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“A reckoning is underway”: Publishers are addressing diversity to remain relevant in changing times

“A reckoning on diversity is underway, both in terms of internal social inequality and how to better represent audiences through greater diversity in the news coverage,” Federica Cherubini, Head of Leadership Development, Reuters Institute, told WNiP over email.

Aside from the pandemic, high profile events like the Black Lives Matter protests have tested newsrooms this year. It focused the masses’ attention on racial injustice and social inequality, and also raised questions around the media’s coverage of these issues.

“Journalism has been pushed to reckon with its own practices”

Such concerns have been simmering for a while now and were seen earlier in the #MeToo movement which led many publishers to address gender imbalances in their organizations. It’s important for publishers to address these issues to “remain relevant in changing societies,” according to Reuters Institute’s latest report, Changing Newsrooms 2020. The report looks into how news publishers across the world are dealing with these shifts and changing in the process. 

As societal questions of diversity, equity and inclusion gained greater global public prominence in 2020, especially in the wake of the George Floyd killing, journalism has been pushed to reckon with its own practices, both internally in the industry, and in how it covers the news.

Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

The report is based on a survey of 136 senior news publishing executives from 38 countries across the world. It has been written by the aforementioned Federica Cherubini, Rasmus Nielsen (Director, RISJ) and Nic Newman (Senior Research Associate, RISJ). 

80% of the respondents believe their organization has done well in addressing gender diversity. However, the figure drops to 45% for political diversity, 43% for ethnic diversity, and 40% when it comes to diversity in terms of less advantaged groups.

Source: Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

Gender diversity has been helped by top-down programmes to improve female recruitment to certain roles as well as to reduce gender pay gaps. But not all of the most successful initiatives have come from management. 

Internal teams at the BBC started a bottom-up initiative – the ‘50:50 The Equality Project’ in 2017. It’s aim is to encourage content creators to produce journalism that represents women and men equally. The project now involves 70 organizations in over 20 countries. 78% of the programmes involved in the project for at least 2 years have reached 50% women contributors,   indicating that cultural change is taking hold, and is sustainable.

Source: 50:50 The Equality Project

Ethnic diversity is the top priority this year

The attention now appears to be switching to ethnic diversity in many parts of the world, according to the Reuters report. 

With the rise of Black Lives Matter protests, pressure has been building from audiences and from ethnic minority staff to ensure that journalists are more sensitive to the concerns of black and other minority groups – as well as to historical injustices. 

Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

The survey has 42% of the respondents picking ethnic diversity as their most important diversity priority this year. It’s followed by gender diversity (18%) and diversity for people with less advantaged backgrounds (15%).

Source: Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

The report suggests that the first important step in driving change is to gather a range of performance data related to diversity. According to the findings, that is now happening in a large number of newsrooms. 

64% of the respondents say that their news organization collects and shares diversity data about staff. The figure stands at 54% for leadership. Additionally, 46% of the respondents say their organization has someone formally in charge of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices (DEI). 

Source: Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

Publishers like Dagens Nyheter (Sweden) and the Financial Times (UK) use gender bots to track the gender diversity of experts and sources they quote.

Overall, 84% of the respondents feel that their organization is doing a good job with diversity at junior level but the figure drops to 37% in case of senior leadership level.

The authors also note that in recent years journalists in many countries have mostly been drawn from a relatively small group of highly educated elites. Previous research by Reuters has indicated that recruitment processes need to be more proactive in encouraging applicants from diverse and less traditional educational backgrounds. 

“Key for news publishers to adapt to a digital media environment”

That leads to another area of concern – attracting and retaining the right talent. While most respondents (53%) are confident of being able to do so in editorial areas, the same cannot be said about other key areas. Only 23% of the respondents feel confident about attracting and retaining talent related to product, audience, and design, 21% for data and insights, and 18% for technology. 

The gradual merging of journalism, tech, and data is key for news publishers to adapt to a digital media environment, and this will necessarily require new talent beyond traditional editorial skill sets.

Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

This is likely because the media industry is not very appealing to tech and data talent compared to the other options available to them, the survey found. Product, data science and technology experts can get higher salaries and the opportunity to innovate at speed in other industries.  

“The case for diversity”

However, “attracting the best and brightest talent from the next generation will not just be about the fact that a challenged industry is unable to compete with other sectors on salary alone,” the authors write. “It is also about culture and values. This is the case for diversity, as well as for the different kinds of talent that news media need.”

This brings us back to the urgency around issues like diversity and inclusion, as well as the ability of news organizations to change fast enough – in their internal culture and organization as well as in how they cover the news – to remain relevant in changing societies. 

Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

“These are tough challenges,” adds Cherubini. “But ones that the news industry needs to face. Challenges are also an opportunity for positive change and we hope that this report will be of some practical use for newsrooms leaders and will help us better understand how newsrooms are changing.”


The full report is available at Reuters Institute:
Changing Newsrooms 2020

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