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BBC sets goal of hiring staff from working class areas; media outlets aim for more diversity

/ 04:27 PM April 06, 2022
BBC ETX Daily Up

The BBC aspires to have 25% of its staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds by 2027. Image: K. Mitch Hodge/Unsplash via ETX Daily Up

For years, news organizations have been criticized for being inward-looking. Some, like the BBC, are taking action to bring more socioeconomic and ethnocultural diversity to their newsrooms.

The BBC has set a new goal of having 25% of its staff come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The British radio and television group is giving itself until 2027 to diversify its workforce. It has said that, in the future, it will encourage the hiring of professionals who grew up in working-class areas. Only 20.2% of the BBC’s staff fall into this category, according to official figures from March 2021, accessed by the trade magazine The Press Gazette.

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The BBC claims to be one of the first British media organizations to show this kind of ambition. In recent months, the state-owned corporation has stepped up its efforts to increase the number of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities in its workforce. It currently has almost 49% female employees and only 15.9% of professionals from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, according to its latest annual report. Meanwhile, the number of people with disabilities that the BBC employs comes in lower, at 9%.

It is not the only news organization to rethink its operations to make its teams less homogeneous. Reuters committed to this last summer, following the Black Lives Matter (BLM) shockwave.

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“We recognize that we can do better and that we must improve the racial and ethnic diversity in our own organization,” said Reuters president, Michael Friedenberg, and Steve Adler, editor-in-chief, at the time. The British news agency has made it its mission to double the number of Black employees in senior leadership positions by the end of 2022, and to include more diverse professionals in its senior management.

The Black Lives Matter effect

Across the Atlantic, news organizations are also questioning the under-representation of people from diverse backgrounds in their ranks, not to mention the editorial implications of this situation.

According to Laura Morgan Roberts, a professor at the Darden School of Business, the lack of people from multiple backgrounds in leadership positions has a real impact on what the general public reads in the press. “When the editors are not diverse, it adversely affects the coverage,” she told Nieman Lab. “[News stories] can be incomplete or compromised by blind spots, or at worst, can perpetuate negative stereotypes about various communities, especially people of color.”

The resurgence of the BLM movement, following the death of George Floyd during a police stop, drew attention to the gaps between the reality of society and its representation in the media. A year and a half later, a report from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications takes stock of the changes being implemented in some United States newsrooms. More than 1,500 professionals were surveyed about efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the press.

Nearly four in five respondents said that these initiatives have had a positive impact on the industry. This sentiment is particularly strong among journalists working in television. However, Danielle K. Brown, Cowles Chair in Diversity and Equality in Journalism at the University of Minnesota, expresses doubts about the sustainability of these efforts toward more diversity.

“There are more people at the table. A lot of people are thinking about ways to change,” she said in a statement. “But I don’t think they have a grip on the whole package that’s needed to change radically, which is what they pledged to do.”

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So how can we make the media a true reflection of the sociological realities of our societies?

In France, some people think that change needs to happen before would-be journalists even reach the labor market. This is why the organization “La Chance pour la diversité dans les médias” helps students with scholarships — in particular those from disadvantaged urban areas and isolated rural zones — to prepare for the competitive exams to get into journalism schools recognized by the profession.

A similar initiative has been underway at the “Prépa égalité des chances” in Lille for the past 12 years. JB

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