Former Independent editor Professor Ian Hargreaves and NUJ in ethnic diversity warning for UK journalism
Dealing with ethnic and social diversity is not only in the public interest but in the interest of news media which "cannot expect to do well" if it is out of touch with its audience, according to Professor Ian Hargreaves CBE, chair of a recent NCTJ report on the UK journalism workforce.
Out of touch: Professor Hargreaves said diversity must be challenged
The report revealed that 94 per cent of UK journalists were from a white ethnic background, despite more than half of the workforce being based in London and the south-east, an area which 2011 census figures showed had substantial ethnic diversity.
Professor Hargreaves, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University and former editor of the Independent and New Statesman, said: "The diversity figures are very disappointing. It's a question of public interest and of professional self-interest; news media which is not in touch with growing parts of the potential audience cannot expect to do well."
The latest figures showed the number of journalists in the UK from a white ethnic background had dropped just two per cent since the NCTJ-commissioned study was last conducted in 2002.
"I would say that the explanation is that the industry has taken its eye off the ball - no doubt because of the business pressures of recent years," Professor Hargreaves continued. "I hope that the more provisional nature of the news blogosphere will prove to be a balancing factor, but it remains very important that mainstream professional journalism deals with the challenge of ethnic and social diversity."
The report estimated as much as 60 per cent of the UK journalism workforce was based in the London and south-east region, a rise of five per cent since 2002, while 2011 census figures showed just under 60 per cent of London's population was of white ethnic background, indicating other ethnic backgrounds were not adequately represented within the journalism industry.
NUJ equality officer Lena Calvert echoed the view that lack of diversity throughout the media was a threat to its ability to stay relevant: "The broadcasting sector is much improved in this regard since the BBC was described as 'hideously white'. That is down to diversity monitoring, followed by initiatives by the BBC and independent broadcasters to tackle the issue.
"Even in this sector there are still problems but it leaves the written media lagging behind with many titles stubbornly refusing to see that not only are they not reflecting society as it exists today but are losing touch with a huge area of readership.
"The NUJ and its Black Members Council has long campaigned on the issue of lack of diversity in the UK media," she continued. "This latest report only confirms the NUJ's view that much of the UK media does not reflect our multicultural society."
Concerns over the impact of social class were highlighted as a continuing influence in the make-up of UK journalism, with a higher proportion of journalists having a parent in a higher level occupation - such as managers and directors - in comparison to other industries, and Calvert warned that a class imbalance may be set to grow even further.
"Even after decades of campaigning, journalists in the printed media tend to be white and drawn from middle class backgrounds," said Calvert. "There is no mystery as to why this is so, as even if the 'who you know' aspect of media recruitment is declining, the requirement for entrants to undertake unpaid internships in order to gain entrance to the profession mitigates against the entrant from a working class background who simply can't afford to work for nothing. Add to this the rising cost of university education and it can only get worse."
Efforts have been underway since 2006 to help increase social and ethnic diversity from the Journalism Diversity Fund, which has funded 137 students in challenging circumstances to help complete their journalism qualifications. It receives financial contributions from the Newspaper Licensing Industry, the Scott Trust, Associated Newspapers and BSkyB.
The study also estimated approximately 60,000 journalists were working in the UK, only a small drop from 2002, and the majority were still employed in the newspaper business. However, job cuts continue to be made across the print sector - this week it was reported up to 30 jobs could go at The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday after further Johnston Press restructuring plans - and Professor Hargreaves said such moves can only have a negative effect on the quality of content.
"Where newspapers have made big cuts in the number of journalists they employ, there must be negative consequences for the range, quality and ambition of the journalist they produce," he said. "Where newspapers have disappeared, they have left gaping holes in the information systems which healthy communities need.
"The emergence of new forms of online journalism has compensated for some of these gaps and provided services, in some cases, which local newspapers couldn't provide. I'm optimistic about there this will come out in the end, but there's no denying it's a rough and bumpy transition.
"I still think being a journalist is a great job, but there's no denying that working conditions - especially pay - aren't as good as they were, especially in print journalism, but I think the survey shows that journalists are being very inventive about how they put together portfolios of work, which they are able to do because journalistic skills are highly valued."
The report surveyed 1,000 journalists and used information from other sources, such as the Office of National Statistics, to compile its overview of the industry.