Journalists still matter
Going into 2020, Angelyn Francis found herself curious about the viability and long-term sustainability of her chosen profession.
Francis is the equity and inequality reporter for the Toronto star, covering matters of race, culture, and inequity across the city.
“So many jobs that were once popular, like coal miners or even dairy farmers, no longer exist in the same way…who’s to say journalism couldn’t be one of those things?”
Her curiosity turned to crisis mode when March 2020 found us all shocked and stuck inside, while Covid-19 killed thousands and the economy screeched to a halt outside. Journalists were among the “frontline and essential services workforce,” working harder and under more pressure than ever before.
“Those initial months were a ridiculous amount of work… we were pumping out about three times the amount of stories as usual,” she said.
“People were in lock down and wanted to be informed…we were there to hold political bodies accountable in real time.”
This accountability checking continued and exploded in the summer when the string of Black death reached a boiling point following the murder of George Floyd. The nature of the murder sparked a collective internal illumination and/or humiliation that became a story journalists had a responsibility to reflect back to the public.
Despite the intensity and responsibility of such a role, Francis demonstrated camaraderie and congeniality, collaborating cordially with her colleagues, all while quietly bearing the invisible weight of leadership that often accompanies being one of the few or only writers in the room with the competence of lived experience.
Francis and journalists like her, imagine an industry with more opportunities and fewer barriers in speaking to their challenges and communities in more nuanced ways. She awaits the opportunity to write more directly to her own audiences with similar lived experiences, while giving the broader public the opportunity to learn more.
“For Black journalists we need more support…constructive conversations with editors, so we can really write to our audiences, of course to a degree we want to write for everyone–but also, [if people don’t understand] google exists,” she said.
Amidst the collective tsunami of energy and attention toward matters of race, Francis and the journalists with whom she shares experiences in common, worked together to support each other to manage the hard labour of accurately telling the stories of the communities they cover.
“So much of my network is lateral, I support them and they support me. We’re trying to figure it out best we can–we don’t know anyone who’s lived through all this. Nobody has a point of reference with more experience than ours… So I’ve just been trying to maintain connections,” she said.
Canadian mainstream journalism and newsrooms prior to Covid-19 were generally overworked, homogenous, underpaid, and missing the mark when it came to balancing and adapting to democracy’s need for substantive informative content, while prioritizing the culture’s need to maintain consumerism–which demands sexy and speedy.
The kind of click-centered journalism to come from this tension, has led to a quantity over quality mode of production that ultimately erodes the trust between the public and the media–an outcome we saw all throughout the Trump era–and exhausts frontline reporters. The demand for high volume harms the frontline journalists, who are left with the difficult challenge of trying to maintain integrity and high standards, with less time and fewer resources with which to accomplish that goal.
It was this threat of burn out that led Francis to question the viability of her profession.
It was also the experience of her presence in the room as a Black woman amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and the pandemic of anti-Black racism, that so vividly reminded her of the value of her insight in these spaces, and her love for communicating that insight.
As the world evolves in interesting ways and she finds herself with a courtside seat to all the action, she doesn’t see herself leaving the game any time soon. She’s been nourished by the opportunity to find more balance with the new working-from-home privilege that Covid-19 has extended to some.
“It’s changed my commitment to inward work.. I have space to listen to myself more with a lot fewer distractions and less noise…it has forced me to build that practice more,” she said.
She advises journalists growing in the field during this time to “try your best to take care of yourself and others, a lot of people are hurting…As much as it feels like you lost time, you didn’t lose any [time], things are just a bit different, keep moving forward.”
She vows to take her own advice on that front, and has committed to making the time to nourish things that have been neglected–like her love for her profession. She hopes to find creative solutions with the support of the industry and leadership, to ensure that the important work of journalism, especially in times of crises, can lead to less burn out and better journalism– ultimately fostering a healthier democracy.