For the last three months, I’ve been spending much of my time trying to build a bridge.
I was thrilled that the Free Press turned to me to help lead this groundbreaking project. But I was also humbled and, if I’m honest, a little scared.
I wondered if I could do it. If I could actually help build and create a new connection for our newsroom and for readers to offer so much meaning and potential. I wondered if my shoulders were strong enough to help carry this forward.
But as a proud Indigenous woman who is a member of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, I knew I had to take my space offered to me in the newsroom to work towards creating a better, more inclusive Free Press for all.
I believe we are shaping a path that will move us forward in the way we share stories and our lived experiences, and in the way we learn and understand each other. My hope is that long from now, this path will be well worn by the footprints of other diverse journalists and staff who will continue take their space in this newsroom, making it better and more representative of the world and communities we live in.
This project feels vast. Hopeful. A mountain of a venture with a lot of potential. How are we going to do this properly? We can’t just barge into people’s physical spaces or their social media and announce that we are building something for them and want them to take part; it doesn’t work that way. The Reader Bridge has to work as a partnership.
Building the foundation may be one of the most important parts of this project. I started by reaching out to some of the people in my network, many who have stepped up to be leaders in their communities, asking if they’d be willing to hear about the project and give me feedback.
When I spoke one-on-one with people I was met with curiosity, excitement and a sincere desire to share. I tried my best to meet in their space and at their comfort level. I asked for their thoughts and experiences in dealing with the media, including the Free Press.
Many of the people I met with admitted the relationship they had with media was complex. While every person emphasized how important news and storytelling is to them, news outlets such as this one aren't always their desired or trusted source.
Many don’t trust us and other mainstream news outlets because we haven't served them in a way that's representative of their lives. Many feel that our lens hasn’t been wide enough, our world view not broad enough and our coverage not diverse or inclusive enough.
Every person I spoke to was fair and honest and gave me some really great insights into how we need to work harder to build and mend our relationships with diverse people and communities in our province. We need to do better. At connecting and reaching out to people of colour. At listening, learning and building sincere relationships rooted in trust, transparency and reciprocity. We need to be better at telling stories in a genuine and authentic way that portrays an everyday lived experience.
Most of all, we need to be better at amplifying Indigenous, Black, Filipino, Indian and Asian voices. One of our goals in this project is not just to do better as a newsroom in sharing your stories, but by making space and sharing our platform with you, the readers.
I believe that we have a real shot at making a difference through journalism and storytelling.
One of the things that I’m excited to share is that we have earmarked some funding to pay for work from freelance writers, journalists and photographers of colour through a pitch portal on the Reader Bridge website, once it goes live. I fully believe this will go a long way in helping to amplify voices, while providing opportunities to earn money and have work published in the oldest, independently owned newspaper in Western Canada. We are still working on our pitch portal, but freelancers can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org in the meantime.
I believe that we have a real shot at making a difference through journalism and storytelling. I know that the media has not always been fair and I am excited to be part of this project. I’ve always loved journalism and believe it has the ability to educate and change the world. I think we are on a good path to do better and to be better.
I know that I am not strong enough to build this bridge on my own. Nobody is. But I know we can build it together. I will continue to learn and grow with this project, and I won’t stop showing up or trying to be better. I invite you to reach out to me with your thoughts, suggestions and story ideas or to share your own experiences.
Thank you for taking the time to read about this. I hope you enjoy the first of our stories from this new initiative. I invite you to help me build this bridge.
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley Cook is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press and manages the paper's Reader Bridge project, which seeks to expand coverage of underserved communities.