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Communication alumnus Lisa Thomson improves gender balance in media
In 2019, Lisa Thomson, along with her team at Al Jazeera’s The Stream, pledged to achieve 50:50 gender representation with their guests. The following year, their daily current events show, hosted by Femi Oke and broadcast to millions globally, booked 56% women. As an interview producer on the show, Thomson is proud to be supporting gender equity in media.
“This is part of the collective values of the show's entire mission, which is the amplification of voices that are often marginalized in media conversations. It was something that just made sense for us,” says Thomson. “I think public commitments are really important, because it holds you accountable.”
Thomson, a second-generation alumnus, came to SFU in 2006 to study communication and English. Both parents and her brother are also alumni, and it was never much of a question where she’d go to university.
“I could see Burnaby Mountain from my house growing up,” says Thomson. “I think it was always just a given that I’d go to SFU. It’s an incredible local school.”
With an interest in journalism, Thomson’s double major in English and communication gave her the critical thinking, curiosity, and close reading skills needed for that profession.
“Reading widely and curiously, constantly, is a requirement for journalism. I think those two things were really fostered by the two programs. I think what the arts and humanities is about is what my work now is about — making the world smaller and more connected. And I think that literature does that fully, news does that fully; it enables you to travel around and see different communities and cultures and perspectives through the arts and through communications. I think that's essential.”
Thomson’s first taste of journalism was at The Peak where she wrote a column about publishing, another one of her interests that led her to England after graduation. The day after crossing the stage in Convocation Mall, Thomson moved to Oxford to start a career in the publishing industry. After a few years there, she couldn’t shake the urge to pursue journalism, so moved to New York in 2015 to do a master’s in journalism at the City University of New York.
Now based in Washington, DC, Thomson is enjoying her role as an interview producer where she spends her time researching stories for the show, finding guests to be featured, and interviewing them in advance. Her team is also committed to diverse representation in their guests beyond gender.
“It takes an awareness of all individual journalists to be thinking about representation, but if your editor or your senior producer isn't empowering you to take the time necessary to do that, then you wouldn’t be able to do it. Everybody has to be thinking about this.”
As an individual producer, explains Thomson, she also tracks other representation points. For example, if the show is doing a story about a particular country, how many people on the panel are from that country? If they are doing a story about anti-black racism, who is being represented on that panel?
“It's been so satisfying for me personally to work on a team where this is a foremost value of what we're doing,” she says. “I love talking to people from all over the world, from all different backgrounds and experiences, and I think that ties back to the skills and interests from communication and English — that curiosity.”