The acting editor-in-chief of progressive online magazine rabble.ca has resigned citing concerns over systemic racism and unfair labour practices, according to his resignation letter obtained by VICE World News.
In a December 30, 2020 letter to rabble’s publisher Kim Elliott and board of directors, Matthew DiMera said he was quitting after the outlet failed to “make structural, editorial, and policy changes that could bring in more racial and general equity.”
“After spending 20 months in an ‘Acting’ role as rabble’s first Black Editor-in-Chief, it has become increasingly clear that my contributions have not been valued and that there is no future here for me, or for people like me,” DiMera wrote.
DiMera’s resignation comes five months after staff members sent a letter to Elliott stating that rabble “has long prioritized the perspectives of white progressives at the expense of BIPOC voices.”
DiMera declined to be interviewed for this story.
In response to a detailed list of questions, Elliott said rabble accepted DiMera’s resignation with regret and that the outlet has long stood for “equity, inclusion, fairness, and representation.”
“Unfortunately, despite rabble’s multiple attempts to enter into respectful, productive dialogue, while holding ourselves accountable to our own high standards—including commissioning an independent review of our workplace culture and practices—we’re deeply disappointed that a resolution couldn’t be met,” Elliott said.
She said DiMera “oversaw all content published to the website from March 2019 to December 2020. He participated and/or led hiring committees and his opinion was sought on all aspects of how rabble was run, alongside the future of the website.”
A registered nonprofit organization, rabble was founded in 2001 “on the efforts of progressive journalists, writers, artists, and activists across the country,” including the Atkinson Foundation, Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, according to the site.
Its stated mission is to “provide a needed space for issues, a place to explore political passions, and an opportunity to expand ideas.” Those issues include labour, Indigenous issues, the Occupy movement, Gaza, and the environment.
But the July letter from DiMera, four other staff members, and a board member, obtained by VICE World News, said the vast majority of rabble’s content is penned by white authors and the outlet has failed to do outreach in BIPOC communities. The letter said most of rabble’s Black Lives Matter coverage has been written by non-Black authors. A source told VICE World News five of the six people who signed the letter have now left rabble.
According to the letter, in 2019, 93 percent of columnists published five times or more were white, while 7 percent were Black, Indigenous, or people of colour—a trend that staff said held up for the majority of content published by rabble throughout its existence.
The letter attributed this discrepancy in part to the site’s practice of publishing mostly free opinion pieces and its reliance on self-published content.
“The majority of rabble.ca’s content has come from writers who are able and willing to work for free or for little compensation, which often means those who have the financial security and leisure time afforded by white privilege and class privilege,” the letter said. “This has left out so many underrepresented and talented voices who cannot afford to write for free.” Elliott did not respond to questions about how commissioning free work affects rabble’s coverage.
The letter said a mostly white staff has led to a workplace culture in which staff members “fear retaliation” for speaking out about racism. It criticized rabble’s labour practices, alleging workers are hired on precarious contracts with no job protection, stagnant wages, and no benefits; employees are not unionized.
The letter called on rabble to commit to nine of calls to action, including: detailed apologies for rabble’s alleged failure to live up to anti-racist principles and harm caused to sex work communities; an end to the publication of free stories and a shift away from self-published content; editorial autonomy; a commitment to meet calls to action set out by Canadian Journalists of Colour regarding increasing diversity in media; a commitment to fair labour practices; and a commitment that Elliott would not retaliate against the letter’s signatories.
In September, rabble’s board of directors published an apology stating that it had failed BIPOC communities.
“It is disturbing how much of rabble.ca’s work and writing was shown to be done by white people,” the apology said.
The apology committed to the calls to action outlined by Canadian Journalists of Colour and the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and committed to “further developing fair labour practices” within the outlet.
DiMera’s resignation letter said the apology “falsely implied that the most recent conversations about racism at rabble were triggered by the Publisher taking the initiative to conduct a race-based content audit.” DiMera alleged he pushed conversations about race within the newsroom, and was rebuffed repeatedly. After a staff-wide discussion about the issue, DiMera wrote that Elliott asked him to compile a “general audit” but didn’t specify that they should look at race or diversity until weeks later.
Elliott said a diversity component was added to the audit following calls from the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and Canadian Journalists of Colour.
“Together with our staff and BIPOC industry leaders, we continue to answer the call to address inequality and dismantle systemic racism within the media industry,” she said.
DiMera’s resignation letter said he didn’t feel rabble was headed towards accountability.
“Under rabble’s current leadership, I do not believe that the sincere change required to chart a new course and to reverse the underlying and embedded structural racism and inequity is possible,” he wrote.
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