How inclusive is your journalism? A very simple test you should try today

Diane Kemp at the Behind Local News conference

Faced with the sheer weight of evidence which shows how far journalism has to go to become more inclusive and more diverse, it can seem almost impossible to know where to start.

If that’s a sentence you recognise, then Diane Kemp has news for you.

Diane, a Professor of Broadcast Journalism at the Birmingham School of Media told delegates at the Behind Local News conference in Leicester that journalists should take a ‘just do it’ approach towards inclusivity and diversity.

The BBC’s Outside Source programme has been a catalyst for change across the BBC

Diane said: “For example, the BBC news programme Outside Source looked at the interviewees that it had on. They just thought: “Hang on, this doesn’t look right.”

“They realised that the split of interviewees was massively mostly male and they just decided to change it. And between January and April they got it 50/ 50. And I think it’s absolutely liberating for us. It’s that idea ‘we don’t have to wait for anything major we can actually just institute change we can do.’

“It shows the strength of somebody taking some action and then being shared. Actually there’s a shaming factor. It’s a way in which you can bring about change.”

The very fact that inclusivity is being discussed is progress in itself, Diane said.

“When I first started working in radio did I realise there was a problem that I was the only woman, often the first one to be on air? Yes I did. Was it something you talked about? You absolute didn’t talk about it. You smiled and put up with stuff.

“So the fact we’re talking about it is actually great news. There is a gender pay gap of between 9 and 35 percent. That’s in favour of men over women. But last year last year we saw people speaking up in the media about the gender pay gap which led the BBC to commit to close that gender pay gap by 2020.

“The fact we’re talking about it makes it a very different space. It makes it much more possible to have free debates about this rather than going to the toilet with another woman from the newsroom to talk about it.

“In a nutshell, research shows our newsrooms are still 95 percent white. We do have half of newsrooms being women, which is fantastic, but nevertheless those issues of gender pay gap and slower promotion continues.”

In an era where journalism is regularly criticised and undermined, and with a business model under constant challenge, Diane argues it’s essential newsrooms build on the momentum generated our inclusivity.

“We’ve got a problem in our newsrooms, we do not represent the communities that make up Britain. That’s a problem for us because it means we have communities which do not trust the media.

Has journalism learnt the lessons from Grenfell?

“One of my students asked us to put our hands up if we lived in a towerblock. She was the only person.

“She left a local radio newsroom because she found the responsibility of being the only person of colour in the newsroom, and having to always answer all the questions about ‘why did this happen’ was too much. Also, because every time she put a story forward people in the rest of the room didn’t think it was a story.

“Well post Grenfell the idea of living in a towerblock and concerns of people living in a towerblock not being seen as news looks strange doesn’t it?

“But 8–9 years ago nobody took it seriously. So thinking about things like social class, social background, age, physical ability as well as gender are all things we need to address.”

Diane Kemp

Diane offered a simple test to anyone wanting to explore the difference they could make:

“Who you know is what you know, is a well-known phrase. If you think we are in a situation of journalism not being representative of the totality of the UK, then it’s down to everyone to address it.

“It’s never just on the shoulders of anybody who represents another community. It’s not just for them to deal with it.

“Write down your six top contacts, the people you turn to for a story, the people who tell you something and you know you have to go on and investigate it.

“If you look at your trusted list, and they kind of look like you look like, in any way, then ask what you’re going to do to address that.”

Diane Kemp

Diane cited ITV News as an organisation which, like Outside Source, had taken small steps to deliver huge change.

“They are compiling a more diverse experts database for all journalists. You know one of our problems is that if you’re short of time, and we’re always short of time, you tend to pull back on the contacts you know and if the contacts you know probably get a little bit like you. And that tends to be for all of us.

“And then we tend to trust and rely on and know people who are kind of like us. So ITV spent some time building a database of more diverse experts so that at the time when you’re busy you won’t just fall back on your usual person for information. And it works.”

One of journalism’s core skills lies at the heart of creating more inclusive newsrooms and newslists, Diane told delegates.

“What are we good at? We’re great great at finding people. But we need to be thinking about are we finding the right people. This has to be a do it yourself culture.

“In Birmingham we have a council making massive massive cuts, so lots of organisations are setting up and problem solving themselves. They are full of fantastic stories all below the surface because they’re not asking for the permission to do it, and they’re not putting their heads above the parapet and telling us, they’re just getting on with it.

“That’s very positive for us. We just need to find them. One of my former students makes a point of saying that we must not forget that actually a lot of those groups won’t be on social media.

“But at the same time, ask yourself if you’re making the most of social media. Does your Twitter list look just like the people you meet in real life? If so, there’s an opportunity.

“In some cases, you have to go out and find people, and they have great stories to tell.”