice Week last month.

The panel was moderated by Asmaa Malik, associate professor, and Sonya Fatah, assistant professor. A recording is available here (external link) .

“The pandemic has exposed so much systemic injustice … the Solidarity Journalism lens is incredibly valuable for journalists when they approach reporting on these vital human rights issues,” said Malik. 

“Solidarity Journalism provides a framework for us, as journalists, to consider, consciously, our practice in reporting and storytelling. For us as educators, it provides a framework from a pedagogical perspective to engage students with an intentional approach towards sharing the stories of our time,” said Fatah.

Other panelists included Jiquanda Johnson, Johnson, an Emmy-winning producer and CEO of Brown Impact Media Group, which publishes Flint Beat (external link)  in Michigan, Sean Holman, the Wayne Crookes Professor of Environmental and Climate Journalism at the University of Victoria and director of the Climate Disaster Project (external link)  and Odette Auger, Managing Editor of IndigiNews (external link) .

Johnson said she’s trying to make the world a better place with better journalism, “by listening and understanding what these people who are dealing with these everyday problems have to say.” 

“As journalists we always steal the truth … what if we think about how the truth can be a gift. What if we reframe journalism as an act of empathy?” said Holman. 

All of the panelists discussed how critically journalists must consider the people selected, interviewed and included stories as ‘good sources’.

Auger, who is Sagamok Anishnawbek through her mother, said her approach as a journalist is to find common ground with an interviewee beforehand. 

“I do that before we even start the interview. So I find that solidarity: they know that I'm on their team,” she said.

Panelists also spoke about their personal and trauma-informed approaches on engaging in and with communities that they are reporting on.

“What I love about [the panelists here today] is that they are such living proof that doing solidarity, reporting constructively, diligently, constantly, not just as a one off, is even possible and it's only growing which is really, really great to hear and see” said Varma.

Johnson said she hoped the journalism students in the audience walked away with pockets of information to create “a better world, better space and equitable communities.” 

The students were encouraged to listen to the feedback they receive from the communities they report on, particularly if communities who have been through traumatic events.