Meet Mzwandile Poncana, 2022 JHR Fellow at Xtra Magazine

Earlier this year, JHR announced a new program, Enhanced Access to Opportunity for BIPOC Youth in Canadian Mediawhich offers paid internships at leading Canadian newsrooms to BIPOC high school/university students and graduates who are interested in a career in journalism. Through this program, Mzwandile Poncana (pictured here) was selected to intern at Xtra Magazine, where he looks forward to reporting on healthcare, the criminal justice system, the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ refugees and migrants, and BIPOC LGBTQ2S+ art and culture. We talk to Mzwandile about what he hopes to take away from this new opportunity.

Mzwandile Poncana is the 2022 JHR Fellow at Xtra Magazine.

Congratulations on being selected as Xtra’s 2022 JHR Fellow! During your internship, what are you most looking forward to? 

I’ve admired Xtra’s stories and editorial principles for as long as I’ve been in Canada. I love that their work aspires to be as intersectional as possible, covering the entire LGBTQ2S+ umbrella but also focusing on the experiences of community members with other marginalized identities. I really appreciate that there is an independent media space that can go in-depth into sober LGBTQ2S+ issues, whilst also platforming the more joyous and light-hearted elements of the community’s culture. I’m deeply excited to be able to work with the team as I’m sure they can offer long-lasting guidance and support. I’m especially hoping to take away training on how to effectively report on marginalized communities and how to practice trauma-informed journalism. I’m also looking forward to learning more about the positive change-making and activism taking place in the community by applying solutions journalism to all my work there—I hope to cover the different ways the community is prospering and growing despite various forms of oppression, whilst sharpening my solutions-oriented interviewing and researching skills. Besides activism, I would also like to cover (and earn a byline on) stories related to topics such as LGBTQ2S+ healthcare, queer people who deal with the criminal justice system and carcerality, the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ refugees and migrants in Canada, and BIPOC LGBTQ2S+ art and culture in general.

Read Mzwandike’s story: New study shows more mental health services lead to lower suicide risk for LGBTQ college students | Xtra Magazine

In your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges for BIPOC youth embarking on a journalism career in Canada? How do opportunities like this internship help mitigate those challenges? 

Though this differs for every person and community, I believe a lack of financial resources is a significant barrier. Income inequality is racialized in Canada, according to recent data, and this means that BIPOC youth are disproportionately limited from gaining access to higher education. This is especially true for international students in Canada who have to pay exorbitant, higher fees at universities. Unfortunately, this leads to them finding it difficult to obtain journalism degrees/diplomas and therefore facing barriers when it comes to hiring. I think there are various solutions to this, including working to make all education free—but I think another imperative is providing as many paid opportunities as possible for aspiring BIPOC journalists who are both in high school and university. This helps them get on their feet and support themselves whilst building their career foundations. So the fact that the Journalists for Human Rights fellowship is paid is important, and I’m thankful for it.

Racism and discrimination are other steep barriers. For example, we saw in the recent Canadian Association of Journalists diversity survey that Canadian newsrooms are 75% white. Though newsrooms are steadily getting more diverse, the senior positions in most companies are still predominantly white, and those are the people with the higher decision-making powers when it comes to hiring. The lack of representation in senior positions is a weakness in the industry but can be rectified by hiring and integrating more BIPOC journalists into newsrooms so they can eventually rise up. In that way, I think this internship is a helpful initiative since it not only aspires to have young BIPOC journalists join the industry through short-term internships but also aspires to have us permanently remain and create an enduring change there after the internships conclude.

Another question, of course, is once these interns are integrated into the newsrooms, how do news teams ensure they create a safe environment where these young journalists feel comfortable and self-confident enough to carry on working in the industry long-term? That’s where sensitivity and trauma-informed training to staff could be beneficial, and as part of this fellowship, JHR is providing that training to my newsroom, Xtra— another component of the fellowship I find really significant and helpful.

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