Promoting social change through the media

Joanna Chiu is a journalist who serves as the editor and founder of WAM! Vancouver (Women Action and the Media), a non-profit dedicated to creating gender justice in the media, and NüVoices, an international editorial collective that focuses on self-identified women’s work in China. Chiu will be speaking at the Peace and Conflict Studies Lecture Series: Transforming Culture for Social Change at Langara College on Sept. 19.

The media is so influential. It’s how most people learn about the world,” says Chiu. “I can’t advocate for people to think a certain way as a journalist, but I can try to make sure that I give people the information to make up their minds.”

Getting into journalism

Joanna Chiu will be speaking at Langara about her journey as a journalist. | Photo courtesy of Joanna Chiu

Born in Hong Kong, Chiu came to Canada with her family at the age of two when they no longer felt safe living there. She explains that her interest in China grew when learning about the dark issues of the country in middle school. This led her to study Chinese history and Asian studies at the University of British Columbia.

Chiu eventually went back to China as a foreign correspondent. While there, she used what she considers to be her relative safety and privilege as a Canadian to tell a range of stories that Chinese journalists struggle to tell safely.

“I went into this field because it was a way for me to put together my passions and natural talents,” Chiu says.

As a journalist, Chiu believed she could make a positive contribution with her writing. She wanted to do it in a way that could make an impact because people trust the mainstream media organizations that she writes for.

“Journalism is a balanced and credible way to make people think about issues without telling them exactly what to think,” she says. “Journalists can’t really start a bunch of petitions but we can do our best to make sure what we write and who we write about is done in a good way.”

Sources of diversity

In my experience as a journalist, some media organizations and journalists aren’t doing as much as they can to make sure what they’re putting out there is something that they want to see,” Chiu says.

According to Chiu, the change can start with being aware of how many women versus how many men journalists quote, finding more diverse resources and experts and being aware of negative stereotypes about people or places. When speaking to female journalists, Chiu found many of them admitted to heavily quoting male experts and it wasn’t something they were happy with.

“Having a directory and network where people are encouraged to find more diverse sources is a good way for them to create the kind of media they want to see out in the world,” she says.

Thus, NüVoices created a directory of 500 female experts on Greater China to encourage and aid people in finding more diverse sources.

Changing the media

Throughout her career, Chiu has written about human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights civil society and politics to name a few. In her lecture, ‘Promoting social change through media and the arts,’ Chiu will reflect on being a foreign correspondent and discuss leaving her full-time job to pursue WAM! Vancouver and NüVoices. Through these organizations, Chiu aims to change the way the media frames issues in the hopes that media becomes more diverse and free of negative stereotypes.

“I’m cognizant that everyone has bias. Every journalist chooses and frames stories in a certain way; that’s why I got involved with starting up WAM! Vancouver and NüVoices,” says Chiu. “Writers and artists are really influential, and we do have a powerful say in what gets out there.”

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