Of the 111 voices who were quoted on the front pages of British newspapers in a week chosen at random this summer, just one belonged to a black person.
Activist Jen Reid was the lone voice – a statue of her had been created and mounted on the plinth left vacant after the statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston had been removed. Reid called her sculpture “incredible”: she could just as easily have been talking about the lack of representation of people of colour in the British media. Of the 174 bylines on the stories featured that week, not a single one was black, and only six were written by reporters from other ethnic minorities.
Research by Women in Journalism is the latest evidence that anyone who has worked in a newsroom can see: white men still dominate journalism. This is only a snapshot of the modern media industry – looking at a week of news coverage on TV and radio, and the front pages of newspapers – but it reinforces previous research from regulator Ofcom and City University.
Even as a snapshot, it could have been worse: in addition to the Colston controversy, the week studied included Shamima Begum’s legal battle to return to the UK.
Women in Journalism had done earlier research into gender inequality in the media, but this time decided to gather evidence on racial inequalities too. If research has taught us anything it is that without the numbers, there is often little pressure to change. Just ask Samira Ahmed.
Eight years ago, I led a similar project looking into the number of women in journalism. In 2012, 78% of all front page bylines were male; now, after not just lawsuits but much high-profile outrage and the #MeToo movement, it’s 75%. TV is marginally better, with women making up 30% of experts asked to appear. Radio not so much.
Yet there have been signs of some change: witness the efforts made after the equal pay scandal, the three white women now in the top 10 BBC earners among on-air talent and the women appointed as editors of leading national newspapers, including the Guardian, during that time.
Yet diversity within the media shouldn’t be seen as a purely gender or purely race issue. It has to be broadened out to a discussion on why the industry does not reflect society, but merely the concerns of the white, male and wealthy.
This is set to become a defining issue. In an age in which the news agenda is threatened both by malicious fake news pedlars and a crisis of trust, the media needs to change for ethical and commercial reasons.
Given the unconscious bias of all human beings, how does an industry full of people who look and sound the same find the stories that matter to everyone?
The financial imperative is likely to have greater impact, given the dire commercial straits of much of the media. Young people are increasingly diverse – the same young people who are failing to read newspapers, watch television or listen to flagship radio news programmes. In the 2011 census 86% of the total population identified as “white”, yet there is a growing ethnic-minority population, and in some towns and cities white Britons are a minority.
The media industry cannot afford to lose so many who see it as alien to their lives. A few years ago, the FT carried out research into why men accounted for 80% of its subscribers. In focus groups, it asked women what sort of person the FT would be. They all imagined a man. Probably white and rich too.
If the newspaper industry were to do the same thing for black and ethnic minority readers it isn’t hard to imagine how many would fail to see themselves reflected. Amal Warsame, a lead researcher for WiJ and former journalism student, said: “I knew the media was white, but after counting the number of non-white presenters, reporters and experts I am really shocked.”
In an increasingly diverse world, the media has remained dominated by three overlapping rings of power: overwhelmingly pale, male and posh. In the two years since I wrote a piece headlined that way, it seems little has changed.