Diversity in the media is no longer a nice-to-have. It is a must-have, according to the latest report "Seizing the Diversity Opportunity: enabling growth in the news business" by FT Strategies, the consultancy arm of the Financial Times.
Representing all sections of society is not just a moral duty for publishers, it is also a valid commercial strategy.
To improve audience diversity and boost future growth, six publishers from five countries took part in the inaugural Audience Diversity Academy programme and shared their learnings. The programme was fully funded by the Google News Initiative.
Why diversity matters
The report shows that when it comes to reaching underserved audiences like women, younger readers, diaspora or ethnic minority groups, publishers struggle in four areas: a lack of clarity about why diversity is important for the business; insufficient internal representation of women and younger staff; a lack of understanding of diverse audiences' needs and behaviour; and capability gaps that limit the impact of diversity initiatives.
Research shows that almost two thirds of US newsroom employees are men and less than one in four are people of colour. News sources and imagery are overwhelmingly white, as are the majority of publishing executives and senior leaders.
"It’s no surprise that the typical news consumer is a white male and the average age of news subscribers globally is 47 years old," the report states.
How audience diversity helps solve problems
Changing consumer behaviours mean that audiences turn to personalised news and brands that align with their personal values. Empowering newsroom staff can help publishers lower the risk of alienating the target audience.
The cost of living crisis also means that people think twice before parting with their money and spend where they see personal value in products which solve a specific need. Publishers must create new products and experiences with clear value and find new audiences beyond their core demographic, which can be engaged and monetised.
Finally, diversifying newsroom teams is also important for finding and retaining talent, especially early career journalists and women who place a high value on work-life balance, clear career progression and collaborative culture.
During the programme, FT Strategies found that publishers are failing to engage diverse audiences beyond their core readers mostly because it is not high enough on their list of priorities. Many also lack a structured approach to bringing their diverse employees to the decision-making table and do not understand what underrepresented audiences want.
Although consumer research is widespread in other sectors, newsrooms often do not have regular and meaningful conversations with their audience, be it core readers or other groups they are not reaching. Website analytics is not enough - to understand why they are not engaging a target audience segment, publishers must proactively talk to these potential readers to understand their needs.
Once you define the needs of diverse audiences, it is not about working for them without them. Newsrooms need to provide opportunities for representatives of the target audience segment and clearly communicate the value of their new products and experiences.
To that end, more resources must go into hiring, retaining and promoting diverse talent to enable them to succeed. And when your diverse teams and audiences thrive, so will your bottom line.