Society diversity debate calls for more representation at the top of the industry

Posted on: November 19, 2020 by admin

Ensuring there is more diversity at the top of the editorial newsroom structure not just at entry level is essential to meet the challenge of creating a media that reflects society.

That was one of the issues raised during the debate into Diversity in the News Media last night, part of the Society of Editors’ Virtual Conference 2020 (November 18).

Chaired by Polly Curtis, managing director of PA Media, the panel sought to explore practical ways and measures that the news media industry could take to meet the challenge of improving diversity in newsrooms as well as content.

Taking part were Leon Mann, Broadcaster and Founder, Black Collective of Media in Sport; Shingi Mararike, News Reporter, The Sunday Times; Eleanor Mills, Founder and CEO, and Chair, Women in Journalism and Vic Motune, Head of News, The Voice.

The discussion heard of first-hand experiences from panellists and practical advice for the industry to move forward after years of discussing the issue of a lack of diversity in newsrooms.

Leon Mann explained how he had moved into journalism after working as an anti-racism campaigner. He explained that when he first looked at sports journalism he didn’t see anyone who was black who didn’t have an experience of playing professional sport.

He spoke of joining the industry.

“I found amazing, fantastic, welcoming people. There were some very, very well meaning and committed people around diversity – but there was an environment that wasn’t inclusive – there was no real understanding of diversity that I experienced – it still sits in the ‘nice to have’ charity box.

“I took it on myself to campaign. I went to the most senior people I could find and what I found was that bosses were open. But a lot of conversations about diversity are not led by black people. I sometimes wonder when I look at diversity initiatives if any black people had been sat around the discussion.

“We have asked what are you going to do differently because everything you have done now has not worked. You will go to a premier league football match where out of 22 players there may well be 20 players who are black, yet you look around the press there and you will be the only black journalist.”

Mann added that there needed to be greater focus on who is making the decisions. “Do we have any black people, do we have any women around the table making these decisions at the highest level? We are relying on the wrong people.

“We have to look at recruiters. We know we recruit in the image of ourselves. If those who recruit are a panel of white men then we face problems.

“We see a lot of things about apprentices but I want to see more action at senior leadership.

“If you only look down at black people and not left and right that tells me how you see black people.”

Shingi Mararike described how as a young trainee journalist at the Sunday Times he was thrown straight in at the deep end.

“Mentorship worked well for me. They [the Sunday Times] took me under their wing and walked me round the newsroom to meet people. They had a plan and the foresight to give me the skills I needed. I could talk about anything from work related to stress at home …anything. It is a model of best practice. The newsroom is not yet reflective of the community at large but this worked for me.

“It was daunting as hell to start. And some days it still is. Not many people look like you. I still come in some days feeling the pressure that this is not just for me, it is for all working class black men. If there were more of us, then it would be less of a big thing.

Asked what he thought a fully diverse newsroom should look like, Mararike said: “A newsroom that is truly diverse is one that is a broad church, lots of people from different backgrounds. Not in a way that is box ticking, they are there because they have the skills. A well-oiled machine that doesn’t miss out on the British experience.”

Eleanor Mills said while there had been progress, recent research carried out by Women in Journalism had highlighted the long way still to go.

“It is a real scandal in this industry that we are still having this conversation now.

“Where are the (BAME) people who started with me 25 years ago? Why aren’t they at the top?”

Referring to the recent Women in Journalism research that had looked at the representation of BAME journalists in the industry over one week in July of this year, Mills explained how not a single front page story was written by a black male or female journalist and no black people had been quoted. Only six articles were by broader BAME journalists.

“On TV thirty per cent of presenters are BAME, that puts newspapers a long way behind the curve.

“I feel passionately that this a life and death issue for newspapers. If we do not attract a younger more diverse audience then newspapers will die.”

Vic Motune said it was important for: “the gatekeepers in our industry to really understand people are not waiting any more to get it right. Increasingly diverse audience and content producers are gravitating to online sites where they can access that diverse content.

“Now young diverse content makers and diverse readers can go straight to market. It is important to grasp that the landscape is changing at a dizzying pace and diverse audiences are bypassing mainstream media. It is a life or death issue. Talent and readers and audiences are going elsewhere.

“There has been a lot of recognition that something needs to be done and various schemes have been launched, but very often the importance of that has not translated to the newsroom as a whole.”

Motune called for more news organisations to develop partnerships with community, further education and youth organisations.

“I can’t remember the last time a journalist job was advertised in anything other than traditional routes. Think outside the box of where jobs are advertised. Widen out the network.

“It has improved a little bit, but one of things not talked about enough is there is quite a high exit rate. There should be better use of exit interviews where people can talk openly and honestly about some of the problems they have experienced – there are common themes.”

Diversity solutions

The panel raised a number of measures for action to tackle the problem of a lack of diversity. These included:

* Setting targets and meeting them.

* Providing advice, mentoring and support for young journalists entering the newsroom.

* The creation of employee forums where people of all backgrounds could meet and discuss ideas.

* Ensure support for BAME journalists in mid-career. 

* Explore why BAME journalists are leaving the profession.

* Ensure there are advocates for BAME journalists within a news organisation.

*Advertise vacancies more widely.

* Considering the representation of those sitting on recruiting panels within newsrooms.

* Create partnerships between mainstream media and BAME organisations.

Here are some examples of how the above could be implemented:

* When implementing targets to monitor progress and instil a sense of urgency, suggest targets to be accompanied by mentorship to avoid a drop-out rate and foster a culture of inclusion.

* Conducting exit interviews will assist organisations in understanding reasons for journalists leaving newsrooms and suggest ways in which cultures could change.

* Best practice for mentoring and recognition of support needs: for instance, checking in on emotional wellbeing for young journalists and diverse journalists mid-career level who often feel the weight of representing a certain sector or minority in a newsroom.

* Senior management to be involved in nurturing new talent in their newsrooms. For example, encourage managers to advocate for younger BAME talent through career sponsorship and inclusion of diverse talent in existing journalistic networks.

* Consider the makeup of recruitment panels – are those conducting interviews representative? 

* Job advertising outside of the traditional routes – through partnerships with diverse networks.

* Create partnerships between newsrooms and journalism academics/ further education institutes/ state schools to ensure early intervention and help create a wider candidate pool for existing schemes such as apprenticeships. For example, News UK has a partnership with education institutes to fund a NCTJ qualification to apprentices.

* Financial investment in diversity schemes and mentorship will reflect how news organisations value diverse talent.

* Create initiatives to increase diversity at mid-career level and into leadership roles.

* When creating diversity initiatives enable your target group to be involved in creating the initiative.

* Content partnership between the mainstream media and BAME networks / organisations. For example, the Guardian and gal-dem has a partnership which increases the reach of both publications.

The full video of the debate is available for catch up here.

The debate was able to take place thanks to the sponsorship of Facebook Journalism Project and Camelot.

Camelot has sponsored the Society of Editors since 2001 and you saw that short video from their CEO Nigel Railton at the beginning of the session. If you would like to discuss anything with Camelot – story ideas, ways to improve working together or anything else – please let the SoE know and we’ll put you in touch with them.

Details of all the panel discussions in the weeks ahead alongside how to book for the keynote discussions can be found here.