What Do Newsrooms And Diversity Have In Common? Don’t just simply read the question. Digest it. Take your time and try to produce an answer. Can you think of one? It’s more than a trick question. It’s an issue affecting aspiring journalists at this minute. It’s the decision to choose a different career path because you are not seen on the tv screen, heard on the radio and words like yours are not appreciated enough. When did newsrooms and diversity become mutually exclusive?
News surrounds us daily. Whilst half-asleep, you lazily open Twitter to be faced by a presenter delivering the morning news report. The television screams as you tie your shoelaces and head out the door. As you impatiently wait for your train, the presenter reappears and again on your journey home.
Now describe the news presenter you imagined. Hair colour, skin colour, their outfit and tone of voice – envision it all. Diversity in newsrooms is not attainable overnight but the progression rate seems to have reached its peak, and this is worrying as a new industry entrant.
The Black Lives Matter movement was represented by mainstream news outlets in an unsatisfactory way. Shots of looters and individuals inciting violence greatly overshadowed the peaceful marches led by those advocating for justice in the name of George Floyd. Reports heavily focused on the aftermath rather than the cause. The cause was swept under the rug, whilst the Black community was unfairly blamed for rising domestic coronavirus cases. Reportage of the movement unveiled blatant discrimination as well as unconscious bias. The false narrative of angry Black youths and the white saviour complex was dragged out continuously.
Producers in newsrooms made the conscious decision to shift the spotlight onto outbreaks of violence. This once again silenced the Black community. Many media companies also sent white photographers, reporters and camera operators to the marches, which further added fuel to the fire.
In a time where race has transpired as a principal theme in politics, the media has a severe issue with representation. If we don’t occupy a space in newsrooms, we cannot expect the news to accurately report on matters relating to us. However, getting your foot in the door is sometimes easier said than done.
Employers are ultimately to blame for a lack of diversity as a result of unconscious bias when recruiting employees. Many individuals face daily racial bias in Britain, and the journalism industry should not be seen as a contributor to this. Diversity schemes are a step in the right direction, however there is still a long way to go. According to the Press Gazette, journalist trainees from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background are more likely to exit the industry as a result of bullying and racism.
The way Meghan Markle was treated by the British press also revealed a discriminatory and outdated way of thinking, which may perhaps still reflect the opinion of a portion of the nation. The media industry body, the Society of Editors (“fighting for media freedom”) continues to face scrutiny over its statement about the coverage of Meghan Markle. Some board members refuted the allegations of racism in Meghan’s coverage by the British press. More than 160 journalists of colour and multiple editors objected to the statement, written by the since resigned Society of Editors (SoE) executive director, Ian Murray. Murry argued Meghan’s claims were “not acceptable”.
As a journalist of colour, such news can be jarring and lead to uncertainty in terms of career prospects.
Jamila Brown, a second-year journalism student at Sheffield Hallam University, says: “Journalists of colour are already disadvantaged compared to our white counterparts, but the SoE statement deeply concerns me. It makes me feel worried about my future and how I will be treated in newsrooms. Our words are manipulated, we’re underrepresented and discriminated daily.”
News outlets play a major role in how the public views ethnic minorities in the UK. They have the power to inject suspicion and hatred into the public with their interpretations. Headlines like “Britain’s 40% surge in ethnic minorities” splashed across newspapers have the potential to create fear amongst the general public and lead to further discrimination. Producing such work is not an option.
Decolonising the newsroom is vital for media coverage that truly reflects the diversity of the UK. Newsrooms need to be restructured, and this change should begin at the highest level. Senior leadership teams across newsrooms need to be evaluated. Across all news platforms, we should anticipate a diverse range of those working in the industry. More editorial positions need to be occupied by BAME individuals to ensure the daily news reports are produced with us in mind.
We do not deserve to be hired to simply fill a diversity quota. We are not a box to be ticked. We are highly skilled, and we should not have to work ten times harder than our white peers for the same career opportunity. Newsrooms and diversity cannot continue to distance themselves. To exist alongside one another, newsrooms need to stand by their public displays of support and reflect their desires for equal opportunities.
Written by Ravinder Kaur