Saturday, October 19, 2013

Do the media reflect the world around us?

By Scott Bury                      

The world presented is the world that advertisers feel they can sell to easily: white people with lots of disposable income for designer cars, clothes and computers.

Best-selling indie author Martin Crosbie has invited some Canadian writers, including me, to answer the question: is the Canada he knows, that we all know, represented in the mass media?

He doesn’t see the country he knows in the major newspapers or magazines of the country. Another writer, Karen Magill of Vancouver, added that Canadian writers, like Canadians generally, feel an inferiority complex compared to the media dominance of the US, and as a result aren’t as eager to write about their own country. She writes that she as advised to set her novel, Missing Flowers, in a US city, rather than in Vancouver, British Columbia — her home town.

In my guest post, I wrote that neither the news media nor entertainment media reflect the country that I see around me. I touched on the types of professions in fiction, the settings, and about how closed commercial publishers are to new voices.

But indie authors are also missing something important. It seems that, in chasing that big audience, many indie authors are aping the conventions followed by mass publishers. As a result, indie fiction does not reflect the world that I see around me.

What’s missing? Diversity.
I know that many of my readers are writers themselves. I’ve been reading a lot of indie fiction lately, and unfortunately, many writers fall into some stereotyping traps. Most of the characters’ names are English, or occasionally Irish or Scottish. Cops are sometimes Italian or Polish. I’ve come across a smattering of Hispanic women TV reporters, for some reason, but almost no African-American characters.

Why is that? Whom do indie writers think they’re writing for?

I live in a major, modern North American city in the 21st century. The people that I live and work among come from, literally, around the world. Almost half the people I grew up with were immigrants, or their parents were. When I taught in college, my students came from China, Taiwan, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Iraq, Bolivia, Mexico, the US; in my neighbourhood, people come from India, Norway, Jamaica,  Finland and China. And some were First Nations, Metis or Inuit.
If you’re reading this on the bus, subway, metro, train or ferry, look around: how many of your fellow commuters are white, of British extraction? Or are there people you can see are Asian, South Asian, African or Hispanic?

Think about your neighbours. How many of them have English last names? How many more are non-English? Sure, English may be the largest single ethnic group, but they’re not more than half anymore — I don’t even think that you’ll find a majority of English last names in most neighbourhoods in England, anymore.

Write what you know
Open your eyes, and write stories that reflect the world you live in. It’s not what’s in the mass media. And the only way we’re going to have an impact on this warped reflection is if we start to write about what is really in front of our eyes.

What do you think? How can writers start to reflect the country, the world, the reality that’s right around us, right now? Leave a comment.  

Scott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa. His articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia, includingMacworld, the OttawaCitizen, the Financial Post, Marketing, Canadian Printer, Applied Arts, PEM, Workplace, Advanced Manufacturing and others. His books include The Bones of the Earth, One Shade of Red, Sam,the Strawb Part and Dark Clouds.

You can follow his blog, Written Words, or his Facebook page, and on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.


  1. Great to have you back here, Scott! WGT just displayed some diversity in featuring our latest contributor, Anu Lakl, from India! Keep it up peeps!

  2. Yep diversity is missing, which is interesting...I guess writers themselves fall into the stereotype (mostly White American, middle-class) so their characters will reflect that. I am not White and my characters are interracial, thus its definitely different and I still have people interested in my work, so hopefully.....

  3. Great post. I grew up in a multi racial family and my friends have always been from different walks of life. I was about 12 when I realized that hardly any books I read had characters like real people I knew. The media is definitely not a good gauge of our society, not even close.