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.
The research and evaluation of structural racism in UK newsrooms presented in this document are based on research and fieldwork conducted by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) between January – July 2022. It has been produced as part of a project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) which aims to explore the conditions – and identify the needs of Black journalists – and how these conditions are impacting on the development of more accountable news content that can work to overcome systemic racism in the United Kingdom. The EJN chose to focus on Black African and Caribbean journalists following the resurgence of the Black Lives Movement (BLM) movement in relation to ongoing deaths of Black people in the West. It was felt that increased awareness of the challenges that Black people face could increase the effectiveness and relevance of any policy work and recommendations emerging from this research. It was also decided that the research would focus on journalists who are working in the national mainstream news media, mainly in the interests of time and resource.
This research study sets out to explore these factors, challenges and opportunities. Its goal is to develop a set of clear and actionable recommendations for media organisations and policymakers to take forward in relation to the recruitment, retention and representation of Black journalists.
The main objectives of the research were identified as the following:
- Assess the status and representation of Black African and Caribbean journalists in UK newsrooms
- Categorise the main challenges to the professional development and inclusion of Black African and Caribbean journalists
- Consider the relationship between diverse newsroom representation and content outputs
- Identify the gaps, needs and opportunities in this space, as well as the main impediments to racial equality in the UK news industry
The research framework guiding this paper was centred on the following key questions:
- What are the main factors undermining racial equality in the United Kingdom and how is this manifesting itself in the UK news media?
- What are the main challenges to Black African and Caribbean journalists working with the UK news industry, focusing on aspects emerging from the structural conditions of racism in the industry?
- How are Black people represented in media content? How does this correlate with the representation of Black journalists within the industry?
- Where are the opportunities for the media to play a role creating a more inclusive environment which can encourage the promotion of Black voices and Black journalists?
The study used the following combined methods for data collection:
Desk Research: A thorough analysis and interrogation of existing literature including an assessment of available quantitative, qualitative, academic and policy-related research pertaining to the UK media industry, racism-related initiatives, relevant studies and needs assessments were conducted. This included research work by Dr Omega Douglas at Goldsmiths University, BECTU, Birmingham City University Media Diversity Centre, City University, the International News Safety Institute (INSI), the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford, and the Women in Journalism (WIJ) initiative on the lack of diversity in the media amongst others.
Data and evidence collected through desk research were used to fulfil a number of objectives. Firstly, it validated the EJN’s initial hypothesis that, while some work was being done to address issues of racial diversity in the UK media as a whole, there has been very little specific focus on newsroom representation and practices. It also provided empirical data on which to develop research protocols for the qualitative research methods described below. Finally, it has been used to verify qualitative findings from both the key informant interviews and discourse analysis.
In-depth structured and semi-structured interviews: The EJN mapped and identified key informants and stakeholders. Interviews were conducted with Black African and Caribbean journalists from across print, online and broadcast media. Interviews were chosen to reflect gender, age, class, and geographical diversity. In total, the EJN were able to conduct semi-structured interviews with 21 people. The focus was on assessing the key challenges that they faced based on their recall of their experiences in the newsroom. In addition, interviews were also conducted with 6 additional Black media experts, academics and journalists. The International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) provided transcription support for all of the interviews conducted.
The EJN tried to include a broad spectrum of views and opinions from across the news media sector. However, conditions emerged which meant that many stakeholders we approached were unavailable for interviews or comment. Many responded to the initial approach for interview with positive comments about the aims of the project, but were apologetic that they could not commit the time to being interviewed. One person commented “The struggle is real” alluding to the lack of resources made available to Black journalists in their workplace and beyond. This could be seen to be a direct outcome of more widespread structural conditions which impact on the socioeconomic status of minority communities, including women.
This also speaks to some of the findings of this paper, including the frustration felt by some Black journalists when asked to action or support diversity schemes while their white colleagues were not expected to take on such additional work outside of their job remit. They felt that this also had an impact on their chances for success, leaving them with even less time to focus on career progression. Having to represent or be the voice of Black people was also a source of frustration.
Discourse analysis: A piece of discourse analysis was undertaken with support from City University Department of Journalism to examine the coverage of race and racism in the UK news. The initial objective of the discourse analysis was to provide data which could help to inform the interviews conducted for the research report. The EJN established a relationship with the Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM) who have produced a comprehensive research report which examines the British media’s reporting of Islam and Muslims. The EJN partnered with the CfMM to reproduce their methodology of monitoring and analysis of the British media using key words, and metrics such as association with negative aspects or behaviour, misrepresentation, generalisations, lack of due prominence to voice or identity, issues with imagery or headlines. British mainstream media news channels and online media were monitored using key chosen words which included the following:
- Black people
- Black communities
- Ethnic minorities
- Minoritised communities
- Black nurses
- Black doctors
- Black medical professionals
- Black patients
- Race review
- Government race review
- Black men
- Black women
The project’s limited resources required it to focus its discourse analysis on a particular event in the news reporting cycle. Analysis was therefore conducted on the print online media coverage of the controversial report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) report into racial and ethnic disparities in the UK during March 2021. This event was chosen due to its nature as a key event in 2021 during which race and racism were covered in the UK media.
Unfortunately, retrospective access to broadcast media was unavailable due to the limited nature of media monitoring and tracking tools. Therefore, further discourse analysis using broadcast media focused more broadly on the coverage of topics related to race in the months where content was available, December 2021 and January 2022.
 Discourse analysis is a qualitative research method which analyses the use of language beyond words and sentences. It takes into consideration the use of language and the exercise of power, for example, representation and identity as well as the context within which language is being used.
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock