Journalism course helps four community organizations enhance their communications
By Jena Lynde-Smith
Carleton journalism students used their class on strategic communications this year to devise communication plans for four Canadian organizations that support refugee, 2SLGBTQI+ and BIPOC communities.
Journalism students in the Strategic Communication course that ran in the winter term were given the opportunity to learn what it’s like to be a communication consultant by working with actual clients. Joan Wright, Communication Strategist and the class instructor, decided to leverage those interactions to promote equity and inclusion.
The class worked with Black Ottawa Connect, the Enchanté Network, Love of Literature and Refugee 613.
“Carleton is committed to equity, diversity and inclusion. I wanted to look for clients who were working in that space or who were service providers for the Black, Indigenous, or Racialized community,” Wright said.
Black Ottawa Connect
Black Ottawa Connect is a non-profit organization that fosters connections to inspire growth and success within the Black community. It was launched in 2017 as a Facebook group by Meron Berhe, a Carleton science graduate. She said she just wanted to connect with members of Ottawa’s Black community. It has since grown to have over 4,800 members.
Mayelle Joachim-Hivert is Black Ottawa Connect’s Vice-Chair, an educator and also a Carleton graduate. She spent 10 years teaching in Toronto before moving back to Ottawa. She said that Black Ottawa Connect helped her feel connected when she returned.
“I was having a hard time as an adult, I wasn’t into the kid stuff or the university stuff anymore,” she said.
“The Facebook group helped with that. It told you about events, or people would say ‘hey have you heard of this person,’ and what not. It was nice, it made me feel connected to the community.”
For Joachim-Hivert, it was a no-brainer to agree to work with Wright’s course. She said she was extremely impressed with the students’ work and suggestions they had for the Black Ottawa Connect communication strategy.
“It was presented really well and the students were really good. You could tell they were trying hard and they were super professional,” Joachim said.
“One of the recommendations that stuck out was that we are active on some of our socials but not equally on others – which is fair and true. We are Instagram heavy and we don’t care much for Twitter. So they were ‘hey, you have a whole different demographic and Twitter, you need to use it.’”
Journalism student Cameron Chaddad was a member of the group that worked with Black Ottawa Connect. He said working with them was an exciting experience.
“Everyone we were in contact with from Black Ottawa Connect was very open to our suggestions and you could feel the sort of mutual respect we would give each other in our working relationship,” Chaddad said.
“As students who were mostly inexperienced in the communications field, the organization could have simply shrugged us and our suggestions off due to inexperience. However, in all of our interactions I felt that the organization was very excited to hear what we had to say and was very engaged in our work which was a great feeling.”
The Enchanté Network
The Enchanté Network is a national network connecting and supporting over 160 pride centers and 2SLGBTQI+ service providers across Canada. It is the largest network of 2SLGBTQI+ organizations in Canada, with members spanning across every province and territory. Their members include Two-Spirit societies, pride centers, HIV/AIDS organizations, trans collectives, and other frontline organizations.
Tyler Boyce, the Enchanté Network’s Executive Director, said they aim to connect, support and advocate for their members.
“Our mission is to maintain a thriving, sustainable, vibrant, intersectional, indigenized and culturally competent network of 2SLGBTQI+ organizations from coast to coast,” said Boyce.
Boyce said he was extremely pleased with Wright’s course and the journalism students he worked with.
“It was an honour to work with Joan Wright’s class and witness the passion, commitment, and innovation of the students,” he said. “The communication strategy will benefit the organization – specifically, in the way that it considered possible perceptions of the Enchanté Network in an external socioeconomic and political context.”
Jen Siushansian, a fourth-year journalism student, was a member of the group assigned to the Enchanté Network. She said her work in Wright’s course was invigorating and helped her realize that she wants to work in the communications field.
“It was an honour for me as a pansexual woman to work with the largest national 2SLGBTQI+ organization, which serves and advocates on behalf of a network of member groups. It is now one of my professional ambitions is to work as a strategic communicator in the non-profit sector,” Siushansian said.
Love of Literature
Love of Literature is a Canadian-based book club enterprise that aims to spark curiosity in Black youth and inspire life-long learners to read books that celebrate, include and represent Black culture. They run virtual book clubs for youth ages 7-18, with all books focused on Black characters and Black stories.
The organization was founded by Danielle Norris in 2017. It started as a small book club in Brampton, Ontario, and has since grown into an internationally-reaching, non-profit organization. Norris said they had over 300 kids in their book clubs this year – from Toronto to the United Kingdom.
“We recognize there’s a huge gap,” Norris said.
“We have asked parents if their children had access to school programs or to books with diverse Black characters and they said no. In 2021, there was an article in the Globe and Mail in 2021 that had superintendents of the Toronto District School Board saying that reading levels had increased for Black youth to 66%, but what they glazed over was it was still the lowest in comparison to white students – where 86% of the white students were reading at the required reading level.”
Norris said she loved working with the students in Wright’s Strategic Communication course.
“They were really focused. They heard what I said, heard what I was looking for, and they understood the assignment,” she said. “I’m working on my five-year plan and they really helped to do a lot of research on the things that are needed to continue to build it up.”
Students assigned to Love of Literature said Norris was a pleasure to work with – including Master of Journalism student, Tamanna Khan.
“Ms. Norris has a sociable and charismatic personality. Her feedback inspired us to work hard. On behalf of the group, I can say that we were all impressed by her positive outlook and the work she puts in to bring about a social change,” Khan said.
Refugee 613 is a non-profit organization that informs, connects and inspires people to welcome refugees and build strong communities. It began in 2015 as a grassroots initiative, by a coalition of more than 30 partners. Seven years later, it is now an established center where refugee newcomers and those who support them can come for answers, for training, and for opportunities to share their stories.
Zain Shah is Refugee 613’s Stakeholder Relations Manager for their Vaccination Misinformation and Digital Media project. She said that students in Wright’s course provided valuable insights.
“The communications strategy provided great benefit to the Vaccine Misinformation project. I love the fact that the students conducted great interviews with stakeholders which has allowed us an easier foot in the door with engaging with those stakeholders. The students also looked at several organizations with similar projects to ours and pointed out their strengths and weaknesses. This has been very helpful for our project team especially as we consider the knowledge mobilization phase of our project,” Shah said.
A learning experience
Wright said there were many learning curves for journalism students to shift their focus to communications, but that they handled them well.
“They had to switch their minds from investigative reporter to critical thinker,” she said. “You’re not looking for a story to tell, you’re not investigating the organization. You are actually trying to help them advance their mission.”
Despite the challenges the course posed, many students said their journalism degree helped them succeed. Ralph Jean-Jacques, a fourth-year journalism student assigned to Black Ottawa Connect, was one of them.
“I have the ability to write, research, analyze and communicate very well. These skills that I gained from my time and different experiences in journalism school helped prepare me for this class,” said Jean-Jacques.
Students also had to learn how to present themselves as a notable advisor. To help with this, Wright had professional headshots taken in class, which were used in the CVs sent to clients.
“It matters how you show up,” she said. “You want to convey at every turn your level of credibility, your brand of ‘I know what I’m doing.’ It all adds up. Maybe it’s an email that you didn’t send, or it’s something that you sent late. Clients will ask ‘are these people credible? And should they be trusted with my information?’ They’re branding themselves.”
Wright said that learning to work strategically was one of the courses’ biggest objectives.
“They are learning to think critically to help the organization,” she said.
“Everybody says ‘I can do COMS, I take pictures, I can do social. Why don’t they just do some Facebook Live event, or create a poster?’ But what we’re asking them to do is to ask, ‘Does a poster make sense versus a podcast? Why use Facebook versus something else?’”
“You could tell the client they should use Facebook, and then the client could say none of their community uses Facebook. So that’s the thing that they’re learning – the strategy.”
This is Wright’s second year teaching Strategic Communication as an instructor for Carleton’s School of Journalism. In her day-to-day, Wright is a Senior Public Affairs Advisor with the Government of Canada. Prior to that, she worked at the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) for eight years.
All four organizations who took part the course this year said they were very pleased to work with her.
“It is evident to me that Joan is an excellent professor,” Refugee613’s Shah said.
“She advocated for the students in terms of making sure that our request/assignment was clear and reasonable. I had a fantastic time working and liaising with Joan and would love to work with her again. Her students are lucky to have such a dynamic professor.”