I am a refugee journalist living in Ottawa, and this is the dilemma that is increasingly driving me (and other writers like me) to almost quit my number one passion, reporting. If other established minorities in Canada who are citizens complain of hitting a career brick wall in Canada´s newsrooms — seeing their voices heavily redacted by editors or being told that they cannot be a journalist and an activist at the same time, despite white reporters doing so — now bear a thought for us refugee journalists. We have travelled along dangerous paths to find safety here. We no longer have enough fight left in us to cajole editors to notice us.
Not commissioning refugee journalists to tell the stories of their lives and communities here in Canada is counterproductive. We all saw the Toronto Sun writing a scandalous and obviously false story about refugees slaughtering goats inside a Radisson Hotel.
At an Ottawa job fair last month (my first ever experience of a Canadian job fair) I was startled to hear an editor say that racial minorities don’t apply enough for newsroom positions. Really? We don’t pitch enough? I have an admission to make. Recently I wondered if my surname, not my journalism expertise, is what’s preventing Canada´s commissioning editors from engaging meaningfully with my pitches. If my African surname were whiter sounding, would editors be more agreeable to assign me pitches on finance, climate and education topics? Should I legally change my surname to the more European “Schneider” to improve my chances of beginning a career in Canada´s media? As a refugee journalist this is how rejection brews silly imaginations.
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I say so because in contrast, I have found it easy to write regularly for American magazines and news wires across the border. I agree that every freelance story, whether in Canada or Japan, falls on the quality of its pitch. Yes, it is true that American publications have richer funding and greater readership thanks to a population that dwarfs Canada’s. But the thing is: we don’t want to publish in America. Our audience and home are here.
In two years of living in Canada, I have had a piece accepted just once in a Canadian publication, Ricochet Media in Montreal, which I must hold as an example of progressive journalism that is liberalizing the pitching market for refugee freelance writers.
As refugee journalists we notice with admiration that Canada’s government has doled out millions to subsidize local Canadian journalism and small press publishers. This is a very noble initiative by the federal government and must be applauded. As refugee journalists in Canada, along with Canada´s legacy journalists we watch with trepidation as American behemoths Facebook, Twitter and Google spirit advertising dollars away from Canada´s local media producers, throwing copyright rules to utter ridicule and blurring the lines between proper journalistic publishing and social networks. And we remember how financially punitive it is for refugee journalists to register nonprofit media initiatives, access any of that support or set up a dedicated refugee journalists fund that helps refugee reporters get into newsrooms in Canada.