The state of diversity in business journalism & what can be done to improve it

Smiling young African American businesswoman working on a laptop at her desk in a bright modern office with colleagues in the background

Article by Sarah Vizard, Editor of Raconteur

Journalism has its fair share of inclusion issues. The industry is well known for offering unpaid internships and, all too often, hiring based on nepotism.

While things are changing, I myself have worked in places that offered work experience only when asked to by the management team on behalf of their relatives or friends.

This leads to challenges with the makeup of writing and editing teams. Analysis of the 2020 ONS Labour Force Survey data by research consultant Mark Spilsbury found that non-white journalists account for just 8% of the total number of journalists in the UK, compared to 12% of the general workforce.

The data also suggests a class problem, showing that 75% of journalists come from the highest social class, based on the occupation of their parents, compared to 45% of the general working population. Almost nine in 10 (89%) of journalists have a degree or higher-level qualification, versus 48% of the workforce overall.

In newspaper journalism, where one of Raconteur’s leading products sits, the situation appears even more dire. Data on the makeup of these newsrooms is hard to come by but research by networking and campaigning organisation Women in Journalism shows a shocking lack of representation in the people writing and reporting on the biggest issues of the day.

Over the course of a week in July 2020, it analysed the front pages of every major newspaper, watched daily primetime news shows on popular TV channels (including the BBC, ITV and Sky) and listened to around 100 hours of primetime (breakfast, lunch, drive time and the 10pm evening news) of radio news coverage.

This is not an exhaustive data set, but it is revealing. Not a single story by a Black reporter appeared on the front of a UK newspaper. Just six were written by BAME reporters. That week, LBC did not have a single BAME presenter, and Newsnight’s panel guests were 100% white. Of the 174 front-page bylines, just one in four went to women, and only 16% of those quoted in the stories were women.

At this point I too must hold my hands up and admit that Raconteur’s content team is not where it needs to be. We have grown rapidly over the past 18 months from two to seven members, with plans to hire further. We have a good gender split – four women to three men – but we are all white and mostly middle class.

We can see the issue during our recent spate of hiring. We have a blind recruitment process that blanks out people’s personal details so we see only their experience. In spite of this, when we came to interview these unknown people, the candidates were overwhelmingly white.

As a small publisher we cannot change the whole industry, but we can do our bit to bring more diverse viewpoints, and therefore stories, to our readers. With this in mind, our deputy editor Fran Cassidy came up with, developed and launched (with help from everyone on the team) the New Voices Programme. 

This is a 12-week scheme aimed at writers from under-represented backgrounds with the aim of helping them break into business journalism. It is designed for those who have not studied journalism or previously been published, who would like to get into the industry but are not sure how.

The cohort is taken through 12 hour-long workshops to give them a grounding in the fundamentals of freelance journalism, from coming up with story ideas and pitching them to editors, to how to conduct interviews and source compelling data. It is offered free of charge and remotely, with the sessions scheduled around work or other commitments. Everyone on the course will have support from a mentor on the Raconteur editorial team.

Over the course of the programme, they will write a feature that, as long as it is to our standards, will be published and for which they will be paid our usual freelance rate. The ultimate aim is to add everyone to our freelance roster so they can write for us on an ongoing basis, if they wish, or even join our in-house team when the opportunities arise.

We have been blown away by interest in the programme and by the high quality of the candidates. The six we have chosen are really promising writers from a range of backgrounds who are looking for a way into the industry. We hope we can offer them that.

At the same time, we hope to learn from them too. What stories could we be telling that we are not? What challenges do people face while trying to enter the industry? What more can we do to drive diversity and inclusivity across media?

We are just a few weeks in but we already know we have some fantastic future business journalists in our midst. We recognise this is just a small programme and there is still plenty of work we could be doing. And we plan to do much more.

About the author

Sarah Vizard is the editor of Raconteur, the B2B publishing company within the Raconteur Group. She joined the business in late 2020, having spent seven years at marketing industry title Marketing Week, latterly as managing editor. She is responsible for all editorial content produced by Raconteur, including its print output, which is distributed with The Times and The Sunday Times, and online content published on Raconteur.net

A business journalist for almost 15 years, Sarah leads a growing editorial team focused on reaching its audience of business leaders by telling interesting stories through new digital formats. She is passionate about hearing from new voices that can offer a different perspective on the corporate world.

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