When media organisations fail to address unconscious bias in journalists and lack of diversity in newsrooms, the standards of reporting suffer, particularly in their ability to tell stories about minority groups.
In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, CEO and co-founder of journalist collaborative network Hostwriter Tabea Grzeszyk, discussed some of the key themes in her book Unbias the News: Why diversity matters for journalism.
It touches on the consequences of not including more diverse voices in our reporting and in the workplace. In some instances, it can cost newsrooms a vital story.
She offered an example from Germany, where a far-right neo-Nazi terrorist group committing murders of immigrants, bombings and bank robberies across the country was not exposed for 13 years. Grzeszyk said lack of diversity could have meant newsroom staff were jumping to the wrong conclusions all this time.
“[It's quite likely] the first thought that comes to mind when migrants have been murdered is ‘Maybe there were some drug stories involved’,” she said.
“When you tell a story as a journalist, you are taking out some aspects over others, and there is a certain bias when the newsrooms aren’t as diverse as the societies they serve.”
Under-serving minority groups through a lack of diversity also has a knock-on effect on the trust in the media and unwillingness to speak to the press.
By not having a wide range of backgrounds represented in news organisations, journalists miss out on stories in worlds they may not belong to and certain topics they might not be familiar with.
However, simply hiring more journalists from under-served groups is not the answer. Reporters also need to factor in the underlying social stereotypes they may hold and how it may affect their reporting.
“Just like anyone else on the planet, journalists have blind spots. We have an implicit bias because there’s so much information out there and bias happens automatically.
“We tend to see what we know. When we’re used to black teenagers as criminals, then we tend to see more of these stories, and when a white person does something, we cover the individual.”
This unconscious bias not only affects the types of stories journalists choose to cover but also the sources they contact for the ones they do. Grzeszyk explained that international coverage of a scientific study run by Latin American scientists featured interviews with American colleagues who also worked on the project - ignoring the Mexican scientists and locals that contributed most.
One way to address this can be through cross-border collaboration on a story, she suggested, as those opportunities challenge ‘blind spots’, assumptions and pre-conceived notions.
“At the moment, we see collaborative journalism more in the investigative journalism sphere, but it should be much more mainstream. It can be small scale with collaborations on a local level.”
This could be done by getting in touch with local journalists to get their perspective on a story. Why not send a local correspondent who has greater in-depth knowledge and first-hand insight?
The language used by reporters in their stories is also extremely important, especially when dealing with groups like the non-binary community. The wording around reproductive rights and pronouns, for example, can result in alienating this group if used incorrectly. Style guides which set standards for terminology can not only prevent this from happening but also demonstrate a commitment to diversity.
“Newsrooms could easily make a big difference and address their audience in a way where they feel seen and meant," Grzeszyk concluded.
Save the date: our Newsrewired conference takes place on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets