Finding the positive in the negative: Learning to cope with pessimism in today’s media

Journalist Manisha Krishnan on her laptop working at the VICE Canada office in Toronto’s Liberty Village. (Luke Galati/Ryersonian Staff)

“Judging by your name, English is not your first language.”

That was the first time Manisha Krishnan could ever remember being harassed in the media. She was 20 at the time, working for the North Shore News in Vancouver. She had received a voicemail from a woman she didn’t know, making fun of something she had written. The woman who had left her the message assumed from Krishnan’s byline that she had to have been from somewhere else.

“I’m not from ‘somewhere else,’” Krishnan says while chuckling. She’s sporting a “VICELAND” black beanie that sits upon her dark-haired pixie cut. Wearing large black glasses and an oversized grey sweater, her relaxed look seems to fit the atmosphere.

She’s sitting at a marble table at the bar (yes, bar) in VICE Canada’s Toronto newsroom, which seems about as cool as a newsroom could be. Located in Liberty Village, what looks like a mundane brick building on the outside is home to a stunning and sleek 25,000-square-foot office space, equipped with state of the art technology and vintage-inspired furniture.

Manisha Krishnan working at the VICE Canada headquarters in Toronto. (Luke Galati/Ryersonian Staff)

Krishnan was born and raised in Vancouver. After graduating with a journalism diploma from Langara College, she bounced from internship to internship before working as a journalist. From the Edmonton Journal to Maclean’s to the Toronto Star, Krishnan has worked in her fair share of newsrooms before landing her current role at VICE as a senior reporter.

Krishnan spoke last week at the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s J-Talks event titled “No Safe Space: Harassment of Women in Media.” Here, female journalists discussed their experiences with harassment in the media and how to cope with it. While the other panellists disclosed how the harassment they’ve received throughout their careers has changed the way they engage with others via social media, Krishnan didn’t seem fazed by a lot of the harassment.
One story that caused Krishnan to receive a ton of backlash was published in early October of last year. Headlined, “Dear White People, Please Stop Pretending Reverse Racism Is Real,” the article isn’t much of her opinion, but rather her reporting on what experts said about race, systemic racism, the concept of racism and what it means.
She admits that the title was “inflammatory to a certain degree,” but explains she was trying to counter the idea of “white fragility” and “white people thinking they’re oppressed.”

Days, weeks and even months later, Krishnan was still facing harassment because of this story: “I would still get emails or constant trolling on Twitter of people calling me a racist, the ‘N-word’ and variations of the ‘N-word.’ I got called a shitskin. That story went farther than I thought it would go.”

Although getting comments like these might cause one to detach themselves from social media, the harassment Krishnan has faced has never led her to get off social media completely. “I don’t think that’s an option for people who work at a company like VICE or a company where a lot is riding on you having an online presence, and to a certain degree, a brand,” she states. “I think it’s not an option for a young reporter to simply log off or ignore Twitter or social media in general.”

Instead of trying not to engage with social media as much, Krishnan isn’t afraid to respond back to the people that try to bring her down.

She’s even debated inviting one of her social media “trolls” to have a conversation with her. “Maybe there’s something to be learned from having a conversation with someone like that,” she says. “Personally, I’m kind of curious of what kind of results a conversation like that would yield, like what would come out of it. I don’t want to mischaracterize it as like I’m trying to convince someone to see things my way or vice versa. It’s more of a social experiment and to see what would happen.” 

The reality is that the world of technology and social media is not coming to an end anytime soon. In fact, it’s doing nothing but grow. In this day and age, liking, disliking, commenting and replying are a large part of everyone’s daily online lives.

Manisha Krishnan types on her laptop at her workplace. (Luke Galati/Ryersonian Staff)

Having a “thick skin” in this industry is a definition many people attribute to being cynical or not having any feelings whatsoever, but Krishnan aims to redefine this perception.

“I naturally probably have a thicker skin than some people because that’s just part of my personality. It probably has to do, to a certain degree, with my childhood and my parents. That’s who I am. I don’t think that makes me a less empathetic writer and I don’t think that makes me less in touch with being able to connect with people’s suffering,” she says.

She goes on to state that when she or her female colleagues produce video pieces, there are numerous men that comment on their appearances in derogatory ways: “I’ve been called an Indian boy or a lesbian because I have short hair. We’ve all been fat shamed.”

It’s every single budding journalist’s goal to make it in this industry, despite how harsh or cutthroat it may be at times. Krishnan’s main piece of advice is just to be aware of your surroundings and the technology that encompasses our daily lives.

“If you’re just starting out, be cognizant of the fact that there are certain things that you can say, and there are shitty people on the Internet,” she says. “You have…to realize those people are ignorant and they’re just doing that to be a dick. Try to tune it out because there’s no way to reconcile with it.”

A portrait of Manisha Krishnan at VICE Canada taken March 2017. (Luke Galati/Ryersonian Staff)

A shorter version of this article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on March 16, 2017.

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