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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged journalism

I am a big believer that if you create time and space and you set an intention, powerful things can happen. What does it mean to create time and space? To me, it simply means scheduling in time dedicated to a specific thing intentionally.

Here’s an example: A few years ago, my friend and I attended a Take Back the Night rally where we didn’t feel the style of the rally represented our fight against rape culture. The next year, we decided to start our own Take Back the Night rally that resonated with us more and to see if just maybe it might resonate with other people too. We reached out to some other friends who we knew were invested in fighting against rape culture, set a time and date, and booked a space in town where anyone who wanted to could sit in a room and talk about what a really effective and empowering Take Back the Night rally looked like to us. Time, space, intention.

We got pretty specific about the time, space, and intention around the event itself. We asked questions such as “what time of evening will the most people be able to attend? “What time is dark enough to stay true to the message of the event without causing unnecessary accessibility concerns?” and “what is our take-away message?”. We wanted it to feel empowering and we definitely didn’t want people going home feeling like their insides had been ripped out of their bodies. We wanted people to feel safe no matter who they were- and especially if they had experience feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in town. This event was for them (us). This influenced the decisions we made about where the event was held, the style of performances, the people performing, the route of the walk, the food and beverages we had available, and a million other details. It sounds like a lot of work, and in a way it was, but through collectively coming together, a group of random people in this small town created a brilliantly successful event. If I didn’t have a skill to move the event forward, someone else at the table did. If someone else at the table had money and no time, they bought something for the event and stopped coming to meetings. If someone said something that showed they were missing a perspective, someone else could say “hey, what about considering this…”. Time, space, intention.

A short five months ago, someone who has since become a close friend reached out to me and suggested I start a radio show. He’d heard me talking about something on the radio and thought I sounded pretty good. He also recognized the need for more young, female voices on air. A good man, this guy. To be honest, I’d been thinking about it for a while. The few times I’d been on air promoting something or discussing something with a regular host I liked, I’d found that I enjoyed broadcast media. It was a transferable skill from theatre in a lot of ways and it also meant that I had an excuse to do one of my favourite things- create time and space. The intention was to find out what people in my community were excited about and how it contributes positively to their lives.

So, I pitched my show, The Nothing Exists Radio Hour. “Nothing Exists” refers to the idea that nothing is what it is in and of itself. Each individual’s perception is shaped by their unique experiences, informed by their subject positions in a social world. What we each choose to do with those experiences is what makes us who we are. When we intentionally give time and space to peoples’ stories, we learn a lot from each other.” I wrote a super comprehensive proposal and had two meetings with the guys at the helm and it all got started. The conversations were so cool. It was rad. People were listening.

I had to field a few situations where I feel I was being given an unnecessary run-around, but I figured maybe it was just a case of people working differently than me. I did get the sense that the perception of me was that I was a crazy bitch, but I wasn’t sure why they would think that, other than the fact that the simple idea of creating time and space was overwhelming to them. And I guess I look kinda weird and I call myself a feminist and some people have a different understanding of what that means than the way I mean it. Then, rules I didn’t know existed started gradually popping up. And the accusations of things I had not said or done. Things came to a head recently, and it became impossible to deny that there was some predisposed (and inaccurate) ideas about who I am and how I operate going on in this very male-dominant space.  

It had been communicated to me that it was my responsibility to book my own guests and that if there was someone I could interview for the station or the station thought I’d be good at interviewing, they’d send along relevant information. So when the municipal candidates were all officially announced, I posted in the local politics groups I’m active in that if any of the candidates wanted to come on my show, I’d love to chat with them.

Something that is important to know about me is that I love municipal politics. I think they’re fascinating. I love picking apart policy and I love being active in building the community I live in. When I reached out with that post, I didn’t see it as a straight up political interview as much as a conversation between two people about something the guest is excited about.  I received a very positive response and almost instantly booked the entire amount of time I had left on my once-a-week show. The candidates who reached out to me were reaching out to me because they were either people who knew me or people who specifically wanted to reach out to the demographic of people who listen to my show.

Then, I received a call from the station informing me of a policy they had introduced that conflicted with the many interview I’d already booked. I explained that the interviews were booked already, but was told that each candidate was limited to one 15 minute spot. I asked for the reasoning behind this policy, I was told that it was so that all candidates were treated fairly. I asked why only 15 minutes and didn’t receive a real answer. The response to me questioning the policy was very much ‘we don’t have to explain this to you, you just have to do it’. After a second phone call from yet another man involved with the station where my questions about the policy weren’t clarified, I explained my position as follows:

1. I do not feel as though limiting candidate interviews to 15 minutes unless they can afford to pay for for an ad (that doesn’t actually give insight to a candidate’s position on relevant topics) is ethical. This does not create a fair opportunity; in fact, it’s essentially extortion. This is, as I understand it, not within the station’s mission and mandate.

I understand that the station is in desperate need of money. However, this is not an appropriate fundraising opportunity. This is an excellent opportunity to sit with a person who may be interested in purchasing ad space face to face to answer questions and close the sale. Limiting an interview to 15 minutes restricts the amount if information accessible through the station to the community.

When CBC covers elections, they state that all candidates are given equal opportunity to airtime, but that this does not necessarily equate to equal airtime. Everyone has equal opportunity to reach out to the station to be guests on the shows whose listeners they want to target.

2. I do not feel as though altering the format to fit the station’s new policy is in integrity to my show at this time. If this policy had been introduced and communicated to all show hosts earlier (specifically, before I’d booked guests), I would have been more inclined to find a creative way to maintain the integrity of my show while honouring the stations policy, even if I didn’t agree with it fully from an ethical point of view.

So I proposed that I take my show off the air during the time I do interviews with candidates and simply promote them through the other various channels where I distribute it. I let all the candidates I had booked know that after running into some conflict, my interview would no longer be airing on the radio, but it would be distributed through other channels and that I was happy to continue with the interview we had booked if that was agreeable to them. I also explicitly said that this meant that the candidates would still be free to do an interview with the radio station and that I would be happy to hook that up if they needed a hand with that. I exhaled a dramatic sigh of relief- thank goodness this bullshit is dealt with.

Until my partner came home to let me know that yet another man from the station had approached him while he was working to let him know that I was spreading misinformation. I was telling candidates that they had to pay for their interviews and that’s illegal and what I was saying needed to be nipped in the bud. My partner had read all of the communication around this subject (when I was pulling out my hair going “what am I missing here?!”) and knew this wasn’t the case. He also knew this had nothing to do with him and that it was completely inappropriate for this man to approach him about something to do with his partner. So he told him that this had nothing to do with him and he should probably talk to me directly about it.  

Upon hearing about this, I emailed the man who had approached my partner and clearly and bluntly informed him, “do not ever approach my partner at a work event again to discuss things that have nothing to do with him. That is incredibly unprofessional, sexist, and straight up insulting.” I asserted my boundaries, and not surprisingly, this was uncomfortable for the person on the receiving end of my email. He informed me that he was not sexist.

And then, I was reprimanded by the station manager. I was told that it’s unprofessional for volunteers to speak to volunteers that way.

At no point did any of these people ask for any clarification from me about where I was coming from. All I wanted to do was create time and space for these candidates to talk about what they were excited about in the community and about their platform. If they wanted to have that conversation with me, I wanted to have that conversation with them. So I opened up the space, and people wanted to occupy it. And then I was told about a policy that just didn’t make sense to me. And when I tried to understand the reasoning behind the policy, I was basically told that it didn’t matter if the policy made sense or if I was cool with it or if it conflicted with commitments I had already made.

So I clarified my position calmly and moved forward.

Then, today, I become informed by the station manager that two men from the station (who I saw last night and who said nothing to me then about this) have complained that my interviews were still posted on the website. I was told that that went against the resolution agreement (not true, the agreement was not to air the interviews on the station and not to promote it through the station). I was again accused of spreading misinformation to candidates, which I never did. Again, it was a case of people making assumptions and not asking directly for clarification.

I’m probably missing a million things here and am totally wrong about others. The problem is the way I was treated simply not for doing what I was told without question.

So this leads me to wonder- what is so threatening about a young woman who is clear about her intention to simply create time and space and who doesn’t just do things because she’s told to?

I love following politics, but I’m an anarchist. I believe in people using their individual skills to come together to make things work. I believe in people finding strategies that work and taking the steps forward to make things happen. I also believe in doing things because they make sense, not just because someone tells me to. I want people in my circles to give me reasons to believe I’m wrong or I’m missing something because I believe it’s worth the work and temporary discomfort to expand my understanding of this world and the people in it.

I also believe, to my fucking core, that I am worthy of respect. And apparently that is exceptionally threatening when it upsets the power dynamics in the male-dominated space that is broadcast journalism in small-town Ontario. The good news is that I believe making time and space for people to talk about what you’re into and how it keeps them well is worth the work and temporary discomfort it’s taking to expand and build this space I’m occupying with my show and the station. It still, ultimately, is a thing that feels good.

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