The following piece features in the ResponseSource Diversity in Journalism white paper, which can be downloaded here, and comes from James Turner, chief executive of the Sutton Trust.
‘If you have a diverse workforce in journalism, you are much
more likely to produce good strong journalism’ – Professor Diane Kemp’s opening
remark in ResponseSource’s recent webinar neatly sums up why diversity in the
media is so crucial.
It is not about tokenism or quotas: it is about ensuring the
industry harnesses the talents of people from a wide range of backgrounds, so
that it can speak to and for the whole nation, not just a narrow segment of it.
The Sutton Trust’s landmark report in 2019, Elitist Britain,
examined the educational backgrounds of those in the country’s most influential
and sought-after professions including judges, sports personalities and
popstars. Seven percent of the population attend a private school (where fees
average £15,000 a year), yet this group is five times more likely to make it to
the top of key industries. The media is no different. On average 40% of
journalists attended an independent school, with 39% attending Oxbridge. We saw
similar results for newspaper columnists, for example, with 44% attending both
an independent school and Oxbridge.
Those in the media are in a powerful position to shape the
debate on political and social affairs – a debate which should be informed by a
wide range of articulate voices. It is in all our interests to see more
journalists coming through from backgrounds which are currently
underrepresented, adding their own perspectives to the issues of the day and
bringing knowledge of communities and neighbourhoods too often overlooked.
Indeed, the stories that are given coverage are important,
but equally as important are the stories that are not covered. There is a
perceived disconnect between those in the media and the general public. Channel
4’s Jon Snow highlighted
this in a speech given to the Edinburgh TV Festival, lamenting that
journalists had not noticed the blog from a resident predicting the Grenfell
Tower tragedy. ‘We can accuse the political classes for their failures, and we
do. But we are guilty of them ourselves. We are too far removed from those who
lived their lives in Grenfell’. The case for diversity in the media has rarely
been made so clearly.
Many news organisations have recognised the importance of
socio-economic diversity and have started to measure this among their staff.
Channel 4 found that 67%
of its employees had parents with professional and managerial jobs, while
the BBC found that a quarter of its news staff were privately educated.
Monitoring social and educational backgrounds is an important first step, but
tackling the issue of diversity also requires creative thinking on the part of
media organisations to produce solutions. One example of this is the
Spectator’s paid internship scheme, which operates a ‘no-CV’ policy when
recruiting for candidates to limit the importance of prior experience. The BBC
also has a number of entry routes designed to widen access to journalism,
including its apprenticeship programme, developed with input from the Sutton
However, far too many work experience programmes in the
media are still unpaid, which acts as a barrier to entry for those from lower
income backgrounds. Sutton Trust research shows that that the minimum
cost of carrying out an unpaid internship in London is over £1,100, making
it nearly impossible for those who cannot rely on financial support from
parents to get their foot in the door.
Many of these placements are offered in London or other
large cities, with the high cost of living making these opportunities even less
accessible. Our recent
report on the elites found that London is difficult to access for people
from working class backgrounds outside the capital, with those from an already
privileged background more likely to move to the capital for work. The role of
local and regional newspapers and radio stations is crucial in helping young
people to get the experience they need to start their career outside of big
Social mobility is on the agenda of more and more
organisations. It is encouraging to see more media organisations thinking about
diversity and the benefits that this brings — but there is still a long way to
go. It is not just important for an equitable and fair society, but also for
high quality journalism that has relevance to all walks of life.
The Sutton Trust is a charity working to address low
social mobility in the UK, where the educational opportunities and life chances
of a child born today are strongly linked to their parents’ socio-economic
background. The Trust fights for social mobility from birth to the workplace so
that every young person – no matter who their parents are, what school they go
to, or where they live – has the chance to succeed in life. Find out more on suttontrust.com.