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Eight takeaways from the News Impact Summit “Identity & Inclusion: Local News with Diverse Voices”
It’s time to accept newsroom diversity efforts have failed. Despite decades of making a case for more inclusion and representation in journalism, despite numerous dedicated studies and initiatives, most newsrooms are still not an accurate mirror of the society they seek to capture and inform.
Wherever you look, the numbers are grim. In Germany, where the European Journalism Centre held its last News Impact Summit of 2019, one in four citizens have a migrant background, but only two to three per cent of journalists are from migrant families, according to one study. The journalism industry in the UK is 94% white and 86% university-educated.
That minorities and people of colour cannot find themselves reflected in those writing the news naturally leads to trust in the media remaining low. This hits journalists where it hurts. It is difficult for newsrooms to cast themselves as champions of truth if they are so homogeneous. At a time when media companies are increasingly turning to subscription or membership models for revenue, it is unlikely that audiences will pay for content that neither represents them nor reflects their concerns.
During our Summit in Munich, we went through the latest developments on this pressing challenge. Here are eight learnings from our discussions:
“I am not sure I am the right person to be up here,” noted Charlotte Haunhorst, the managing editor of JETZT, a young cross-media magazine by national newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ). Charlotte is what most people would see as quintessentially German, but recognises JETZT needs to reflect greater diversity. Based in Munich, Charlotte has made it one of her key goals, as a young woman in a legacy media organisation, to push for diversity outside the Berlin media bubble.
“I guess sometimes you just need to be brave,” she said, explaining how JETZT decided to go against the tide and convinced management at SZ to take active steps toward inclusion. As a result, the magazine adopted more inclusive language and updated its content with a dedicated column for LGBTQI issues.
Lara Joannides from the BBC showed what men can do to advance gender balance in the newsroom. Lara leads the 50:50 project, the BBC’s biggest collective initiative to increase female representation in its content. The project was actually created by a man, Ros Atkins, who during a four-hour drive listening to the BBC realised that only male voices had been on air. He got his team to monitor the number of women on air in order to produce more balanced stories.
Many journalists in Dutch newsrooms still turn their heads around when they see a female journalist with a headscarf entering the door, said Hadjar Benmiloud, creator of Vileine Academy. The platform started out as a feminist magazine until Hadjar realised that no matter how popular the content was, it was still hard getting funds to sustain the project. That is how Vileine became an academy to train aspiring female journalists.
This approach is paying off as 80% of Vileine’s students have secured jobs in newsrooms. But Hadjar’s plans have also pivoted to consultancy and media partnerships. “Selling diverse talent is not enough. There is no diversity success without inclusive management,” she said. This is why Vileine Academy wants its collaboration with newsrooms to have a real purpose, not simply be seen as a PR stunt. “Newsrooms need to look at the top to see power imbalances, blind spots, and lack of feedback mechanisms that trickle down to the rest of the workplace,” she said. Yet, not all of them are ready for such introspection.
Part of the problem is that diversity is simply not a priority. While some improvements have been made, such as ensuring diversity through paid internships or making editorial meetings more participatory, in most cases, top management continues to be overwhelmingly white, male and middle-aged.
“We’re so used to seeing a dominance of men in the media that we actually think it’s balanced, but data is key to understanding the actual balance,” explained Lara Joannides from the BBC. The numbers provided by the 50:50 project were key to making other team managers understand how one-sided, and therefore, inaccurate, their reporting was due to the lack of women’s voices in the stories.
And what role do women play in the decision-making process? In 100 regional newspapers in Germany, only 7.4 per cent of editors-in-chief are female, according to a study on gender distribution in leadership positions.
Gender representation is one of the challenges of the wider issue of diversity. “Migrants are barely a respected audience in Germany, neither adequately represented in newsrooms or broadcasting councils,” confirmed Christine Horz, a researcher at the Institute of Media Studies at the Ruhr-University Bochum, who is currently running a study on the participation of people with migration backgrounds in German newsrooms. “There is a lack of awareness of the necessity of diversity in newsrooms. We need a top-down strategy, otherwise, it will not work. That is why we focus on raising awareness among chief editors and politicians,” said Christine, recalling that the media, public opinion, and policymaking all influence each other.
How biased are you? Take the Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test to find out. “We are all biased, a bit racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist as we were brought up in societies that promote those views,” said Tina Lee from Hostwriter, an open network that helps journalists collaborate across borders. The solution is to reckon with this and move on from that shame, she added.
Tina is the editor-in-chief of “Unbias the News”, a book that brought together 30 international authors to discuss diversity and inclusion in journalism. “We all have unconscious bias, so if we collaborate we can bring that bias to the table and help keep each other in check,” she explained.
Unbias the News is packed with examples of how the “universal norms of journalism”, such as neutrality and transparency collide with reality. The book also provides solutions to introduce diversity in the newsroom and suggests how collaboration can help uncover stories that might otherwise have been missed.
“Why can’t I be who I want to be?” This question drives the editorial team of TV host Jaafar Abdul Karim, a German journalist and migrant himself. Jaafar hopes to build bridges between Europe and the Arab world by asking questions. In his TV show, Jaafar Talk, which airs on Deutsche Welle Arabia, he brings guests with opposing views face-to-face — politicians and refugees, far-right members and migrants — and invites them to discuss controversial issues, ranging from identity and racism to polygamy, gender and LGBTI rights, integration, and violence.
“Having a more diverse and open media starts with editorial staff,” said Jaafar, adding that this is also a way of getting better stories. The priority is to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. “Give a chance to people who you can’t identify yourself with, but your audience can. Think about what your audience wants and try to be more open,” he explained.
This is exactly what journalist and lecturer Marverine Cole has been doing while working for some of the UK’s main broadcasters. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Marverine said. She is a member of the Black Journalists’ Collective UK, a network of 100+ BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) journalists who take action to improve representation in newsrooms in the UK. She pointed out some successful initiatives at BBC and ITN, who have promoted minority women and put out a BAME pay gap report.
Like Jaafar and Marverine, Jan Hollitzer, editor-in-chief of the German newspaper Thüringer Allgemeine, has also understood how the media should help shape an inclusive identity. He left Berlin for his hometown Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia in East Germany, to run the local newspaper. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jan’s main challenge is still to overcome a persistent East-West divide in the German audience.
“The situation in the East — less economic development, lower wages, an ageing population — is still seen from the perspective of the West,” Jan explains. In October, the newspaper launched a new interactive tool and a podcast to engage its audiences in the local elections. The editor believes a mix of good reporting and new interactive tools can help address the issues of identity and polarisation in communities that are often disengaged from the political debate. He suggests:
Meanwhile, in Greece, independent startup Solomon is using media as a tool for social inclusion. “When it was launched, Solomon wanted to be the voice of the voiceless,” said operations manager Iliana Papangeli. Solomon’s purpose evolved from writing about refugees to writing with them.
Through its Lab, Solomon trained migrants and refugees in storytelling, photography, and film-making so they have the skills to tell their own stories. Thirty per cent of their graduates from countries like Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria or Iran are now part of the team. Solomon is an example of how independent media can be used against one-sided reporting and as a tool against the rise of xenophobia in Greece.
Frank Joung’s podcast Halbe Kattofl, which translates as half-potato, is an intentionally misspelled pun. “We need a word for second and third-generation nationals so that they are positively included,” said Frank. Halbe Kattofl is a series of talks with Germans who have no German roots — half German and half-foreign citizens — but it never asks the question — where do you come from?“ I didn’t want a name that highlighted the otherness,” said Frank, “I wanted to talk about delicious food, family ties, and struggles with puberty.”
Frank shows that spoken word can often carry less bias and that podcasts can be especially effective at reporting about diversity and inclusion issues. By listening to the voices of “half-potatoes” — without ever seeing what they look like, the audience learns the stories of Germans with migrant backgrounds that go beyond the played-out stereotypes of criminals, victims, and refugees.
Journalist Bastian Berbner has also been using the power of the voice to overcome bias, polarisation, and prejudice. In his podcast, 180 Degrees — Stories against hate (180 Grad — Geschichten gegen den Hass), Bastian interviewed unlikely duos, such as a policeman, a former Islamic jihadist, a Neo-Nazi, and an anarchist. These individuals’ who initially couldn’t see eye to eye, ended up respecting each other and becoming friends. Their mindset took a 180-degree turn, allowing them to overcome sexism, homophobia or radicalism when faced with the people they were supposed to hate.
“Quality journalism means inclusive journalism,” said Hadjar Benmiloud, summing up the main argument behind the News Impact Summit in Munich and more importantly, why diversity is the main driver of quality journalism.
While showcasing a collage of magazine covers highlighting the narratives about migration and Islam in Germany, journalist Konstantina Vassiliou-Enz noted: “Being inclusive and attentive in the media is a matter of journalistic practice and ethics. The journalism that relies on cheap stereotypes and fear-mongering is also just bad journalism.”
Konstantina is the managing director of the Neue Deutsche Medienmacher*innen, an NGO that is committed to bringing more diversity to newsrooms by working with media organisations all around the country. The unflattering series of images that Konstantina shared reflects how the media is stressing one-sided reporting and using discriminatory language. She suggests we can start by running our work through a simple checklist to make sure that we are producing and editing for inclusive journalism:
This was our last Summit of 2019, but we will return next year with more events, activities and training opportunities. Follow the EJC on Twitter and/or subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know about new opportunities in 2020.