Seneca News

Ginella Massa

Seneca Journalism graduate Ginella Massa is the host of CBC’s new national prime-time show, Canada Tonight. (Photo: CBC)

Jan. 13, 2021

Ginella Massa has made international headlines including in The New York Times and The Guardian as Canada’s first hijab-wearing news reporter, television anchor and host. But the Seneca Journalism graduate says she just wants to be seen as a journalist and be judged by her work.

“I don’t want to be seen as a one-trick pony or that this is my claim to fame,” she said. “I’m not a diversity hire. I’m actually a good journalist, and I have earned my spot while overcoming an obstacle.”

Ms. Massa, who was part of the CityNews team that won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Newscast in 2020, is starting the new year with new gigs on CBC News. Last week, she debuted as a special correspondent for CBC’s flagship news program The National. This week, the national prime-time show Canada Tonight launched with Ms. Massa as host.

“When I first got the life-changing news, I had to hold back tears on the call,” she said. “It was extremely surreal. This is very much a dream come true for someone who did not see anyone like me on TV.”

While Ms. Massa says she didn’t feel like an outsider growing up in a multicultural city like Toronto, she had thought that, because of her hijab, she should perhaps pursue a career in radio.

“It was my mother who encouraged me to follow my dream of being on television,” she said. “It was a pipe dream for a very long time.”

In realizing her goal, Ms. Massa came to Seneca to learn the ropes, both behind the scenes as a news writer and producer and in front of the camera as a television journalist.

“Seneca is so hands-on,” she said. “You are writing and reading scripts. You are reading the teleprompter. You are working with the camera. The teachers are all working in the industry and you have an internship too. I feel like I learned so much in those two years. I loved it. I really benefited from my time at Seneca.”

Ginella Massa
Ginella Massa has made international headlines as Canada’s first hijab-wearing news reporter, television anchor and host. (Photo: CBC)

Following graduation, Ms. Massa went on to work for CTV, NewsTalk 1010 and Rogers TV. When she was hired as a video journalist for CTV News in Kitchener in 2015, it was believed Ms. Massa was the first television news reporter ever in North America to wear a hijab on air. A year later, she filled in for a colleague anchoring an evening newscast at CityNews Toronto. That made the news the next day.

“It was always in the back of my head that if I made it on TV, that was going to be a big deal,” she said. “It’s a double-edged sword. The hijab is part of my story because I’m doing something that has never been done before, but I’m hoping one day it’ll just be a footnote.”

With her hijab making the headlines, Ms. Massa says she has received both heart-warming messages from supporters and negative comments from detractors.

“The more media attention I get, the more it opens the door to hateful messages from people who are just seeing a headline and a picture,” she said. “But that’s their problem, not mine. We need to see more diversity in race, religion, physical abilities and more. All that needs to be represented in our newsroom. Look at me, doing what I did, the sky didn’t fall.”

Having said that, Ms. Massa adds that she’s fully aware there’s no room for her to be mediocre.

“I always feel the need to prove myself and be excellent,” she said. “I’m always going to strive for my best work. But sometimes I don’t know what kind of journalist I can be because I’m always talking about race and diversity.”

As for her new show on CBC, Ms. Massa says it’s “a rare opportunity” in that she has been part of its development from the ground up — to go beyond the headlines, have conversations with Canadians and showcase people and stories that don’t often get a lot of coverage.

“I’m not just being brought on to be a face,” she said. “I’m part of the process.”

Canada Tonight airs weeknights at 8 p.m. EST on CBC News Network.