Part 2: Why I started a company in a pandemic

Doing things differently

Welcome to At The End Of the Day. I’m Hannah Sung and I write this newsletter for a people-first perspective on the news. You’re reading my fall series on the topic of work 🍂

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During the pandemic, my co-founders and I created a podcast production company called Media Girlfriends. We worked with Historica Canada on a brand new podcast. Check out the trailer for “Strong and Free” (“Fort Et Libre,” in French): Because Black history is Canadian history. Follow on Spotify now or anywhere you get your podcasts starting Oct 5.


The pandemic has been a reckoning in so many ways. 

Life and death is on heightened display. And on a deeply personal level, many of us are asking, Well, WTF am I doing with this life?

Last week I wrote, “Why I started a company in a pandemic,”1 to describe what my work life has been like as I build a podcast production company called Media Girlfriends, alongside two co-founders I love, with a network of colleagues and supportive, collaborative partners.

Last week was all about why. This week is about the how.

Back in February (5,000 pandemic months ago), I wrote about how I was struggling to figure out how to work with greater care, for myself and everyone around me.2

Trying to approach work differently is what Garvia Bailey, my Media Girlfriends conspirator extraordinaire, calls “doing the work with care.”

It’s easy to say but hard to do. 

Here’s Part 2 of my conversation with Garvia on how we are trying to take the best of our work experiences, slough off the worst, and forge a path forward.

Let’s go!


H: What does it mean when you say we work differently?

G: Well, we all come out of traditional journalism jobs. And we've all worked with really incredible people, but we also know what it can be like when work is done in a way that doesn’t feel right. When you're younger, you're like, Oh, this is just the way things are done. 

So now, at this age and in this phase, when I think about how I want to work, it's about honouring people's stories. A story should not be a commodity, right? And if it is a commodity, it should be treated like gold, not something that we just toss away –

H: Or handle cheaply.

G: Yeah. Building a company felt like an opportunity to be a part of a collection of individuals that really felt the same way. 

We all connected on our commitment to storytelling but also our commitment to interacting with people the way we wish the industry had treated us, in a way that was more respectful of who we are and what we’re capable of. There were so many times when someone would say something like, “You know this has to be done by tomorrow,” in a way that was like, What am I, an idiot? I have been working to deadline for my whole career. Why are you speaking to me in that way? And it's just those things that, especially as a Black woman in an environment that is mostly white, make you feel like you're undervalued or that you're not very bright, or whatever it is. 

H: Or tokenized. Which I have felt at various times throughout my entire career. Being tokenized means that you’re held up as some sort of example that is not reflective of the truth. 

From the beginning of my career when I was in front of a camera — and I mean, I could see behind the camera! There wasn't a lot of diversity there, you know? But sure, put me on camera. That early part of my career was such an eye opener for me. I had always been driven by wanting more representation. But then you realize that representation is not enough, because it doesn’t necessarily change anything. What it really comes down to is power and decision-making, not just window dressing — and I refuse to let anyone use me as window dressing, which, of course, can happen when you have a boss.

G: You talk about window dressing. I remember the very first time I felt like, Oh my God, this is messed up.

I had gotten my first hosting gig at the CBC. And I felt like I was being pushed into directions that were very visible. That was fine to me at the time as a young person in that world. But I always felt a little bit of, Hmm. I was seeing a lot of lip service, with me being pushed out into the world as an example of how well things were going.

Well, I had my first photo shoot. And no one ever told me what was going to happen with those pictures. But wasn't I driving down Front Street on a weekend and — you want to talk about window dressing? My face was the whole front corner of the CBC building. I was throwing my head back, laughing like a hyena. On the side of the building!

[The CBC in Toronto is a big, downtown building that takes up most of a city block.]

So picture my mouth open, looking like I was about to eat Glenn Gould [there’s a statue of Glenn Gould in front of the CBC in Toronto].

I saw that and was like, Of all the beautiful pictures you have of me, you put up the picture of me looking almost minstrel-ish. Why am I laughing like that? What's so funny? That picture should’ve just been an outtake.

H: Have you ever seen a photo of another CBC host having that expression in their press photos?

G: Never, never, never. I just thought, What are they trying to do? Yeah, that's the window dressing. We got happy Black people up in here.

H: How long did that photo bother you for?

G: Oh, the whole time. I couldn't walk past it. I hated it. 

H: Nobody ever consulted with you to show you the photo of your face that would go on the building?

G: No, it just showed up. I had no idea that my face was going to be on the building. And I don't want to be that for any organization unless I own it, you know? I don't want our image — my image or your image — to be used in such a way.

It was only when I started pushing back, you know, saying a lot of this is tokenization, that my worth in that building began to plummet. 

H: Like, “How dare you not be grateful?”

G: Yeah. So it’s a bit of a tangent, but…

H: No, it’s not! This is the real stuff of, Why do we bother?

G: Exactly. 

H: Plastering your face on a building without talking about it somehow gets normalized in some workplaces because it’s someone’s job in marketing or publicity and it’s like, “I’m just doing my job. Garvia’s face is a part of my job.” You know? But your face is your identity and it means more than that. People need to talk to each other! 

And for me, what the Strong and Free [our first podcast production as a company] experience taught me is that relationships take longer to build, but if you’re not going to have those relationships, you’re not going to have trust. And if you don’t have trust, you have a pretty dicey working situation.

G: With Strong and Free, there were many instances where we were working with people who were juggling things, overcommitted and stressed out in a pandemic, and I’m just so proud of the way that we handled it. We were practical but we tried to put people before deadlines. I thought you showed some great leadership in that, having those conversations, saying, “Garvia, let’s talk about this person’s schedule because I think they’re stressed out.”

H: Thank you! I watch you lead, too. Like, when it comes to doing the work with care, what does that really mean? It means extra phone calls, some private conversations, getting to the heart of what the potential friction might be and being a leader. Letting it sit with you and then doing and saying what needs to be done so the whole team can continue to work together. I’ve learned a lot from you on how you do that. For starters, rushing is never the right way and often, that’s just my tempo. So working with you is a good complement. 

G: It’s good to work as a team. You know, I did a lot of things I’m proud of at the CBC and at Jazz FM. But this [working on Strong and Free] is the biggest thing I’ve ever done where I’m like, Yeah, that’s a legacy piece.

H: I feel the same way. Especially because it was 2020, with Black Lives Matter, and George Floyd happened. It was a few months after that when we started working together on Strong and Free. And there was a lot of time in between where I was just like, What is my role in this world? And I felt like I could take some of that energy and pour it into my everyday tasks: Okay, I'm going to book this guest. Okay, I'm going to record this interview. Okay, I'm going to start editing. I felt like I had an outlet for my feelings of, What can I do in my everyday? And I felt really lucky that we were doing what we could, with the skills we had, to push back and add to the stories that we want to hear out in the world.


Strong and Free was a really special experience because we worked hard to tell stories of Black Canadians in ways we wish we’d had when we were in school. You can hear the trailer below and start listening to episodes on October 5.

Gigantic thank you to Garvia for sharing stories today, for being my daily collaborator and for generally being a supporter of At The End Of the Day. High five, let’s go for a bubble tea.

Shout out to our friend and founder of Media Girlfriends, Nana aba Duncan 💜 and to all our colleagues and partners.

Given how tough it can get at work sometimes, I think it’s incredibly and absurdly lucky that in this moment, I get to work with like-minded friends, and colleagues and partner organizations, too, all rowing in the same direction. I don’t take it for granted. 

I hope you have something like this in your own life, too.

Thank you for reading,

Hannah

✨✨✨ ATEOD is edited by Laura Hensley — happy birthday! ✨✨✨


Further Reading

The working class has had enough, How a once undervalued, ignored and politically silent group is fighting back, Maclean’s

You’re Not the Mean Lady at Work, New York Times. Love the Work Friend advice column from Roxane Gay, especially felt the cringe factor of the second question

Toronto watchdog to investigate homeless encampment clearings, Toronto Star. During an ongoing housing crisis in a global pandemic, some small details to celebrate in this story of people finding sustained, permanent housing

‘The system is broken’: Toronto loses bid at Supreme Court of Canada to overturn Doug Ford’s decision to cut to city council, Toronto Star. “Everyone’s trying to work around a system that’s broken and continues to be broken”


Strong and Free podcast trailer


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1

Why I started a company in a pandemic. At The End Of the Day newsletter September 24, 2021

2

How to work with care, Rethinking the way we work. ATEOD newsletter from February 26, 2021

Welcome! 🎉

For the fall term, I’ll be working with Centennial College Storyworks students who are helping me grow and build At The End Of the Day. Welcome Luna, Oruj and Hassan! So happy to have you on board.