The 2020 Dalton Camp Award and its $10,000 prize, presented by FRIENDS, goes to Radiyah Chowdhury for her essay The Forever Battle of a Journalist of Colour.
Radiyah’s powerful essay is a first-hand account of the systematic barriers that racialized journalists face in Canada. Radiyah is a producer, writer, and poet from Scarborough, ON. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Carleton University and currently serves as the assistant editor as Chatelaine. Radiyah also worked in various mediums: radio, TV, podcasting, and print. This includes TVO, CBC, The Discourse and National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.
In a Q&A with FRIENDS, Radiyah Chowdhury shares her thoughts on writing her award-winning essay:
FRIENDS: Writing an essay critiquing Canadian journalism must not have been easy for you as a working journalist of colour. What was it like making that decision? First to write it and then to submit it where it will be widely read by a national audience?
Radiyah Chowdhury: When I first came across the contest and read that the essay had to be about media and democracy, my immediate thought was, “Okay, what does democracy really mean?” I was taught in school that a free press is crucial to an effective and accurate democracy, which means they are always linked. But if this free press doesn’t actually reflect the people who live in this democracy, are we really upholding that notion? I definitely considered other topics because it wasn’t lost on me that I was taking a risk, writing this piece and also being an early career journalist. But my essay opens with a truth: this dilemma I’ve had about leaving the field. And then the essay is meant to explain how that dilemma came about in the first place.
I could have written about something else, but this felt like the most honest route—and if I was going to spend time writing something, I wanted it to be genuine. Also, I didn’t think I’d win, so that helped reduce any stress associated with submitting it.
F: Beyond these difficult conversations, what changes have you noticed happening in newsrooms in Canada since your essay was published?
RC: I’m seeing a lot of change in leadership at various organizations (both in Canada and USA), which is good but it also worries me because I’m afraid those freshly anointed have been left to pick up the pieces of messes left by their predecessors. I’m also seeing a willingness to think more about systemic racism in newsrooms and innovative approaches to address internal issues and diversify the content being put out. It’s too early to tell whether these changes will make meaningful change, though. It’s easy to shift with the tide and then forget about it completely, but I’m really hoping this change in mindset and commitment to dismantling systemic racism is permanent. A big thing for me, as a j-school grad, is seeing the shift in curriculum at journalism schools and hiring of professors who are Indigenous, Black and people of colour.
F: Imagine a journalism student of colour who just graduated and is entering a world where journalists of colour are no longer silenced, tokenized or relegated to writing from the margins. What would be waiting for them as they take their first steps into the industry?
RC: Hopefully the ability to focus on the work, to focus on the stories. Hopefully a fair shot.
Looking For More?
Even if you don’t believe you will win, apply! $10,000 goes a long way when you’re a student. Additionally, this is an incredible opportunity. Keep in mind that there’s also a Student Award up for grabs. Worth $2,500! You don’t want to miss a chance to help pay your tuition. And win a prestigious award! Now, what are you waiting for? Start writing!