Diversity, inclusivity, and oppression have become trending topics in the media. But very few outlets employ journalists of colour, let alone put them in leadership positions.
Anita Li, a 35-year-old Asian-Canadian journalist, decided to take the matter into her own hands. After working at The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Mashable, Complex, and Canadian major broadcaster CBC, she launched an independent news site The Green Line that focuses on amplifying the voices of underserved and underrepresented communities in her hometown,Toronto.
"It is all about investigating the way we live to help young and other underserved Torontonians to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing city," Li said.
The Green Line is a hyperlocal, community-driven news website that focuses on solutions journalism. It soft-launched on Instagram and TikTok in 2021 and it now offers a mixture of social video and text, with topics covering anything from working in the local cannabis industry to Toronto women in basketball.
Yum! 🍔🍛🌮 #TheGreenLineTO Storyworks interns Noor Abduljabbar and Irene Braithwaite headed to Scarborough Centre station to ask Torontonians where they get their favourite cheap eats in the area. Tell us: What are your favourite neighbourhood eateries? Tag it in the comments! #Toronto #Tkaronto #TorontoNews #Torontonians #AskToronto #Ontario #FavSnacks #TorontoEats #SnacksInToronto #DowntownToronto #FavouriteSpot #TravelToronto #Snackers #DowntownEats♬ Happy Up Beat (Medium) - TimTaj
Li literally put her money where her mouth is: she invested some $70k CAD of her own funds into creating The Green Line, and sourced around $30k CAD from external funders. This was no mean feat since women and people of colour often face greater obstacles when pitching businesses to investors.
Racism in the media
Li says that she always found it hard to fit in. When she was an inter at The Toronto Star, for instance, she was one of only two women of colour in her annual cohort.
"The culture in a lot of the newsrooms at the time was very exclusive and insular and very British, Western, and white European. I felt like a fish out of water and there was racism. That was difficult and almost made me feel like 'what am I doing here?'"
Read more: The value of diversity in the newsroom
Although she witnessed systemic racism and lack of representation first-hand, she says that the change is happening, albeit slowly. And she wants to be part of that change - The Green Line not only covers minorities but also hires journalists of colour.
Ultimately, the shift needs to happen from the inside out.
"Making people feel valued, seen, and heard while also holding them accountable is really important," says Li.
For Li, the efforts do not stop with her new publication. She is committed to modernising Canada’s journalism industry to make it more self-aware, inclusive and audience-centred. Her Substack newsletter The Other Wave talks about innovation in journalism and also documents her journey of building The Green Line.
In addition to her media consultancy work, Li teaches journalism innovation at the Toronto Metropolitan University and coaches media executives at the City University of New York's Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
"One thing I’m certain of after two decades of working in journalism is this: We can’t positively impact the world with ideas alone — they must be combined with genuine humanity to be effective," she writes.
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