Editorial offices and reporting: less diverse than society

The Reuters Institute has published a new study that sheds light on how diverse the editorial teams of large media companies are. The figures paint a picture of predominantly white management levels – although a lack of diversity can affect the diversity of opinion, interest in media and also the working atmosphere.

Infobox: The article uses the term Person of Color, in the plural People of Color.  This refers to people who are regarded as non-white in a white majority society and are therefore exposed to experiences of racism. It is an international self-designation that is also used in the Reuters Institute study.

The study “Race and leadership in the news media 2023” is the fourth in a series of studies that began in 2020. The researchers looked at five countries across four continents: Brazil, the USA, the UK, South Africa and Germany. The ten largest online and ten largest offline news media in each of these markets were examined.

According to the results, only 23% of editorial management positions in these large media companies will be held by people of color in 2023, although they make up 44% of the total population. If South Africa is excluded, the figure is only 11% with a 31% share of the total population. In Brazil in particular, the gap between the population as a whole and the executive suite is wide: no media company surveyed has People of Color at the top, while they make up almost 60% of the population.

Germany has a lower proportion of people of color in the overall population, but there is not a single editorial management position in the large media companies surveyed that is held by a person of color.

In South Africa, the proportion of People of Color in the management level of top media may appear comparatively high, but at the same time it is also visibly lower than the proportion of the overall population. A closer look reveals an underrepresentation within the management levels here too.

Underrepresentation harms society and journalists

Diverse editorial teams help to keep diverse and differentiated journalism alive. News editors influence which topics in particular are brought to the public’s attention, while others tend to remain in the background. These decisions, in turn, are also influenced by their own experiences and stories. Diverse backgrounds and points of view are therefore particularly important here, so that the problems, realities of life and stories of a wide variety of people are given space in the public sphere.

Representing the diversity of people and opinions in turn promotes this diversity. If the perspectives of individual groups are missing, this damages the diversity of opinions in a society. Underrepresentation can also mean that existing stereotypes and prejudices are not dispelled, as there are no voices to challenge them in public discourse. Pluralism and democracy ultimately suffer from all of these aspects. People who feel poorly represented by the media are less interested in it, which makes social and political participation more difficult.

However, the problems caused by homogeneous editorial offices are not only evident when looking at society as a whole: The journalists who work there, who are also People of Color, also suffer from this.A survey of Brazilian journalists from 2022 clearly shows this: they report everyday racism, that they are taken less seriously and that they have difficulties feeling like they belong in the workplace.They also see their choice of topics influenced by the predominantly white perspective.This not only leads to frustration, but in the worst-case scenario can also damage their mental health. British journalists also reported experiences of racism in their day-to-day work as part of a study in 2021.

At the same time, neglecting diversity can also be detrimental to media companies from an economic point of view, as it may mean that target groups with high purchasing power are overlooked.

Despite the importance of diversity among media professionals, discrimination and prejudice still mean that people of color are less likely to make it into the management levels of large media companies.As already mentioned, this only means that this discrimination can persist for longer, as it is not always questioned enough in the public debate or receives enough attention.

The problem seems to be well known in media companies: according to a survey conducted in 2022, less than half of news media executives think that their company or organization performs well in terms of ethnic diversity. Just over a third even say their organization’s performance is poor.

Reuters Institute study shows slow development

The Reuters Institute’s series of studies also confirms that the issue of diversity is far from over: Overall, the number of people of color in management positions is increasing slightly in the countries surveyed, but this is only progressing slowly. In 2020, the overall share of the group in the management levels of major media was 18%, outside South Africa it was 6%. However, the overall share of the population has also grown slightly since then. One development in particular can be seen in the UK: Here, for the first time, people of color can be found at the top of major media companies in 2023. In Germany, on the other hand, the situation has remained unchanged since the start of the study: No management position in the media examined is held by a person of color.

The challenge of reflecting a diverse society through a diverse group of leaders in the news media therefore remains topical – and an issue that affects the entire media community.

This article was first published in the European Journalism Observatory (EJO).