Credit: Image by United blue on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Why is diversity in the media so hard to achieve?

It doesn't have to be, said Samantha Asumadu, founder of Media Diversified, speaking at an NUJ event yesterday.

"I would say basically what the mainstream media wants is diversity on their own terms. Which is very different from what we want and we deserve."

According to a 2012 study into jobs in the media, 2000 black and minority ethnic (BAME) people left the media industry between 2009 and 2012, while 4000 more people were employed in the same period.

You've got really talented people who just don't get a look inSamantha Asumadu, Media Diversified
With these statistics in mind, Asumadu said "nepotism" and a "busy" culture and are some of the problems BAME journalists face when trying to get their foot in the door of a media organisation.

When editors look to existing contacts and ask "who do we know?" the "circle fails to grow", she said. Instead journalists should ask to hear from people "who know things they don't, from people who've experienced different lives".

"A better question from a good journalist would be 'who might understand this issue, has some experience of this thing, and how can we find them?'

"However, this question involves being curious, having humility and hard work – exploring, looking for things and realising that you don't know everything, you don't know everyone."

To promote a variety of voices, Media Diversified launched a directory of experts last month to challenge the "pale, male and stale" mainstream media commentaries.

Asumadu said up-and-coming talent who get noticed, and are therefore offered more work, are the people "who are already connected".

Asumadu herself got her second job in the media industry through her connections, she said, but "then you've got really talented people who just don't get a look in".

NUJ organiser Dominic Bascombe, formerly of The Voice, offered a different viewpoint – "why should black journalists want to be employed by the mainstream media at all?"

The mainstream media may not reflect those voices but there are many outlets online that do just thatDominic Bascombe, NUJ
He said the dramatic changes digital media have brought about in journalism means the loudest voices online don't necessarily all come from a particular background, and audiences prefer to engage with voices from all corners of the world.

"These varied online voices are a good thing, they provide opportunity for [both journalists and audiences] to find our community and our voices around the world," he said.

"The mainstream media may not reflect those voices but there are many outlets online that do just that."

Bascombe also explained that as mainstream media outlets recognise audiences are now fragmented, and user engagement is crucially important, these online voices have a say in influencing the media.

Audiences want to hear different points of view, he said, and online media creates "hugely popular" spaces for seemingly niche topics.

BAME journalists could use that space to contribute in ways mainstream outlets can't accommodate, but this strategy may not be self-sustaining if journalists struggle to make their online ventures pay.

"The easiest thing to do would be for BAME journalists who don't find a place in the mainstream media to develop their own niche online... That can be done quite simply and fairly cheaply nowadays. But is it enough?"

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).