Newsrooms set out to write for diverse communities, not just about them

Posted on: June 29, 2020 by admin

The revelation that Coronavirus disproportionately affects Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has resulted in newsrooms asking questions about how well — or not — they work with those most at risk. Luke Jacobs, editor of KentLive, and Yakub Qureshi, local democracy editor at Reach (both pictured above) report on what the publisher’s news teams are doing to make a difference…

Regional journalists covering the coronavirus crisis are well aware of their responsibility to keep their audiences informed in a sensitive and relevant way.

This pandemic in particular has brought this into sharp focus.

When the history books are written about this crisis, who will have spoken for all of the dead and affected?

Our Black, Asian, and minority ethnic readers have been disproportionately affected by this crisis simply because of their background.

Reach’s regional newsrooms now have specific sections, or tags, on their websites to serve readers who tend to be traditionally underrepresented in our day to day content.

This will help us to track, to monitor and to assess the amount and the type of content to ensure we are improving what we’re doing in two ways:

  • Writing representative content for our communities, not just about them.
  • Tracking the audience and value of the content so we can make informed choices about what works well for these readers.

As a news business which prides itself on understanding our readership, Reach newsrooms have steadily grown their audience through scrupulous use of audience data.

We’ve used a multitude of tags to distinguish different types of content and track how these stories perform, allowing us to identify our readers’ interests more closely.

There are a wealth of tags which range from crime to politics, Manchester United to Bake Off, local landmarks to Buckingham Palace.

But up until now there was no metadata allowing us to identify content that would be of interest to any BAME community.

The first step for improving our coverage of what matters to these communities is to measure what we write, who is reading it and for how long.

Only then will we understand what we are currently doing to serve the interests of black and Asian readers (as well as those from other communities) and where we can do better.

The last census is nine years old — but the figures point to the changing face of the UK.

British residents, now more than ever before, encompass an expanding range of skin tones, accents and beliefs.

But, despite this, there is an industry-wide awkwardness across the media in covering race and talking to our readers about race.

This awkwardness — even among forward thinking and progressive newsrooms — can have detrimental effects.

Local ethnic minority communities can frequently often go underreported until something (normally bad news) strikes. The lack of newsroom diversity, insight or contacts can often come into jarring focus when reporting issues such as terrorism or knife crime.

Many minority communities feel they are invisible and, if they are approached for a story, will not get a fair hearing, fuelling even greater distrust in journalists and in the media.

Our key Reach regional digital titles such as the Manchester Evening News, MyLondon, LeicestershireLive, are brilliantly positioned to cover areas with diverse communities.

According to the most recent Census survey, Birmingham was home to the largest Black Caribbean population, with 8% of all Black Caribbean people living there, followed by the London boroughs of Croydon (5.3%) and Lewisham (5.2%).

The survey also shows Manchester was home to the largest Chinese population, with 3.4% of all Chinese people living there. This was followed by Birmingham (3.2%) and Barnet, Tower Hamlets and Southwark (all at 2.1%).

Those who identified as Muslim were the largest religious minority group in both England and Wales.

We currently have no way of tracking or identifying content aimed at building our audiences in these crucial areas, and is crucial is ensuring our future commercial viability.

Research backs this up.

Reach titles produced 741 separate pieces of content in the whole of 2019 based on the main BAME religious festivals.

One BirminghamLive writer was responsible for a quarter of these, attracting more than 1.7m page views, the equivalent of 55% of total BAME and religious page views. Reach produced around 85,000 articles tagged Christmas and Easter in the same period.

Reach’s biggest sites on average reach 5.1m BAME users over a 4 week period (13% of our audience).This amounts to slightly more than half of the BAME population based on 2011 census and a third based on an assumption that the growth trend continues into 2021.

Our newsrooms have already started on a project to consistently cover the effect of the pandemic on Black and Asian communities.

As regional and local titles, we have the ability to be closer to all our audiences and to better reflect what matters to them.

Not everyone will agree with what we are doing — or with the tags we have chosen.

Some will feel the categories are too broad and that many other important groups are missing — some will feel they are too narrow.

The driving force behind this initiative is a group of editors and managers within Reach from ethnic minority backgrounds.

We believe that some change is better than none — and that by accurately tracking the stories written for the interest of BAME audiences we will also expand this coverage and improve it.

The best businesses are those that listen to their customers — in this case, our readers.

And our future business is based on bringing readers to our stories — readers from across the UK and from every section of society.

This article first appeared on Behind Local News.