Her Campus, at the University of Toronto, is an online publication that aims to empower the female student demographic through conferences and editorials concerning on-campus career advice, health, love, and life. The U of T chapter is one in over 300 chapters of the organization worldwide. Its most recent event, She Leads, brought together five professional female reporters to shed light on the topic of women in journalism.
The panel discussion began by addressing the complex process of reporting the #MeToo movement. Toronto-based journalist Michelle da Silva, who has covered stories regarding women’s marches and anti-feminism under the Trump administration, emphasized sensitivity when writing about delicate issues such as sexual misconduct. She says that journalists are often keen to get the riveting story and overlook that real people’s lives are involved and at stake. While protecting the identity of the survivor in these cases is imperative, staff reporter Hilary Beaumont believes that the pressure to name the perpetrators and take down people in power is not at the core of what the movement is about. Recently, she wrote a piece about harassment in parliament, and her goal wasn’t to expose anyone but rather to address the structural issues with policy and culture.
Another topic examined was online safety for female journalists and how the panelists deal with hateful messages. Lifestyle reporter Arti Patel conveyed how despite not covering controversial news topics, she is continuously subject to emails and tweets containing death threats and calling her insulting names only women would receive. Oftentimes, the slurs or remarks have nothing at all to do with the story or reporting. Beaumont adds that nothing momentous is currently being done to promote safety against such threats, as no action can be done unless something physical happens. In addition, she says that newsroom press reporters to have a significant online presence with public contact information, which maintains a certain vulnerability.
The last question raised was if there is such thing as unbiased journalism. Da Silva answered no, and she believes it’s for the better. While there are impactful pieces of just bare-boned facts, most feature pieces have some lens, whether that be personal to the writer or the publication’s overarching philosophy. She says that diversity in perspective and inserting your voice into the story brings a human aspect to the piece, thus strengthening it. Fatima Syed believes that the idea of newsrooms needing to be neutral is an old-school concept. While news stories are not technically feature pieces, they are featured stories for their importance. She asserts that traditional media hasn’t yet figured out how to cover nuance and layers in a factual way. Senior editor Haley Cunningham adds that you can still “show don’t tell” in news and it can be just as compelling.
The panelists were asked to give the worst and best advice they have received in the industry. Syed and da Silva voiced that the sentiments of “don’t show weakness” and “be aggressive” are far from truth and oftentimes, the quietest listeners write the best stories. Da Silva’s best piece of advice is that you don’t have to be 100 per cent ready to do the job; you just have to confidently try. On the same note, Beaumont expresses that men in this industry are definitive, even when they don’t have all the facts, while women are far more passive and detail-oriented to the point where it can be debilitating. She says the best piece of advice she has received is to “report like women, publish like men.”