Blink and you will most likely miss it. Among the hubbub of our 24h news cycle, pandemic life has given us many buzzwords — such as ‘quarantine’, ‘self-isolation’, and ‘the new normal’. Adding to them are ‘diversity’ and ‘media diversity’. The media, seen as an industrious Fourth Estate is often criticised for failing to do enough.

This was typified by the Society Of Editors row back in March, with its executive director, Ian Murray, quitting following backlash over the SoE’s racism statement. But media diversity is not a matter of politics. It’s time for the industry to do better by being proactive instead of tokenistic.


Why diversity matters

According to ‘Diversity In Journalism‘, a 2017 paper authored by Mark Spilsbury for the National Council for the Training of Journalists, the picture of diversity is not encouraging. What’s more, a lack of diversity was identified as a cause for concern as long ago as 2002.

The report states that 94 per cent of journalists are white, with London showing under-representation of marginalised ethnicities. The data also reveals that 14 per cent of journalists are disabled — this being only one per cent more than the UK workforce as a whole who have a disability.

This year’s report shows a remarkable lack of progress. The percentage of journalists who are white stands at 92 per cent. When it comes to having impedements, 16 per cent report a ‘work limiting health condition’ or disability. Social class also plays a significant role. Very little has changed.

Journo Resources also point out that journalism is the second most exclusive profession after medicine.

That makes for stark reading, especially because of the incongruous image of the press being something of a watchdog for the underdog. Lacking diversity, campaigners would suggest, hinders a free press. The media does not reflect those that it reports on.

Yet representation influences how we see ourselves. Be it films or dramas, news stories or tweets, we search for our cultural counterparts because that’s what we identify with. When we encounter prejudice or stereotyping, frustration and anger usually follow — a result of misrepresentation.

The industry is already having to compete against ‘fake news’, alternative citizen journalism websites, as well as influencers. Consumers simply go elsewhere for their news if they feel they are being wrongly represented.   Hacked Off explores the impact of Jodie Jackson’s You Are What You Read. The knock-on effect on mental health is astounding.

And the solution?

Becoming a journalist is often costly and opportunities to train are usually stacked against many odds. Internships and work experience are seen as something of a rite of passage but are also a form of gatekeeping. Financial support is often needed.

Eloise Barry is a freelance journalist. She said:

‘Unpaid internships is just one of the big reasons journalism will not be diverse. It just immediately means that people who can’t afford to work 40 hours a week without getting paid — which is probably the majority of people — will not get the experience they need to apply for jobs. And even access schemes require you to have lots of experience which you can only get through unpaid internships. Paying interns and also not requiring people who are diverse to prove why they are diverse — that should be part of an application’.

Gemma Stevenson is a journalist who has contributed to Sky Sports. She is also an ambassador for Dystonia UK. This is what she had to say about diversity in journalism and its various policies:

‘A major block is how these policies on paper become workable in real-life. Even now in 2021, there’s a real struggle to put policy or talk on panels about diversity into practice’.

She suggests that those who count as diverse, with lived experience, should be put at the heart of policymaking. This and listening to feedback about what is and is not working.

There are those who say that diversity is ‘just a hinderance’ in the hiring process. That ‘you should just hire the best person for the job, regardless’. Pushing for diversity can also be seen as a product of ‘the woke brigade’. But, arguably, diversity is not even at the heart of recruitment, or job retention, despite the Equality Act.

Allyship defined so much of 2020, and we all faced something of a reckoning. We need to be listening and learning about protected characteristics to be truly embracive. News is crucial to a functioning, healthy democracy but diversity is not a political matter anymore. Diversification needs to happen more rapidly, for the sake of the future of news.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay