When Birmingham Evening Mail editor-in-chief Roger Borrell arrived at the paper just over three years ago he said: “the editorial area was a sea of black faces”. But he added: “They were all carrying mops and bog brushes – once they’d finished cleaning up our mess all that was left was a sea of white faces.”
Borrell was speaking as Sheffield University journalism professor Peter Cole presented his report Diversity in theNews Room to the Society of Editors annual conference last week. He found that many newspapers with large ethnic minority communities have few or no journalists from those communities working for them.
On the whole, Cole has found that this is not for want of trying by regional editors. But his report has urged publishers to take further action saying: “Progress will not be made until senior management and editors make minority ethnic recruitment to editorial one of their top priorities, and keep it there.”
Borrell has made a difference in Birmingham by increasing the number of ethnic-minority journalists from one to seven out of 93. He said: “When I first arrived, I walked through the streets of Birmingham and was struck by the enormous number of black and Asian people.
However, virtually none of them read the paper I’d come to the city to edit.”
Borrell said there was a philosophy at the Mail of “they don’t buy our paper so we don’t put them in it”. He said: “Everyone at Trinity Mirror agreed that this was a state of affairs that could not be allowed to continue – not because it was the right business decision but because it was the right decision, full stop.”
Borrell said three columnists were hired – one black and two Asian – and a Bollywood slot was introduced to the what’s-on section. He said that changing the editorial content was fairly straightforward but finding ethnic minority staff proved much harder. “We went out and tried to find them. We linked up with a school that had a high proportion of Asian high achievers.
“Then we launched the Black Business Awards. We specifically sent reporters out to mosques and said ‘you can trust the Birmingham Evening Mail, please try the Mail, you might like it enough to let your kids go and work there’.”
Borrell said the result has been a “gradual but very noticeable increase” in the number of ethnic minority journalists working on the paper.
Former Yorkshire Post reporter Anila Baig, who was recently signed up as a columnist by The Sun , reflected the comments of several editors in the survey when she said low wages and journalism’s relatively low prestige put off Asians.
Baig, who got her break in journalism at the age of 28 with a job on the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, believes that there are practical advantages to having non-white faces on the editorial team. She said: “Some editors say that they are colour blind and all they care about is someone’s ability to do the job.
“However, I know for sure that I would have missed out on a lot of stories if I hadn’t been able to speak my mother’s tongue.”
JOURNALISM VIEWED AS SECOND RATE
Sun writer Anila Baig says: “Sometimes the problems can start at home.When I heard Krishan Guru-Murthy say that his father offered to pay for him to re-train as a doctor at the age of 28 I knew how hemust have been feeling.
“When I first toldmy parents that I wanted to be a journalist my dad’s immediate reaction was that journalism would be a nice hobby. Then he paused and thought for a minute, and said that I could train and qualify as a doctor and then become a reporter after.
“One prospective mother-in-law said: ‘I’m not a harsh woman; get her on to an MBA course and then we’ll talk’.”
Birmingham Evening Mail
Publisher: Trinity Mirror
Editor: Roger Borrell
Editorial staff: 93 (26 reporters)
Minority ethnic editorial staff: 7
Some 30 per cent of Birmingham’s population is classified non-white.
Trinity Mirror offers one training bursary a year to an ethnic minority candidate.
Bradford Telegraph and Argus
Editor: Perry Austin-Clarke
Editorial staff: 65 (21 reporters)
Minority ethnic editorial staff: 2
In Bradford Metropolitan District 22 per cent of the community originates from a minority ethnic background.
Austin-Clarke says: “We ought to be better able to reflect the make up of that community on our staff.”
But Austin-Clarke says that it is “almost impossible” to find minority ethnic recruits. He says that even in the most aspirational communities in cities such as Leicester, journalism is not seen as a worthwhile career by many families who encourage their children to aim for jobs such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and entrepreneurs. Austin-Clarke says his paper has made extensive efforts to attract minority ethnic applicants into journalism. Staff have gone into mono-cultural schools, targeted careers events, even staged their own recruitment events in Asian areas, “with little interest or success”.
Burnley Express (East Lancashire Newspapers, including Nelson Leader and Clitheroe Advertiser )
Publisher: Johnston Press
Editor: Chris Daggett
Editorial staff: 38 (across three papers)
Minority ethnic editorial staff: 1 Ethnic population across the circulation area is at about 11 per cent and growing.
Daggett says: “We have spoken to local school kids and asked why they don’t apply for jobs in newspapers. A lot of it seems to be based on hostility to the national press, which they describe as Islamophobic. They are anti-media, and particularly anti the Daily Express, which they see as hostile with all its asylum coverage.”
Daggett is currently chairing an East Lancashire project team which is seeking to build a relationship between the ethnic community and the paper.
Leicester Mercury Publisher : Northcliffe Editor : Nick Carter Circulation: 90,000 Editorial staff: 120 Minority ethnic editorial staff: 4 In the City of Leicester, part of the core circulation area of the Leicester Mercury, 38 per cent of the population is from minority ethnic background, mainly Asian.
Carter said: “We need to get better at understanding the communities we want to serve. Lots of areas are changing drastically and editors ignore this at their peril. What we really need to do is get better at bringing in a mix of people.”
Manchester Evening News Publisher : GMG Editor : Paul Horrocks Circulation: 148,000 Editorial staff: 112 (20 reporters) Minority ethnic editorial staff: 6 There are variations across Greater Manchester, but the City of Manchester is home to a 10 per cent minority ethnic population.
Horrocks said: “We are making an determined effort to increase the number of minority ethnic staff. We will continue to grow that number, to hire more good minority ethnic journalists, but strictly on the basis that they are up to the job.”
Oldham Evening Chronicle
Publisher: Hirst, Kidd and Rennie
Managing director (former editor): Philip Hirst
Editorial staff: 34 (12 reporters)
Minority ethnic editorial staff: 1
Some 14 per cent of the population are minority ethnic.
Hirst has not set a target for the number of minority ethnic reporters he would like to have on the paper but he seeks “a mix of gender and ethnicity”.
He said: “I couldn’t employ staff just because they are Asian, black or white. First and foremost they have to be good at what they do.”
The Sentinel and Sentinel Sunday , Stoke-on-Trent
Editor: Sean Dooley
Editorial staff: 92 (32 reporters)
Minority ethnic staff: 5
The Sentinel’s core circulation area has a minority ethnic population of around seven per cent. Dooley said that by “accident rather than design” he has a representative mix of staff on his editorial team.
Uxbridge Gazette and Harrow Observer
Publisher: Trinity Mirror
Circulation: Uxbridge 20,000/Harrow 13,000
Editorial staff: 10/12
Minority ethnic editorial staff: 1/1
Minority ethnic population in the Uxbridge Gazette circulation area is 14 per cent, of which 12 per cent are of Asian background.
The figure for the Harrow Observer area is 43 per cent Editorial director Marc Reeves said: “While a representative proportion of minority ethnic staff is desirable playing the numbers game is not a panacea for the problems of effectively serving a diverse readership.”
He continued: “That issue can only be addressed by all decision makers in the editorial process being aware of the rapidly changing population they serve, and paying much more than lip service to its needs.”
Yorkshire Evening Post
Press Editor: Neil Hodgkinson
Editorial staff: 68 (31 reporters)
Minority ethnic editorial staff: 0
Leeds Metropolitan District has a population of 750,000, with a minority ethnic population of 8.7 per cent.
There was one Asian reporter but he moved to the Yorkshire Post. There was also an Asian sub who moved on to another paper. Currently, there are no ethnic minority staff.
Hodgkinson said: “The YEP has a good reputation in the areas of high ethnic population. We have campaigned strongly against the British National Party and our reporters go into areas where they are active to bring attention to issues and to highlight the positive aspects of what is going on.”
Johnston Press offers six bursaries to ethnic minority candidates and those from poorer backgrounds. This year, all six went to ethnic minority candidates.
Source: Peter Coles’s report Diversity in the News Room
By Dominic Ponsford