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How to tackle the lack of diversity in the media

It is interesting to remember back to when the Covid-19 pandemic was first reported as being a great leveller of society. Week by week, what has tragically become clear is that this was a fallacy, with certain communities bearing the brunt far more than others. In both the UK and US, black and minority ethnic people are at disproportionate risk , while isolation and lock-down can have a far more serious impact on young LGBTQ+ people.

Reflect your audience

This is a very stark example that underlines how essential it is that journalists and PROs acknowledge the need for diversity in reporting. According to Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel Four, ‘if you yourselves are not representative of your audience or your readers, then you cannot understand and represent their interests’.

The issue of diversity and representation is one explored in the latest Vuelio/ResponseSource white paper, Diversity in Journalism, which collates views from journalists, industry experts and campaigners on the current state of the UK’s media and why this remains so important to PROs, communications practitioners and journalists alike.

"If you yourselves are not representative of your audience or your readers, then you cannot understand and represent their interests’.

A mountain to climb

What’s clear is that the issue of diversity in the media is going nowhere fast: 94% of journalists are white, 55% male, and 40% were educated at independent schools. This is mirrored in the PR industry: though the majority is female (67%: PRCA Census 2019), the gender pay gap still exists, and 89% of the industry is white while 20% attended an independent school. It underlines the mountain to climb when it comes to improving representation and creating a media reflective of society.

Wrong assumptions

As an example, communications assistant and ambassador for Mencap Harry Roche shares his experience as a PRO speaking to journalists: ‘There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. The majority of the public still don’t understand learning disability, partly because they rarely see us in the media.’ When Harry speaks to journalists, they often assume he is a ‘case study’ rather than an ambassador sharing his experiences and advocating for others.

For Hannah Ajala, founder of We Are Black Journos, realising change must include black journalists sharing and promoting opportunities to their own networks alongside more organisations highlighting how they can engage black journalists.

Forward thinking

Realising a step change in how we represent and report on society is, for many of the white paper contributors, essential to the health of the media – and therefore the PR industry. And while it remains challenging to truly change, according to The Media Diversity Institute it is not impossible. Its advice was to start by speaking directly to the communities that are currently excluded: ‘Don’t ask an expert to speak about the group, speak to the group or an individual in it’. Whether it is terminology or messaging, only by asking the communities you are representing, or aiming to represent, can you get it right.

The consensus is that even in the midst of this intense news cycle, keeping a focus on how we incorporate diverse voices into reporting and communication remains fundamental to the health of the media (and PR industry). For more guidance on how you can make a difference, download the white paper, which includes a library of tools and support, from Sports Media LGBT+’s Rainbow Ready to the D Word conferences.

Written by Jake O’Neill, head of marketing at  Vuelio, including Vuelio PR Pulse.

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