SFYou: Rumneek Johal, news journalist and social media savant

The former Peak journalist returns to discuss her career so far

by Harvin Bhathal, Peak Associate

Rumneek Johal is what we would call a Peak success story – one of our own. A former Peak journalist who has written for publications such as CBC, Daily Hive, and more, Johal is an SFU graduate who is making strides in the journalism industry today. Johal reflected on her career in journalism so far and the work she would like to do. 

When she was younger, Johal “already knew [she] had a passion for writing and storytelling.” But it wasn’t until her second year of university that she got started on her path in journalism.

She emailed Sonia Sunger, a broadcast journalist and co-anchor at Global News, about getting started in journalism. Sunger told Johal to “just start,” and so she did.

So Johal began writing for The Peak, producing articles such as “Why doesn’t mainstream feminism embrace women of colour?” Five years later, her thoughts regarding this question remain relatively similar. 

“It’s 2021, and we’re still celebrating like, ‘oh my god, we have women in corporate positions,’ and that’s great [ . . . ] But that doesn’t take into account the experiences of marginalized women in this country. It doesn’t take into account the experiences of Indigenous women in this country. [ . . . ] There’s still so much more to do,” including in the journalism industry, she said.

For Johal, The Peak was a place for her to build confidence as a writer. Alongside her student journalism, her communication background helped her develop a critical lens in regards to the intersections of a given story.

While the critical lens she developed set the foundation for her journalism career, she noted that, in the journalism industry, “people try to call out that if you’re calling out those in power, ‘you’re trying to be an activist.’

“No, actually. It’s my job to call out politicians, call out bullshit,” Johal said. “If that makes me bad at doing my job, then fine, but I think that that’s quite literally the point [of my job].”

Her journalism career to date has included being the current full-time editor of 5X Festival’s blog, 5x Press, an intern for CBC News Toronto, and a staff writer for Daily Hive

In regards to working as a Sikh woman of colour in an industry dominated by white, heteronormative men, Johal said, “There are challenges because you have to push past ‘Am I being tokenized? Am I only here because I’m brown? Do they only want to tell brown people stories? Or [instead] do they not want me to tell brown people stories because they’re afraid I won’t be able to be objective and tell them properly?”

“I have to fight extra hard for the stories that I’m telling and show that I have a basis on which to tell them.” She noted white journalists aren’t likely to have that issue. 

Her experiences as a journalist reflect her personal experiences, specifically growing up in Surrey. Johal’s Master’s project from her graduate journalism program at UBC was an audio documentary about Surrey called Allow us to Reintroduce Ourselves. It concerned dispelling the stereotypes the city and its people experience.

“Every community has shitty people,” said Johal. To her, the focus should be on, “Why are these people doing shitty things? What [infrastructures] are we as a society not giving them? [ . . . ] There is no one answer.”

The stories Johal did at Decomplicated with friend and fellow journalist, Carol Eugene Park, represent the type of work she wants to do in her career.

“It [was] two racialized women, children of immigrants telling stories that we give a shit about.” According to Johal, the project’s goal was “to not be unapologetic in our voices, to be vulnerable, and to be unfiltered.”

Johal and Park’s inspiration behind Decomplicated stemmed from how Johal “felt that so many young people in [her] life, outside of the media sphere, were so disillusioned with the news.

“Now that I’ve been given this space, I’m going to take it and run with it,” she said. “That’s what my advice is to every other person: listen, if you’ve earned a seat at the table [ . . . ] if you have the microphone, speak. Don’t shy away from using it.”

Johal wants to use her platform to hold people accountable and, at the very least, make what she is currently doing a little easier for the next person in her position.

Her social media platform was a point of discussion during the interview, as she pointed out she finds out many of her stories through apps such as Twitter and Instagram. Johal mentioned that “so many racialized people find and tell their stories using social media because oftentimes, that’s the only place that our voices are legitimized.”

Johal is a Peak success story because she is breaking out of the barriers placed on women of colour in the journalism industry and doing her part to create change in an industry that has worked in favour of the status quo for decades.