5 ways journalists can improve diversity in the media

PressPad founder and One World Media alumni, Olivia Crellin shares her top 5 tips for how media professionals can work towards improving representation in the media.

By Olivia Crellin

PressPad intern Jabir Mustapha Sambo and his host Blathnaid Healy from CNN

The culture, composition and atmosphere of our workplaces and industry are the responsibility of us all. While it may seem that only those in positions of power to hire or fire get to call the shots, this has become less and less true with the democratisation brought by the Internet, and in turn the fantastic work of grassroots organisations popping up all the time to try and push back against the status quo. In 2018 I founded PressPad because I was tired of feeling powerless when it came to actually make a difference. As a journalist or media professional, we are taught not to make ourselves the news. 

For progress and truthful reporting to become the mainstay of our industry we have to speak out and not enable the working practices and prejudices that directly hinder a truly representative press. It’s why we do what we do at PressPad as we believe the media has the ability to sway society and democracy. For us to truly serve those two ends and hold them accountable, we must have journalists from all walks of life, creed, colour, gender, sexual orientation and life experience. Rather than treating ‘diversity’ as some politically correct tick box requirement, we want to bring about a culture shift where everyone in a newsroom or production company can see the benefit of having staff based on who they are and not what they represent. 

Here are 5 ways journalists and media professionals can all do something small or big to bring about this culture shift and work towards improving representation in the media.


1.  Be humble

Journalism and the media industry is a place where a lot of egos jostle side by side. It’s a competitive environment where we have to constantly bring our A game and everyone who is making a living in this profession is talented. Confidence is hugely important and many of us have clung to the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra to battle near-universal feelings of imposter syndrome. However this macho, alpha personality attitude to work doesn’t best serve all situations or all people. 

So next time, when you’re starting to feel comfortable, think instead about toning down the bravado and dialling up the humility. You’d be amazed how many misconceptions, prejudices, and assumptions fall away, making way for new possibilities and ideas – which after all is what we’re all in the business of needing to do day in and out!  Putting yourself on a level with everyone else in your vicinity is also empowering. 

When you realise that we are only here ultimately because of the generosity of others (parents, teachers, mentors, partners) or thanks to the societal structures which allow us to succeed when someone else – just as talented – has not, then it’s much easier to practice humility


2.  Know when to speak up, and when to listen up

Humility is also vital when it comes to being a good listener and understanding your profile and privilege. Listening and amplifying the voices, concerns and ideas of others who might not have the same standing as you in your workspace – because of their age, their gender, their accent, or their educational background or level of experience is crucial. It may feel easier to have a few individuals dictating the agenda as is the case in most hierarchical organisations but it’s rarely as rewarding or truthful. 

What makes a workplace creative, functioning and effective – just like society – is an integration and appreciation of difference. So listen up to those whose experiences and expertise you couldn’t possibly share and think about how you can include them in what you’re doing to improve projects and work as a whole. While it’s important to listen it’s even better if you can create a space for those who aren’t naturally given it and speak up for those poorly represented in the newsroom. That great story pitch in the editorial meeting that the senior journalists brushed aside? Maybe lending your voice as a support could convince your seniors to think again.


PressPad intern Annissa’s Warsame

3. Pop your social media bubble

Break out of your social echo chamber and make sure to follow accounts or individuals who are perhaps not your cup of tea – if you work for a right leaning newspaper, follow some Guardian journalists; if you only read BBC news updates search out more partisan voices and opinion writing; if you listen religiously to LBC or Radio 4 what about trying a podcast series that goes a bit deeper into issues. 

When it comes to social media, it’s easy to only see the news and posts of those in your immediate social circle, so subscribing to newsletters like Medium’s daily digest, could help throw up stuff you otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. Understanding your own unconscious news consumption biases is also helpful as a first step to making a change: use diversifyyourfeed.org to hack the gender balance of those you’re following on twitter (although obviously it depends on how accounts self-identify in their bios). You can DIY a diversity feed hack in other ways by following journalists of colour, those with disabilities, activists, LGBTQ advocates, those on the right. You don’t have to agree with their views but understanding the range of views out there can only be a good thing for your work. Finally – follow PressPad on whichever ever platform is your social vice and reach out to us with the hashtag #diversifythemedia to get new collaborations or introductions going! We’re constantly promoting those talking about difference and representation – not just in the media but beyond. We just launched our new Ambassador programme  so you can listen to and ask others about their experiences.


4.  Start new conversations

Those we choose to put in front of the camera or quote on the page are as important as the diversity going on behind the scenes. It’s no good to have lots of women working in a company as editors when the stories, films, projects and experts used are still overwhelmingly from a male perspective. Expert databases are numerous and it’s not hard to find some excellent guests or citations to widen the voices you use. We recommend:

If you need more diversity on your teams these journalists are out there. Staff journalists: Hire them! Commission them! By all means start a dialogue and reach out to them but NEVER ask to ‘pick their brains’ or ‘borrow’ contacts especially if they are freelance. A journalist’s contact book is one of the most important things they work on and develop throughout their career – if you want the benefit of someone’s hard won network then pay them for it – with actual money, not flattery, a pat on the back or a byline/credit.


5.  Give your time, money or spare room to someone starting out

You were waiting for the PressPad plug – admit it! But it doesn’t have to be with us. Anyway you can help will make a difference.

If you’re one of the few in our industry to have real power to hire, commission, initiate partnerships, start collaborations, or bring about training, mentorship, or diversity schemes then make sure your bosses (everyone has a boss!) understand the audience, democratic and business imperative to having a representative media industry. Make sure diversity training is taken seriously, start collecting data on what you want to improve and not just at the point of entry to the profession but to measure retention and promotions among your staff (I’ve been shocked at how few media companies have such data on file for their workforce) and finally let’s all be a bit more open and human towards our employees – often it’s the person who may seem most junior who has the most to teach a boss or manager. 

If you’re an individual you don’t have to wait for your organisation to do something. Is there someone you work with that you could mentor; is there a university or school you could go to talk to about your career, is there someone who you could help with a quick phone call by opening your DMs for one week a year (no one has the time to constantly do this – I try and it’s a lot of work) and really giving them a good 10-20minutes on the phone. So much of what is obvious and second nature to you now is gold for those who have the ambition and dreams but not the inside track.

If you don’t have much time or a spare room (if you do sign up with us NOW!), consider giving to an organisation committed to diversifying the media. PressPad itself is launching a crowdfunder (www.diversifythemedia.com) in November. Sign up to our newsletter for reminders of how you can contribute to that and more information about our launch party in January 2020.  

Find out more about PressPad

PressPad is a social enterprise that matches young journalists with host-mentors.