Anchor of Change
by ALEXANDRA LUCCHESI
photography by sofie kirk
York University alumna Ginella Massa (BA ’09) thought her dream of becoming a news anchor would always remain just a fantasy. She could never have anticipated the groundbreaking opportunity that would change her life’s direction – and the face of broadcast journalism – literally overnight.
Massa studied communications and sociology at York and journalism at Seneca College, and spent several years working behind the scenes as a consultant, radio producer and newscaster. Then, in January 2015, while working as a video journalist with CTV News Kitchener, one on-air appearance turned Massa into Canada’s first hijab-wearing television news reporter.
“I had a colleague tell me, ‘I don’t think they’ll ever put a woman in a hijab on the news, because it’s just too distracting,’ ” says Massa. “But I was given an opportunity … and I’m really grateful that someone could see past my appearance and look at what I had to offer and what I bring to the newsroom.”
After her television debut, an overwhelmingly positive local response followed. Massa received emails with comments like, “It’s so great to see a woman in a hijab on TV” and “It’s about time!” People would stop her on the street, welcome her to the city and commend her on the great job she was doing. This response, though unanticipated, was a pleasant surprise, and it inspired Massa in her next career move.
During her next job as a reporter for CityNews Toronto, Massa was given the chance to anchor the news desk, and this time the response was international. Once again she made history, now as the first woman in hijab to anchor a major Canadian newscast; but with the recognition also came negative responses. She received a lot of praise in the mainstream media for her unprecedented foray, but social media was not so kind. Destructive comments flooded in, many that Massa found difficult to read.
“It was mostly positive, but sometimes those negative voices, even if they are few, hit much harder and much louder, and they become all you can focus on,” she says. “I always want the measuring stick to be my work: Am I being a good journalist? Am I being fair? Am I asking the right questions? If you have criticism about that I’ll gladly take it. But [if] you just have a problem with the way that I’m dressed, that’s not really my issue – that’s yours.”
Despite social media’s ubiquitous trolls, Massa is determined to continue reporting the news. Now she’s focusing on who Muslim women really are, and wants to “tell people about what Muslim women can be,” she says. “We exist as teachers, as doctors, as lawyers – as people who are vital to our community. But when we’re not represented in places like the media, people forget that.… I’m doing my job, I’m reporting and I’m being a journalist, but I also happen to be wearing a scarf while I’m doing it.”