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Meet Our 2022 JHR Fellow

The Tyee welcomes Akhila Menon, joining us through a new program that seeks to diversify Canada’s media ecosystems.

Jackie Wong 19 Jul

Jackie Wong is a senior editor with The Tyee.

The Tyee’s diversity committee, which meets regularly to address issues related to newsroom diversity, is part of the daily landscape of work here. In my experience, it’s rare to see this kind of committee so widely supported by both staff and managers.

Accordingly, we were thrilled to partner with Journalists for Human Rights on a new initiative, called Enhanced Access for BIPOC Youth in Canadian Media, that aims to build and sustain the work of young Black journalists, Indigenous journalists and journalists of colour to help diversify the national media ecosystem.

This year’s program is the first program of its kind running in Canada across several news organizations, including the Local, IndigiNews, the Canadian Press and Xtra Magazine.

We are thrilled to welcome recent University of British Columbia school of journalism graduate and Vancouver-based multimedia journalist Akhila Menon to our team as the inaugural fellow this year.

Before joining The Tyee, Menon interned at Vancouver Magazine and at Ricochet, where she wrote about the intersection between refugee claimants and Vancouver’s housing crisis.

We are so excited to join Menon as she works on stories about health and climate with the support of the team here at The Tyee.

And we extend our gratitude to the funders who have made this work possible: the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch and the Meta Journalism Project, as well as an anonymous donation from a first-generation Chinese-Canadian family in Vancouver.

Menon and I connected on her first day at The Tyee yesterday to discuss her hopes for her time at The Tyee and her views on the evolving role of journalists. Plus the final word on whether anyone should still be using the word “lit” in conversation anymore.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

The Tyee: Welcome, Akhila! What brings you to The Tyee?

Akhila Menon: I’m passionate about independent media, so The Tyee has been on my radar since I started school in 2020. Some of my favourite journalists, including J.B. MacKinnon and Francesca Fionda, have long-standing ties with the outlet. When I was offered this opportunity, I jumped at the chance to be able to start my journalistic journey on the right foot.

What was it like to study journalism during the first years of the pandemic? Does that influence how you approach your work and what you wish to focus on?

To be completely honest, my parents had to talk me out of deferring when I first started school in 2020. I was back home in India for the first couple of months and the pandemic coupled with online classes and half a day’s worth of time difference took a toll.

But I’m glad I stuck it out. In my second year, things calmed down a little pandemic-wise, so the school was more comfortable holding some of our courses in person.

My cohort’s experience with school and journalism, in general, was quite novel and somewhat hard to navigate at first. It has also had a tremendous influence on how I approach my work as a journalist. I enjoy interviews in person but I’m definitely more comfortable over the phone or via video call. The last two years have been a lesson in empathy for journalists and as someone who learned the craft then, I’ve found myself to be a lot more accommodating of people’s sensibilities.

What, to you, is the role of a journalist in 2022?

I think a journalist in 2022 has much more influence than ever before. And since great power comes with great responsibility, it’s important that we use those powers for the greater good. And that could include everything from debunking disinformation, and accurately representing facts to standing up for what’s right for the journalistic community.

Information is the strongest currency and journalists today need to help take down the practice of gatekeeping it. It is also a journalist’s responsibility to conduct themselves in trauma-informed and sensitive ways.

What do you hope to focus on during your time at The Tyee?

I am someone who generally likes to dabble in multiple avenues because I like so many things. But for the next few months, I’m going to be focusing on health and environment, and public policies in relation to the two.

In addition to your journalistic passions, you've noted a love of contemporary pop culture. Any recommendations for those of us whose tastes may be described as, um, "mid"?

I like to identify as early Gen Z and my lot tries to stay relevant by staying up to date on pop culture. And while I do think that everyone has their own unique aesthetic, some things are no longer cool. For instance, skinny jeans or the word “lit.”

Lastly, I don’t think anyone’s tastes should be called “mid” — unless you like the Kardashians unironically.

Anything else you'd like to share with us?

I am a strong believer in pet tax (a Reddit term meant to encourage people to share pictures of their pets with each other), so the best way to start a conversation with me is by sharing a picture of your pet so I can appropriately gush over them.  [Tyee]

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