As The Narwhal pushed forward with its expansion plans, we knew we needed an editor with a sharp eye for detail and the experience to back it up. Thankfully, we found the perfect match in Raina Delisle.
Raina joins us from Hakai Magazine, another publication focused on the natural world. That experience will be critical as we navigate COVID-19 and climate change, two crises that Raina says require the kind of in-depth reporting readers have come to expect of The Narwhal.
Keeping everyone informed is a must, and Raina would know: not only is she busier than ever with her kids at home, but she’s also working on a children’s book about the media industry.
Here, Raina talks about the importance of social connection, what sparked her journey to cover the climate and how she managed to avoid turning cotton dresses into toilet paper.
Q: How are you making the best of things in this moment of social distancing?
A: I’ve gone back to basics and I’ve gone high tech. In the process, I’ve reconnected with old hobbies and old friends. I can’t run on the treadmill at the gym, so I run through the Garry oak meadow in my neighbourhood. I can’t take my kids to the playground to climb around, so I take them outside to climb trees and swing on a few branches myself. I can’t meet my friends at a coffee shop, so I meet them in a Zoom room. (That’s where I met most of my fellow Narwhals for the first time, too!) I’ve actually spent more time catching up with pals in the past few weeks than I have in the past few years. Without so many distractions, there’s more time for connection. I’ve also connected with my community by working with my kids on art for seniors in care homes and window signs to thank essential frontline workers. And every night at 7 p.m., we join dozens of our neighbours in hooting and hollering and banging pots and pans to cheer on — and cheer up — those workers. As politicians and public health officials keep telling us, social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.
Q: You’ve arrived at The Narwhal via Hakai Magazine, a kindred publication. What set you on this path in the world of journalism?
A: When I was working at The Vancouver Sun as an editor for the 2010 Olympics, I came across a questionable series of features about Shell. They were advertorials, but they looked like regular content and were billed as “special information feature[s] on climate change, in partnership with Shell Canada.” The stories greenwashed the Alberta oilsands and were clearly designed to look like editorial content. I was concerned that these faux features were running in papers across the country, feeding Canadians false information about the world’s largest industrial project and most destructive oil operation. So when my contract was over, I promptly wrote a story about the advertorials for This Magazine. It was clear to me then that the world needed more journalists covering the climate crisis — and I wanted to be one of them.
Q: How does a crisis like COVID-19 impact the way you approach your job as an editor?
A: It reminds me of the importance of responsible reporting and fact-checking. Journalists have to go beyond simply restating what sources say — they have to make sure it’s true. We’ve already seen the devastating consequences of not taking this crucial step during the pandemic. When, at a news conference, U.S. President Donald Trump suggested trying hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, to treat COVID-19, some journalists shared his message without verifying its accuracy or adding important context. The result: an Arizona man died and his wife ended up in critical condition after they took chloroquine phosphate intended for fish in hopes of preventing the disease. The woman later told NBC News that she and her husband had taken the drug after seeing Trump’s news conference on television.
Q: What’s a piece of journalism that struck a chord with you recently?
A: The Solutions Journalism Network’s COVID-19 SoJo Exchange, an initiative that invites newsrooms around the world to submit their pandemic solutions stories and allow other outlets to republish them for free. Solutions journalism — which focuses on responses to challenges — is needed now more than ever, and sharing COVID-19 solutions stories with a wider audience has the potential to spread successful initiatives around the world and save lives. Stories that have been shared through the exchange thus far include a piece on how doctors with COVID-19 are treating their patients virtually, a look at how people in Spain are making their own protective gear and an investigation into what we know — and don’t know — about the drugs touted by Trump as treatment for COVID-19.
Q: You’re a kids’ book author. How did that come about?
A: In a rather roundabout way. One of my hobbies is thrifting for clothes. Several years ago, I created a Facebook group where I resell some of my finds and share my passion for ethical fashion. One of the members of my group is an editor at Orca Book Publishers. When she was looking for an author for a nonfiction kids’ book about ethical fashion, she asked me if I would be interested. Writing a kids’ book was on my bucket list, so obviously I said yes. The book explores the social and environmental issues associated with the fashion industry and comes out in spring 2021. I’m now at work on kids’ book number two, which is about the media industry. I’m excited to share what I learn at The Narwhal with young readers!
Q: What’s the most ‘Raina’ story your friends or family would tell about you?
A: Most “Raina” stories would embarrass the protagonist! But here’s a safe one: during the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, my family ran out of paper gold and couldn’t find it anywhere. I’m an active member of several online trading groups, regularly swapping clothes and other stuff for everything from lentils to light fixtures in an attempt to buy and waste as little as possible. So, predictably, I posted some lovely organic cotton dresses and requested toilet paper in exchange. My posts simply stated that if I couldn’t swap the frocks for TP, I would be turning them into TP. I was serious — with bidets on backorder, I figured it was the perfect time to try so-called “family cloth.” The rest of my family wasn’t sold on that idea, so they were stoked when I made several trades and the toilet paper started rolling in.