Special Report: Print media has always had issues with diversity & here’s why

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Newsrooms and news organisations have huge issues with diversity in their ranks. And it is not going to change anytime soon despite a series of campaigns on the back of the Black Lives Matter cause.

This has been more apparent in regional and national newspapers who have a woeful representation in attracting those from an Asian background. If any other organisation had such apparent disregard for the diversity in their midst there would be calls for countless studies and reports. The newsrooms are not a reflection of the communities they serve and clearly something has been wrong for many years. And it shows.

You could say this has been caused by the fact that many regional and local press have struggled financially and cuts in staffing are a daily occurrence. But I disagree. Newspapers both regional and national have had an opportunity to tackle these inequalities for years but chosen to ignore them. It should be a real cause for embarrassment.

The reason they have done so because unlike other organisations a newsroom is about ideas, thoughts and opinions that affect communities.

Sadly, in the past twenty years I have met few Asian journalists working in mainstream newsrooms. Some areas with huge Asian populations have never had an Asian journalist working in their ranks.

Of course few of us have been able to speak openly about this because we feel our leadership will not take such criticism lightly.

Now, it is all too easy to blame those who have the responsibility to hire for these inequalities.

I always felt the best way to discuss the most racially charged articles and themes was to do so directly with my own colleagues before anything would go to print or posted online. That way the newsroom was not just a place where people debated issues but could well be a replication of the society we were supposed to be representing.

My colleagues I have worked with have been some of the best people I know. They were on the whole open and direct and this helped us to produce better content I would say. I cannot though say the same for news organisations and newspapers as a whole which are still stuck in very much a nineties mindset.

Just because you are of one race or religion does not make you an expert on all those issues but it does help to know about similar viewpoints. We all know of occasions when journalists even at the BBC making simple errors on religion and culture because they simply didn’t check with a colleague first.

The real problem lies with leadership roles and those that require a level of responsibility.

We can have as many people from Asian background in newsrooms but it makes no real difference unless they have an influence of what is eventually being outputted.

I have met journalists from a BAME background who have reported on specific stories only to find the words have been altered by newsdesk. Or as was the case on many occasions, the headline gave off a different impression of what was written.

This was not done with any ill-intent but to appease our readers who in many cases we felt were white. To the writer though it can be extremely disheartening especially when the subject matter relates to religion and race.

So real change requires giving these people from BAME backgrounds the same opportunity to progress into leadership roles than everyone else. So they are able to make the decisions that affect all communities.

We have a similar issues with comments moderation. It wasn’t up until recently that news organisations decided to take a more active approach to moderating comments but others continue to be guided by how and the type of comments an article will get.

Our comments sections has at times become nothing more than a far-right dumping ground for their vile thoughts and ideas. Remarkably you will find people actually complaining when these racist comments are removed as if to suggest they are part of mainstream opinion!

Local news websites often give off a false impression of what towns and cities are really like and can be off putting for any readers of all backgrounds. It is probably why some Asians I have spoken to over the years will refuse to be featured on their local news website because they did not want to be abused by readers who look first at their the colour of their skin or religion rather than the story in question.

And this works both ways. Just because a story features an Asian person we can’t automatically assume it was only posted for that reason. If it takes place in a predominantly Asian neighbourhood then clearly there will be readers who will want to be alerted to changes that affect them.

This idea that there is a huge conspiracy to target one set of people on a genuine story means people are encouraged to discount that opinion.

I admit that there are elements in the wider press who will purposely insinuate issues relating to race and culture to appease their readers. It does not take a genius to figure out that a story is being written for the sole purpose to target a particular person due to their religion and race.

Due to this other sites have similarly taken an active approach in trying to replicate that model. Of course as journalists we won’t admit to this but clearly there has been a dangerous precedent set and we know what will help to gain more clicks on our sites.

I do still encourage anyone who asks for my advice to go into journalism as I think it still matters. But in 2020 I should not really have to have a cautionary conversation about the pitfalls their race and religion may bring.

Shuiab Khan, is a journalist at the Lancashire Telegraph and Asian Image

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