Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 41 (2016) 673-692
©2016 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation

Co-Created Learning: Decolonizing Journalism Education in Canada

Miglena Todorova
University of Toronto

Miglena Todorova is Assistant Professor of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 1V6. Email: .

ABSTRACT  The voices of journalism educators are largely absent from scholarly debates about media, journalism, and decolonization. To address this gap, this case study of Canadian journalism education reviewed the curricula of 10 university journalism programs as well as literature in journalism education, journalism cultures, and Indigenous journalism(s) to explore the links between power, journalism education, and social relations. The study aims to encourage journalism educators to apply a decolonizing approach that appreciates the pedagogical value of Indigenous practices related to media and communication and embeds Indigenous epistemologies across the curricula. This will help foster co-created learning that enriches both the professional repertoire of journalists and social well-being, by bridging the cultural, political, and social rifts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

KEYWORDS  Decolonization; Education; Indigenous peoples; Journalism; Media

RÉSUMÉ  Les perspectives des éducateurs en journalisme sont essentiellement absentes dans les discussions académiques sur les liens entre médias, journalisme et décolonisation. Afin de combler cette lacune et d’explorer les liens entre pouvoir, enseignement du Journalisme et relations sociales, cette étude de cas sur l’enseignement du Journalisme au Canada examine les curriculums de dix programmes universitaires en Journalisme ainsi que la littérature existante dans les domaines de l’enseignement du Journalisme, des cultures de Journalisme et de(s) Journalisme(s) autochtone(s). Cette étude vise à encourager les éducateurs en Journalisme à suivre une approche décoloniale qui reconnait la valeur pédagogique des pratiques autochtones liées aux médias et à la communication et qui intègre les épistémologies des communautés autochtones dans les curriculums. Une telle approche facilitera le co-développement d’un savoir qui enrichira les compétences professionnelles des journalistes et améliorera le bien-être social en réduisant les clivages culturels, politiques et sociaux entre communautés autochtones et non-autochtones au Canada.

MOTS CLÉS  Décolonisation; Éducation; Autochtones; Journalisme; Média


A recent and growing body of multidisciplinary knowledge reveals the significant role of mass media and communication in the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world (Decolonize Media Collective, 2016; Furniss, 2001; Goerke, 2013; Harding, 2006; Jiwani & Young, 2006; Knopf, 2010; Pierro, Barrera, Blackstock, Harding, McCue, & Metatawabin, 2013; Valaskakis, 2005). The voices of journalism and communication educators have been largely absent in these critical decolonizing narratives; yet as Coward (1993) suggests, “[J]ournalism and mass communication teachers have a special responsibility to address the topic” (p. 122). Trained media and communication specialists have contributed to the stereotyping and depicting of Indigenous peoples and their cultures in oppressive and hegemonic ways (Hugill, 2010). In turn, these (mis)representations have created and shaped Indigenous and non-Indigenous social relations, as well as governmental policies in the areas of Indigenous health, education, housing, land, and sovereignty (Morgan & Castleden, 2014). Recognizing the effects of journalism and mass media on Indigenous and “settler” social and political relations, the recent report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) calls for media initiatives and practices “that inform and educate the Canadian public, and connect Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians” (p. 10). Although journalism education is a vital part of the emergence of such practices, it has not been explored in the scholarly literature on media and decolonization. Therefore, this article explores questions such as the following: What roles do Indigenous issues, cultures, worldviews, and experiences play in the curricula of university journalism programs in Canada? What kind of decolonizing pedagogy and curricular praxis could foster reporting and media environments conducive to Indigenous well-being and to connecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals and communities in Canada?

Before addressing these questions, a clarification and a disclaimer are in order. Herein the term “Indigenous” is used instead of “Aboriginal,” unless within a quote. This usage honours the call of Indigenous scholars and activists to recognize how the term “Aboriginal” is imposed upon the Native peoples of Canada, thus denying their right to self-determination. According to Indigenous scholars, “Aboriginalism” is “a legal, political and cultural discourse designed to serve the agenda of silent surrender to an inherently unjust relation at the root of the colonial state” (Taiaiake & Corntassle, 2005, p. 598). The term “Indigenous” is also situated within the context of colonial oppression, referring to people who are native to the lands they inhabit in contrast to settlers and immigrants. However, the term “Indigenous” also has global connotations, as it recognizes the vast differences between Indigenous peoples around the world but also captures their common struggles against oppression (Wilson & Stewart, 2008). Hence, this term may be used to signify different but related native and non-native Indigenous epistemologies and cultures within the multicultural, immigrant, and diasporic social milieus of Canada.

References to “Indigenous well-being” throughout this analysis mean access to things that allow Indigenous individuals and communities to pursue freely their goals and aspirations. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada defines such well-being in terms of socio-economic indicators, including access to healthcare, education, labour force activities, and housing (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2015). Well-being also includes cultural preservation and language conservation that keeps memories, traditions, and generational links alive. Well-being is contingent upon a community’s political power and ability to negotiate on an equal footing territorial issues, land conservation, and distribution of wealth and resources.

I approach the issue of Indigenous well-being in relation to journalism education from my location as an immigrant and settler woman living in Canada. I am also a media scholar and educator who has taught university journalism courses and practised forms of reporting in Canada and abroad. In pursuing the questions guiding this study, I draw from my professional experience as well as feminist practices of political solidarity with the struggles of others by taking responsibility for their oppression and well-being (see Anzaldua, 2009). This responsibility includes engaging in scholarship and analysis that displaces racial whiteness and Eurocentricity from spaces where knowledge is produced (Morgensen, 2014). Thus, I am taught, led, guided, and inspired by knowledge fostered by and through the struggles of Indigenous people and people of colour around the world.

Toward an ecology of knowledge in journalism education

In addressing the research questions, this article applies a decolonizing journalism education paradigm informed by several theoretical and methodological approaches. Specifically, this is what Foucault (1976/1993) calls a “genealogy of knowledges” approach. According to this approach, systems of thought, knowledge, and discourse are governed not only by rules of grammar and logic, but also by underlying historical circumstances and power relations that determine the boundaries and possibilities of that knowledge. Therefore, those who produce knowledge are not impartial or neutral: they are subjects whose identities, ideas, and worldviews are shaped by broader historically dominant forces and proximity to power. Genealogy of knowledges reactivates local and subordinated knowledge against forces of centralization and hierarchization that legitimize institutionalized and scientific discourse.

Foucault’s understanding of knowledge, discourse, and power builds on structuralist theories, according to which ideas that become “the norm” tend to be the ideas of the ruling social classes with more economic and political power, who use these ideas to express their needs and to justify and maintain their dominant position (see Marx & Engels, 2010). Here are examined the ideas embedded in various texts produced within the field of journalism in relation to power and privilege. These texts include scholarly literature related to objectives and philosophies of journalism education, studies that compare journalistic practices and professional ideals in different societies and their cultures, the curricula of journalism programs in Canadian universities, and accounts of special decolonizing programs where journalism students collaborate with Indigenous communities. The critical reading of power relations behind these texts is informed by an analytic that privileges Indigenous worldviews, experiences, politics, and well-being in assessing social and cultural phenomena (Coleman, 2012; West, Stewart, Foster, & Usher, 2012). This analytic builds on research about Indigenous media, Indigenous communication systems, and the practices of Indigenous reporters in Canada and globally. The analysis also incorporates critical theories about power, hegemony, knowledge production, and representation from fields such as postcolonial studies, media/cultural studies, Indigenous media and communication, and anti-oppression and social justice education.

Application of these paradigms to explore journalism education in Canada reveals a hegemonic formation revolving around hierarchically ordered journalistic knowledges, which perpetuates rather than bridges the social rift between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Indigenous perspectives and experiences related to journalism are largely absent in these texts, and where they are present, they are considered marginal cultural and political practices outside the professional canon of journalism.

This article also examines existing forms of decolonizing pedagogies and curricular praxis in journalism education revolving around cultural literacy and non-oppressive representations of Indigenous peoples. Although the article embraces these decolonizing initiatives, it proposes that we move beyond representation and cultural sensitivity training to incorporate decolonizing social justice education that embeds Indigenous knowledge related to media, communication, and journalism across the curricula and treats these epistemologies as equal to the Western paradigms that currently dominate the field. In doing so, we can move toward what Abdi (2012) calls “co-created learning.” In journalism education, this requires the presentation of an “ecology of knowledges.” Coleman (2012) coined this metaphor in relation to Canadian literary studies, commenting that “ecology” is “a social and cultural habitat” for “interacting knowledge systems” (p. 3). In journalism education, ecology of knowledges presents an epistemological space wherein diverse kinds of journalism thrive together, thereby enriching the professional repertoire of the journalist-in-training. This entails embracing the study of Indigenous communication systems, journalistic techniques, and approaches practised by Indigenous journalists around the world as well as engaging in meaningful conversations about how power, (neo)colonialism, capitalism, and hegemony shape the social context of journalism. This rich epistemological environment can foster journalists who are skilled media and information practitioners, and who are thereby able to address highly diverse audiences, including Indigenous, diasporic, and (im)migrant communities. Linking journalism education to social relations is also one way to contribute to efforts to decolonize mass media and thereby help Indigenous Canadians attain political and cultural equality.

A map of the study

The article begins by exploring theories related to journalism education from an historical perspective, especially those that have tended to homogenize journalism, failing to recognize the multiplicity and diversity of those who practise and consume journalism. Next, the course catalogues of 10 top-ranking journalism programs in Canadian universities are reviewed, revealing how curricula are dominated by colonial and Eurocentric perspectives. The article also analyzes how these exclusionary perspectives are related to scholarly literature on journalism cultures. Following this is an examination of recent journalism programs in Australia that are inclusive of Indigenous practices as well as a special topics course developed in Canada by renowned Indigenous journalist and educator Duncan McCue (Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation). Finally, the article discusses Indigenous communication techniques, such as oral traditions, audience feedback, journalism of belonging, and woman-centred storytelling in countries in Asia, Africa, and North and South America, and how these may be applied in journalism education in Canada to enhance the training of journalism students.

Power and social relations in journalism education

In Canada, as in other countries with Indigenous populations, the media continues to stereotype, misrepresent, and marginalize Indigenous peoples and issues, thereby reproducing racialized, sexist, and colonial imaginations and ideologies. A report on media coverage of Indigenous issues in Ontario for the period 2010 to 2013 finds disproportionately less news coverage of Indigenous issues (less than 0.5% of all stories) and more negative than positive stories (Pierro et al., 2013). A study by Harding (2006) comparing Canadian news coverage in the 1860s and more than a century later in the 1990s reveals that Indigenous people are consistently framed as inherently inferior to a more advanced white culture that is both disrupted and threatened by their presence. Harding argues that Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations, as well as land policies, Indigenous schooling, housing, health care, and other issues, must be understood within the context of this historical news framing that informs non-Indigenous opinions and plays “a decisive role in promulgating racist ideology and in maintaining white dominance in Canada” (p. 206). Similarly, Morgan and Castleden (2014) note that when reporting on land issues, print media in Canada rely on stereotypes, oversimplifications, and ahistorical frames that are devoid of discussions of ideology and colonialism, thereby negatively shaping modern land treaties and Indigenous/settler relations. Gilchrist’s (2010) comparison of the Canadian news coverage of missing white and Indigenous women finds that cases of missing white women are covered six times more often than cases of missing Indigenous women. Gilchrist (2010) argues that this “hierarchy of victims” promotes the idea that white lives are worth more and that such “racial bias in the Canadian press must be named, confronted and dismantled” (p. 15).

In light of the minimal and biased reporting of Indigenous issues, it is no surprise that cumulative data from recent public opinion polls show that “since 1987 Aboriginal issues are consistently low on the list of Canadians’ collective priorities” (Loewen & Matthews, 2013, para. 7). This lack of cultural understanding of, and support for, the struggles of Indigenous Canadians has serious social and political ramifications; yet dominant Canadian news media and reporters “have found a plethora of ways to discredit, trivialize and silence [Indigenous leaders and political activism]” (Goerke, 2013, para. 1). It is not surprising that according to a recent public opinion poll, 60 percent of Canadians are unsure, or have negative or somewhat negative views of, the Indigenous social activist movement, Idle No More (Nanos Research, 2013). Journalism education can play an important part in bridging these social gaps.

What is journalism education?

Journalism education is commonly understood as curricula and teaching approaches that impart the fundamental values and objectives of journalism as a professional practice. During the past four decades, Western scholars and practitioners of journalism have addressed, researched, and critiqued journalism curricula and pedagogy from various perspectives. For example, scholars have focused on professional applications of the curriculum, including vocational training and employability of journalism students (Straw, 1985); on how changing information environments are affecting professional practices (van der Haak, Parks, and Castells, 2012; Pavlik, 2013; Picard, 2014); and on how new digital and online technologies inform neoliberal education (Benedetti & Compton, 2014). Other scholars have focused on the epistemological unity of journalism studies as an academic discipline (Adam, 1989) as well as its capacity for critical theory and contributions to research (Gasher, 2005). In a related vein, some scholars have focused on ensuring the diversity of students and faculty in journalism programs (Martindale, 1993) or on aligning these programs with public interests and democracy (Clark, 2013; Deuze, 2005; Rosen, 1995). Still others have examined shifts and trends in journalism education in countries around the world (Franklin & Mensing, 2011).

All of these research streams have a common focus: the needs and aspirations of stakeholders in journalism education, including the public, the media industry, the academy, and the student and future journalist. Scholars and practitioners negotiate whose needs and values should determine the content of the curriculum and provide moral, ethical, political, and other justifications for privileging one or more stakeholders over others. For example, while Rosen (1995) calls for journalism education that serves democracy and the public good, Picard (2014) makes a compelling case for journalism education that serves the students by preparing them for jobs as media and communication specialists rather than narrowly defined reporters trained to work in a “news factory” (p. 5). Pavlik (2013) does not focus specifically on journalism education, but he argues that media organizations and reporters need to master digital platforms and low-cost virtual newsrooms to ensure economic growth of the industry; in contrast, Benedetti and Compton (2014) vigorously argue against education that turns journalists into precariously employed and underpaid digital entrepreneurs whose role is to deliver news as a promotional commodity that maximizes profit. Similarly, Gasher (2005) supports journalism education framed around critical theory and academic research rather than technological determinism. In contrast, van der Haak, Parks, and Castells (2012) call for journalists to be trained in mining, analyzing, and conveying “colossal data sets” (p. 2929). Overall, recent reports and surveys of trends in journalism education indicate that the demands, needs, and values of the media industry and the newsroom prevail in rationalizations for journalism education in North America and Europe (Balčytienė & Lauk, 2009; Mensing, 2011; Poynter Institute, 2013).

Differences notwithstanding, these perspectives of the content and objectives of journalism education do not include Indigenous or non-Western perspectives, even though journalism students and their future audiences include members of diasporic and immigrant communities, some originating in Indigenous cultures found in countries in Africa, Asia, and North and South America (Statistics Canada, 2013). The scholars discussed above have failed to recognize that the so-called public good and student-reporter are actually multiple, diverse, and fractured entities that cannot be served by a single mode of journalism education. Journalism curricula need to include the diverse cultures, traditions, communication systems, languages, and political aspirations of the various groups who make up the highly multicultural populations in many countries, including Canada. Specifically, they should include Indigenous and non-Western perspectives instead of stressing the Western, Eurocentric, and homogenizing ideas of liberal democracy, public good, and ethics that are currently applied as normative and universal.

One dissenter to the mainstream scholarly perspective is Hochheimer (2001), who argues for “meaning-based journalism education” (p. 103) that is rooted in the social and cultural specificities of the place where journalism is practiced. For example, instead of Americans or Canadians telling people in Nigeria, Ghana, or Romania how to practise journalism, local media specialists and educators should decide for themselves what kind of journalism best serves their societies. Hochheimer rejects the prevailing idea of professional and neutral journalism; he argues for embracing multiple modes of journalism education based on local needs, cultures, traditions, and social realities. He writes, “[J]ournalism of meaning is founded on the belief that communities can create their own sense of meaning and purpose” (p. 103). From this perspective, journalism education should seek to foster interconnectedness, dialogue, and understanding between communities to encourage social solidarity across groups.

However, Hochheimer (2001) has failed to consider how the power relations within and between communities determine what meanings prevail, and whose ideas and beliefs organize these meanings. The ideas of those who control the economy and the political sphere are also the governing ideas within mass culture, so regardless of its location, “meaning-based journalism education” would tend to reflect the desires, needs, and aspirations of economically and politically powerful groups who also control education and knowledge production (Apple, 1993; Gramsci, 2012). Hochheimer’s meaning-based journalism education would not necessarily include the knowledges of subjugated social classes under conditions of continuous oppression and limited economic and political power. In other words, Hochheimer is seeking to foster interconnectedness, mutual respect, and harmony among communities of natives, settlers, (im)migrants, and visitors who are not equal.

The next section examines how the power inequality between settler and Indigenous social groups is manifested in journalism education within Canada. The titles and descriptions of the courses listed in the academic catalogues of the 10 top-ranking journalism schools in Canada were reviewed, applying a Foucauldian genealogical approach to knowledge to explore how power affects knowledge production and dissemination. Course catalogues are an appropriate choice for such work because they present “a department’s profile” (Irwin, 2002, p. 175) and provide “significant clues about the values, health and future” (McGrath & Durand, 1969, p. 534) of a profession. The so-called core courses in journalism curricula also reveal what journalism educators consider fundamental values, ethics, and practices (Irwin, 2002). The limitation of the approach is that course catalogues may not reflect fully what is taught or how it is taught. Some academic departments and university administrators do not update course catalogues regularly, further obscuring a complete view of their curricula. Despite these limitations, university catalogues feature courses and aspects of the curriculum that faculty and administrators find important and consider attractive to students. If and how often a department updates its course catalogue to showcase new and upcoming courses also reflects its educational and professional priorities and commitments.

Journalism education in Canada and the politics of knowledge

Research identified the following 10 top-ranking journalism schools in Canada based on print and online sources (Ballingall, 2011; World Ranking Guide, 2014):

The courses offered by these journalism programs were reviewed in the spring of 2014 and the summer of 2016, revealing a system of power and unequal knowledge(s) that extends the politics of colonialism and subjugation by silencing Indigenous epistemologies. For example, at the graduate level, only two of the 10 programs offer a single special topics course dedicated to indigeneity, specifically Reporting in Indigenous Communities (University of British Columbia, 2016) and Indigenous People and the Press (University of Regina, 2016). Indigenous journalist and educator Duncan McCue created the course at the University of British Columbia after attending a UNESCO World Press Freedom Day conference in Australia in 2011. He commented:

I learned many things there but one of the things that astonished me was that there were at least four journalism schools that were doing courses on media representations of aboriginal people in Australia, hands-on working with aboriginal people, and there was also one course in the United States as well. … [I]t was something we needed to do in Canada because there are, as far as I know, no journalism programs offered like this at journalism schools in Canada. (McKeon, 2011, para. 1)

The number of journalism courses focusing on Indigenous issues in Canada has remained unchanged since 2011. Instead, journalism curricula are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the following subjects: writing (grammar, composition, style across different subject areas); image production (videography, photography); critical/ investigative projects (retrieving and collecting information to uncover wrongdoing or problems pertaining specifically to governing); and more recently, digital technologies and social media where new kinds of journalism are emerging. Additionally, courses like Exemplars of Contemporary Journalism and Great Journalists (University of King’s College, 2016) encourage students to identify with inspiring entrepreneurs, software creators, researchers, whistleblowers, or journalists. They also name famous journalists such as Joan Didion, James Cameron, Martha Gellhorn, or Seymour Hersh—all white journalists of British or North American ancestry—as embodying great journalism. Courses introducing students to “communications” in the plural are described as studies of “media relations” and “reputational management” and do not mention learning about multiple communication systems, including Indigenous modes of communication in Canada and globally (University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, 2016a, 2016b). Mandatory curricula also include courses whose descriptions focus on “news media in Western societies” or “understanding of issues facing modern industrial societies,” revealing the dominant paradigm within Canadian journalism schools (Carleton University, 2016).

In fairness, it is possible that curricula incorporate Indigenous issues in courses that, according to their descriptions, explore “changing multiculturalism in Toronto” or “critical issues in journalism” (Ryerson University, 2014); “cross-cultural journalism/reportage in multicultural setting” (Concordia University, 2014); or “critical journalism” (University of Toronto Scarborough, 2015). Some programs also require students to take elective courses in liberal studies, which may or may not include issues related to Indigeneity (Ryerson University, 2014; Thompson Rivers University, 2016). There are also new initiatives in the journalism education field. For instance, Concordia University advertised in 2016 four paid internships for emerging Indigenous reporters at Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) sponsored by the Journalists for Human Rights organization (Concordia University, 2016). Hopefully, the initiative will extend to offer training and collaboration at ATPN for emerging non-Indigenous reporters as well. A project reflecting on Indigenous issues by master’s students at the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2016 is also a welcome initiative (Ryerson University School of Journalism, 2016), especially in contrast to the conference on the future of journalism education organized and hosted by that school in 2014 (proceedings published as Allen, Craft, Waddell, & Young, 2014). The 2014 event, titled Toward 2020: New Directions in Journalism Education, had no references in its program to Indigeneity or non-Western knowledge and practice in media and journalism. These recent initiatives in journalism education reflect broader shifts in Canadian politics spurred by the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Continuous Indigenous marginality

The overall silence or marginal presence of Indigenous perspectives in these influential journalism schools persists, revealing a hegemony defined by a hierarchy of knowledge that largely privileges the Western ideals of journalism. Medford (2015) conducted interviews with journalism students at the University of Toronto Scarborough, Carleton University, and the University of British Columbia, illuminating journalism education reflecting the values of racial whiteness as well. One student comments that she has “never encountered a non-white professor in journalism” who “reflects her Ethiopian-Canadian ethnicity” or that of other journalism students belonging to visible minorities and immigrant communities (para. 23). In this context, Indigenous and non-Western views and practices are either excluded or marginalized, exposing a neocolonial order, where the worldviews, cultures, needs, and desires of the former colonizer continue to define how information is collected and disseminated in the postcolonial society.

Another way to think of journalism education in Canada is in terms of Althusser’s (2001) ideological media and state apparatuses whose function is to normalize the ideas of economic, racial, and cultural elites. Deuze (2005) refers to these ideas as “occupational ideology” or the ways in which journalists give meaning to their work. Canadian journalism education is dedicated to ideas such as truth, fairness, objectivity, balance, autonomy, and democracy, but these objectives have been challenged by critical theories and poststructuralism, which frame journalistic narratives as social constructs and situated knowledge rather than truth (Carpentier & Trioen, 2010). Despite this challenge, journalism curricula in Canada promise to teach “the core values of all journalism” (JRN 121: Introduction to Reporting, Ryerson University; emphasis added); “newsroom standards [that] are universally applied” (Department Objectives, Concordia University); “newsgathering fundamentals” such as writing and image production (JRN 300: Introduction to Print Journalism, University of Regina); and “essential theories that guide the contemporary practice of journalism” (JOU3300: Theories of Journalism, University of Ottawa; emphasis added). However, these core values, essential theories and fundamentals are not neutral.

Journalism education curriculum—much like journalism itself—is never a neutral assemblage of knowledge: no education is. Educational curricula are social and political: they are affected by differential power, and who and what they teach (Apple, 1993). Moreover, how they measure successful learning produces and reproduces the social order (Apple, 1993). Journalism curricula in Canada reproduce the silencing and marginalization of Indigenous views, knowledge, cultural practices, and politics. In doing so, journalism education allows the descendants of colonizers to maintain their privilege and domination—not by murdering or imprisoning Indigenous bodies, but by erasing, silencing, and ultimately eradicating their knowledge, cultures, and histories (Taiaiake & Corntassel, 2005). An area of inquiry within journalism studies dubbed “journalism cultures” extends this power formation.

The neocolonial politics of journalism cultures

Studies of journalism cultures focus on how journalism expresses the values, traditions, aspirations, practices, attitudes, and beliefs of the professionals who produce them in a particular country (Hanitzsch, 2007). Scholarship about these shared values further identifies the culture of journalists and media organizations by comparing similarities and differences between ideas, practices, and values related to journalism across national borders. However, research in the area utilizes reductionist and totalizing methodologies to classify, order, and valorize otherwise highly diverse and heterogeneous kinds of journalism culture and practice.

For example, Hanitzsch (2007) proposes a number of polarities: “interventionist/activist–objectivist/neutral” (journalists with an agenda and promoting certain values versus neutral observers and reporters); “empiricist/analytical” (journalism reporting facts versus commentary or opinion journalism); and “truth /subjectivities” (journalists claiming that truth is out there waiting to be uncovered and reported versus journalism as a sum of subjective or situated interpretations of reality) (pp. 372–377). Cultures of journalism are measured and classified according to their proximity to the opposite poles of these dichotomies. Based on such perceived proximity, Indigenous and non-Western types of journalism are continuously defined as politicized interventionist projects, in contrast to the more neutral, objective, and hence “professionally oriented” (Skjerdal, 2012, p. 638) character of Western liberal journalism.

The dichotomies and comparisons of cultures within this kind of research originate in scientific methods and knowledge produced in the context of modern European imperialism. In fact, comparisons have served as a social scientific vehicle for the production of a myriad of racial, gender, ethnic, and other taxonomies that constitute the grammar of the racialized discourse and are used to rationalize and justify the conquest, slavery, subjugation, oppression, and exclusion of humans deemed of lower order (see Goldberg, 1993). Since at least the nineteenth century, European sciences have constructed dichotomies such as we/they, West/East, civilized/backward, developed/undeveloped, and white/non-white. These dichotomies create ontological Others whose presence affirms the sense of the Western superior Self (Said, 1979, 1994). Comparisons of journalism cultures extend and rearticulate these dichotomies in subtle but powerful ways.

For example, Hanusch (2013) published a study titled “Charting a Theoretical Framework for Examining Indigenous Journalism Culture.” The singular form of the noun “journalism” in the title obliterates the multiple and diverse philosophies and practices embodied by Indigenous media workers in countries worldwide. Despite these vast differences, Hanusch reduces Indigenous journalisms to the following shared dimensions: dedication to community service, language preservation, attachment to culture and tradition, and counter-narrative to mainstream media. Based on these characteristics, Indigenous journalisms are presented in essentialist terms as always interventionist and always culturally specific. Hanusch refers to Indigenous media and journalisms as political projects whose “core reason for existence” is “speaking back,” “providing a sense of empowerment,” and being a “counter-narrative” (p. 86) to mainstream media and its misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples. The underlying notion behind these essentializing characterizations is that of two separate public spheres: Indigenous and non-Indigenous, with Indigenous journalism catering only to the former. Moreover, these characterizations are tied to the dichotomies of active/neutral, objectivist/interventionist, and truth/subjectivity mentioned above. Indigenous journalism can only be considered cultural and activist when compared with the universal, neutral, and professional journalism attributed to Western cultures and liberal democracies. The act of comparison thus constitutes a process of relational self-definition of Western Self against Indigenous Other.

In contrast, Hafsteinsson (2013) conducted an ethnographic study of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) in Canada, interviewing key figures in the newsroom. He found that its news programming and reporting were much more than the few dimensions mentioned above. APTN strives to be a watchdog against internal governing bodies and also to address and reach non-Indigenous audiences. Its goal is not simply to disseminate Indigenous counter- and self-representations, but to dig deeper into community formations, culture, identity, and global struggles. Its reporters try to tell meaningful stories that speak to culturally and linguistically different Indigenous communities as well as non-Indigenous audiences. APTN has been successfully navigating this multiplicity and diversity, but the significance and complexity of its work is lost in the reductionism of imperial and empiricist research on journalism cultures.

Research on journalist cultures also overlooks the internal tensions, hybridity, and even contradictions within Indigenous journalisms and how these are related to the hegemonic contextual frames within which they operate. APTN, as well as Indigenous radio stations, are subject to the governing rules of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (Knopf, 2010). Reporters at these Indigenous media outlets also abide by the journalistic standards of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and share some of the commitments of mainstream Western journalists, such as striving for neutrality, non-bias, and being a political watchdog (Hafsteinsson, 2013). Indigenous news outlets further guard against encroachment by external settler culture and the federal government as well as internal powers, such as community Elders and governing councils (Hafsteinsson, 2013). In this sense, Indigenous journalism is more than Indigenous, because it is shaped by Indigenous values and politics, settler culture, and hegemonic media practices. Together, these influences result in what could be called an “Indian mélange,” that is, being an “insider/outsider” and simultaneously “wearing a moccasin and shoe” (Valaskakis, 2005, pp. 6–19).

APTN’s counter-narratives and decolonizing practices operate within the parameters of hegemonic commercial media and culture, which is always on the lookout for critical articulations that threaten and undermine it. In response, mass media industries regulate, appropriate, and tame Indigenous oppositional practices through professional regulatory bodies such as the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, state mechanisms for financing Indigenous media, and university journalism curricula stressing values associated with Western modernity and capitalism. In the process, the politics and possibilities of Indigenous media and journalism countercultures are contained and sometimes muted.

Indigenizing journalism education; Practising decolonization

According to Abdi (2012), “Colonialism was first and foremost, psycho-cultural and educational,” so decolonizing educational praxis disturbs “the structural as well as the functional coherence of official knowledges and learning discourses and their selectively dysfunctional scribbling of totalizing Eurocentric metanarratives” (p. 12). Journalism education is one kind of official knowledge, so the first step toward decolonizing journalism education should be recognition of how and what Eurocentric influences organize current curricula and what and whose knowledges and experiences are silenced. However, this kind of decolonization should not simply deconstruct world knowledges; instead, it should emancipate supressed epistemologies, such as Indigenous ways of knowing. Connecting and embracing diverse Western, non-Western, and Indigenous knowledges creates an ecology of knowledges. Developing curricula in which Indigenous and Western ways of knowing interact and thrive together further establishes what Abdi (2012) calls “co-created schooling” or “educational arrangements and outcomes that can achieve actual and tangible wellbeing for all” (p. 12). In this case, this would be the well-being of Indigenous and non-Indigenous journalism students and teachers who see their lives, histories, cultures, and spiritualties represented in curricula.

Valuable examples of “co-created schooling” include several programs addressing the misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in two Australian universities as well as the special topics course designed by McCue at the University of British Columbia. The programs in Australia address the oppression of Indigenous Australians. One program is a 10-day “work-integrated learning approach” (Stewart, Williams, Cullen, Johnston, Phillips, Mulligan, Bowman, & Meadows, 2012, p. 58) during which journalism students receive cultural sensitivity training and presentations from professional reporters who cover Indigenous issues. In another program, undergraduate students collaborate with an Indigenous community to produce magazine-style television programs about the community’s people and culture (Stewart et al., 2012). In a third program, students live and work with Indigenous communities for one month; some also complete internships in Indigenous media outlets, learning directly from Indigenous reporters and editors in the newsroom (Steward et al., 2012). These collaborative approaches in journalism training have led to students who have deeper understanding and appreciation of Indigenous issues and cultures in Australia, as well as to more positive media representations of Indigenous peoples in the news stories they produce (Stewart et al., 2012).

As mentioned above, the special topic course Reporting in Indigenous Communities created by McCue at the University of British Columbia in Canada was inspired by similar programs in Australia. McCue explains in an interview that the course addresses two issues: 1) under-representation of Indigenous peoples in the media, and 2) stereotypes such as “Native as victim,” “Native as warrior,” and more recently, “Native as incompetent manager” (McKeon, 2011, para. 5). To counter these stereotypes, McCue designed the course as a graduate, full-term, “intense study of aboriginal people in the media” and “a lot of working hands-on with aboriginal people” (paras. 2–3) on topical issues such as health, education, Indigenous youth, and water. The course also addresses the “discomfort” of non-Indigenous reporters and their concerns about how to “ask tough questions of chiefs” without “being seen as racist or having a bias” (para. 11). The empowering effects of the course on non-Indigenous students are illustrated by comments from two non-Indigenous female students, who referred to gaining the trust of Indigenous spiritual dancers and being able to access sacred locations of the Stó:lõ communities in the Fraser Valley (Bergen & Kelly, 2013). The students used tactics such as transparency and perseverance to report on this “very secretive spiritual tradition” (introduction and para. 1) and presented the story on CBC Radio, thus launching their professional careers.

These attempts at decolonizing pedagogies are important contributions to help journalists connect Indigenous and settler societies in new and socially meaningful ways. Yet these pedagogies still cater to a structural reality: because the overwhelming majority of journalism students are from settler and dominant racial and economic groups, these approaches end up teaching non-Indigenous reporters to penetrate, observe, and represent Indigenous peoples and their lives. These innovative programs take responsibility for the ways in which media and reporters have contributed to the oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia, which is a major step toward decolonizing curricula and pedagogy in journalism education. However, the programs also approach Indigenous peoples as Others to visit, engage with, and get to know, with the goal of representing them upon return to an original cultural and professional location that does not include them. Journalists, like others who collect and disseminate information and knowledge, cannot be “cultural travelers” but must help “wage the battle against the representation” (Smith, 2005, p. 136.). Cultural sensitivity training for journalism students so that they produce improved representations of Indigenous peoples amid white, settler, and Eurocentric education and mass media is not enough. Better representing others does not subvert the power relations between settlers who are doing the representations and the Indigenous peoples who are gazed at and spoken of (see Hall, 1997). Subverting the power relation requires embedding Indigenous media and communication practices and ways of knowing across journalism educational curricula, as well as intentionally recruiting more Indigenous students and teachers to join journalism programs. The next section outlines concrete communication practices related to Indigenous journalisms and communication that defy the logic and workings of settler media and neocolonialism and could inspire a different kind of journalism education.

Practising anti-colonial and anti-capitalist pedagogies in journalism education

APTN offers valuable examples of practices informed by anti-colonial and anti-capitalist imaginations. For example, it addresses fractured and diverse Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences who speak different languages, have different cultures, and advance unique political agendas. APTN reporters have embraced heterogeneity and have developed techniques to address it and preserve it. For example, news programming often defies national borders—especially the Canada/U.S. border—by including stories about Indigenous peoples in other countries (Hafsteinsson, 2013; Knopf, 2010). Reporters engage in community-based efforts, rooting stories within the cultural and historical specificity of the affected community. They also invite interviewees to speak in their language of choice, thus undermining the dominance of the English language as a colonial tongue and helping to preserve Indigenous languages and dialects (Hafsteinsson, 2013). By doing so, their news reporting acknowledges local cultural beliefs and practices that shape events but still manages to highlight the significance of the story beyond its cultural context (Hafsteinsson, 2013). Furthermore, APTN covers stories in remote or smaller communities that mainstream media rarely visit due to expense (e.g., travelling to remote destinations, lodging, language translation). Indigenous reporters further defy the hierarchy of knowledge in mainstream news, specifically the supremacy of the expert who narrates, interprets, or validates an event. In mainstream media, this expert is usually an academic, politician, or someone with expertise gained through special education and professional training. Indigenous journalism relies on such experts but also honours and respects the wisdom, life experience, and knowledge of Elders who are leaders and role models in the community (Hafsteinsson, 2013; Retzlaff, 2006). The presence of experiential knowledge and Elders in news stories not only makes meaning; it also connects generations and keeps the links between history, tradition, and the present alive. By incorporating and studying these Canadian Indigenous media practices in mainstream journalism education, we preserve them as valuable epistemologies that expand journalism and open spaces for counter-hegemonic praxis that undermines capitalist media cultures, in which news, reporter, and audience are treated as commodities for added value. Indigenous practices present locations from which to imagine news media and journalisms that serve the needs of both communities and media organizations.

Indigenous communicators around the world

Visual production of news stories is an essential component of journalism education, fostering skills in photojournalism and visual composition for traditional and online platforms. Some Indigenous visual communicators use approaches that can expand this field in new and innovative ways. For example, Indigenous videographers in Bolivia and the greater Amazon region in Latin America use a “weaving” method wherein oral narratives are communicated through visualizations, applying techniques similar to those used by Indigenous women weaving textiles that might initially appear to be incompatible or unsuitable (Schiwy, 2008). This use of weaving in news stories presents gendered visual communication wherein links between events and stories that might appear initially to be unrelated are forced into light and interpreted through the eyes and bodies of women. This kind of women-centred reporting can undermine the currently male-dominated news media and empower female audiences. It can also reorganize and subvert mass media and political structures that allowed the murders and disappearances of hundreds of Indigenous women in Canada to remain unnoticed and unaddressed for years.

In countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Angola, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, there is a “journalism of association, affiliation and belonging that existed since the pre-colonial period [and] survived … to the present day” (Shaw, 2009, p. 505). Within this tradition, journalists are responsive and responsible to the community, not the media industry that employs them (Skjerdal, 2012). Community members are considered an integral part of news stories rather than being included as eyewitnesses, and so they may request additional information from the reporter or challenge the story itself (Ansu-Kyeremeh, 2005). Indigenous oral traditions also shape media and journalism practices across African locales. For example, news may take a chronological style of narrative, using pronouns such as “I” and “you” and “we” to emphasize the close relationship between the reporter and the audience or community (Shaw, 2009). In Tunisia, Nigeria, and Rwanda, reporters may extend this oral tradition with a “resistance to written scripts” and “letting programs run freely, much like in the oral narrative” (Bourgault, 2005, p. 163). Western observers tend to attribute such resistance among reporters in African countries to a “lack of discipline” or “lack of training” (Bourgault, 2005, p. 163). However, if taught in journalism courses, these community-based Indigenous reporting techniques might inspire students to experiment with, mix, and assess various communication approaches in relation to anticipated audiences. In the process, journalism students could hone their information gathering and reporting skills. Mastery of multiple and Indigenous techniques may also entice and inspire emerging journalists to invent new and hybrid modes of reporting that better serve the needs of highly diverse media audiences in Canada and globally.

In India, media and journalism education experts have recognized the inability of mainstream journalism practices originating in the West to reach and communicate with the multiple and often remote Indigenous communities in this country (see Anand, 2014). In response, Indian media professionals and activists have called for localized and Indigenous approaches in news dissemination and communication. Such approaches include “phone journalism,” which incorporates the oral traditions of Indigenous communities who lack access to other information platforms (Hume, 2012). Anyone with a mobile phone can access a voice portal and record or listen to news in multiple distinct languages and dialects. In this sharing, events are presented and interpreted by multiple reporters and points of view, thus giving news richness, depth, and complexity. This kind of accessible, multicultural, and multilingual journalism softens cultural, political, and linguistic boundaries between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and fosters fluidity that brings social groups closer to each other.


Journalism educators are responsible for training journalists who perpetuate the stereotyping, silencing, and oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world. This kind of oppression can be countered by recognizing that what journalists are imparting are not professional skills and values, but rather a Western, modern, Eurocentric paradigm that stemmed from colonialism. Changing this paradigm requires educational systems that incorporate both Indigenous and non-Indigenous ideas and practices related to journalism. This kind of inclusive and co-created education will foster journalists who are critical thinkers, intercultural experts, and fluid and flexible professionals with the tools and skills to communicate with highly diverse audiences and communities. Their news coverage will promote intercultural understanding, social togetherness yet embrace of difference, allowing diverse audiences to come together in times of crisis and prosperity.


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