Sky Views: White and privileged – the dilemma facing newsrooms
‘Read what our Head of Newsgathering Jonathan Levy had to say about diversity in the news room.’
However, the question becomes more acute when it comes to reporting modern Britain itself.
International news is typically big picture stuff – but when covering your own backyard, the details really do matter. You need to get under the skin of the subject and understand it in all its complexity.
Another important difference is that foreign correspondents, by definition, cover people far away for audiences in the UK – there’s an accepted “otherness” to their reporting.
For domestic news, any sense that one group of citizens is being reported on for a separate group of citizens can feed suspicion in minority communities that mainstream media coverage just isn’t for them.
With Britain becoming an increasingly multicultural place, news organisations need to ensure that everything they cover – from the arts, politics and sport to economics, social issues and crime – truly reflects the plurality of the country.
It’s an issue that’s been brought in to sharp focus this year as we’ve grappled with how to tell the story of the vicious gang violence afflicting London.
The victims of these street wars are disproportionately black. Beyond the capital, being black makes you no more likely to be the victim of violent crime. In London, it increases the chances fourfold.
The gang violence has its own subculture defined by rival drill-music rappers doing battle on social media. It has its own territory – the estates of south, southeast and north London.
Intent on gaining the best possible understanding of the problem, we assigned Kumba Kpakima, a young reporter who is of Sierra Leonean descent and grew up in south London, to investigate.
Her report, which aired on Sky News last week, gave a deeply troubling insight into the lives of these young men. Kumba found them to be less the victims of a lack of opportunity and more motivated by the easy money and excitement of gang life.
It drew some criticism. Posts on social media suggested incorrectly that Sky News provided the monkey masks that the Woolwich Boy gang members wore to hide their identity. A colleague from an Afro-Caribbean background complained that it presented a simplistic and negative image of young black men.
But Kumba got us much closer to this story than we had done previously and provided our viewers with an understanding they wouldn’t have got from a reporter without her background. She had a sharper grasp of it, she had better access.
Yet the question of British journalism’s complexion goes well beyond who reports specific stories. News organisations are discursive places, filled with constant debate about what stories to cover and how to cover them. The range of voices in that debate needs to reflect the range of people found beyond the newsroom walls.
At the moment, it doesn’t. Far from it. National newsrooms are overwhelmingly white and privileged.
This is fundamentally an entry-level issue. The route into journalism tends to run through expensive postgraduate courses and unpaid internships where you won’t find many young people from poorer or ethnic backgrounds.
Kumba came to Sky News via an apprenticeship scheme for which we only considered those without a university education. The benefits of that approach were evident on our screens last week. But that year, many more people still found their way into the newsroom the common and more expensive way.
If we’re going to solve that newsroom dilemma, that will have to change.