In February 2021, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) was awarded funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, through their Power and Accountability programme, to fund a project to identify and begin to address structural racism in UK journalism. The resulting policy report, published in March 2023, provides an overview of the challenges that Black journalists are facing in the British news media. Read and download the report below.
This policy report provides an overview of the challenges that Black journalists are facing in the British news media. It is based on 27 in-depth interviews that took place with Black journalists and stakeholders who have worked or are currently working in national mainstream media newsrooms, across print, online and broadcast media. The report finds that the impact of structural and systemic racism in the UK news media has become all the more complex in the last few years. Although the proportion of Black African and Caribbean journalists has increased in recent years and there is a heightened sense of possibility for change in 2020 with the increased momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, Black journalists interviewed confirmed that newsroom processes continued to be exclusionary and racism was commonplace. The news media landscape in the United Kingdom is dominated by white editors and white senior management and this is impacting on the representation of Black people in the media industry and in content. Narratives, framing, and practices are enacted by senior managers who are resistant to change or to the inclusion of alternative perspectives and voices. This is having a profound effect on the experiences of Black journalists, many of whom describe a pervasive uneasiness and discomfort which prevents them from feeling truly included, and consequently on the content and outputs of the media. It is also contributing to the wider issues brought about by systemic racism in the UK.
The report draws the following conclusions:
• Racial stereotypes of Black people are informing shared newsroom attitudes towards Black journalists. Black journalists report feeling, at best, pigeon-holed into covering certain topics solely on the basis of their visual identity. At worst, there is a shared experience of trauma associated with racist attitudes which is perpetuating a culture of fear amongst many Black journalists. There is a frustration with being expected to represent or be the voice of Black African and Caribbean people as though all experiences are shared.
• The sense that Black journalists are interchangeable is pervasive. Racial microaggressions are commonplace and further entrench feelings of trauma that many Black journalists are facing. There is also an overwhelming agreement that bigotry is not taken seriously in the newsroom.
• The challenges that Black journalists are facing are multifaceted. Socio-economic class, gender, geography and sexuality are all affecting the lived experiences of journalists. Black working-class women journalists from outside of London and the South of England feel more alienated by the system than the Black middle-class men that were interviewed. Most however point to the lack of a meritocracy in journalism
and the unfounded assumptions amongst their white colleagues that the UK news media is meritocratic.
• Feedback and appraisal systems need to be addressed and made more transparent for Black journalists to feel confident that they are being recognised based on professional skills and journalism. The same is required of recruitment processes.
• Imposter syndrome, and feelings of self-doubt, are common amongst Black journalists. However, for many, feeling like an outsider is not just a perception coming from a lack of self-confidence or belief. It is the result of structural bias and exclusionary practices which are holding Black journalists back. Black journalists are experiencing racism, discrimination and feel that there is a lack of support.
• Black journalists are becoming frustrated with being asked to action or support diversity schemes when their white colleagues are not expected to take on this type of work. They feel that this has an impact on their already restricted chances for success as they have less time to focus on career progression.
• There is a sense that the work of individual Black journalists is being co-opted so that media organisations can appear to be championing diversity. At the same time, conventional approaches which are implemented under the umbrella of ‘diversity and inclusion’ are not seen to be working.
• There are mixed feelings about collegiality amongst journalists of colour. Some feel supported by networks for journalists of colour, although those that are considered successful are mainly informal. Others feel that the competitive nature of the industry
can prevent official and institutional networks from being effective.
• Representation of minoritised communities is weak in the UK news media. When race or racism is covered in the UK media there is limited nuance and minimal reference to the deeper issues of institutional racism or to the development of solutions. Voices and work by Black-led media organisations such as gal-dem, The Voice, and Black Ballad should be uplifted and sustained by the mainstream media. The roles of
race and community affairs correspondents need to be made more prominent and sustained within their media organisations.
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock