On 7t October 2022, Greta Gober, PI of the international research project “Diversity Management as Innovation in Journalism” organized and moderated a panel discussion under the theme “Value of collective ‘unruliness’ for increasing newsrooms’ discursive diversity?

The debate was part of a larger event, ECREA’s online pre-conference “From unruliness to collective action: Resisting norms on gender and sexuality in media” organized by ECREA Gender, Sexuality and Communication Section in collaboration with the ERC-funded Later-in-Life Intimacies project. ECREA Women’s Network and the Norway grants-funded “Diversity Management as Innovation in Journalism” research project were supporting partners of the event.

Jenny Rönngren, journalist and news editor at Syre, former managing editor at Fempers (for 12 years) shared her experiences of working for Swedish publications dedicated to creating space for perspectives and voices under-monitored in mainstream news flows.

Jenny said: „What we have learned is that it is not enough to want diversity. It is necessary for newsrooms to act consciously to make this happen”. Learning from Swedish media and civil society experiences of politicizing gender equality in news media Jenny stressed that to change the structure of the news agenda it’s critical for newsrooms to remain conscious on who they legitimize as experts in what topics, as well as to avoid pigeonholing so-called ‘minority’ journalists and perspectives to lower-status soft or ‘special interest’ news beats. Rönngren added: „Our objective from the start was not only to compensate for unfair share of women in other media, but it was also to complicate equality issues by visibilizing intersecting forms of discrimination”.

Jenny also stressed that the existence of publications such as Fempers and Syre helps to strengthen voices of ‘minority’ journalists working in mainstream media by helping them ‘justify’ to editors the weight of the issues they want to cover, including helping debunk the myth that “there are no women who want to speak out or that they can’t find diverse voices to express opinions”.

Diverse newsrooms (in terms of staff) are often not enough to diversify perspectives covered in the news. The persistent question of who-represents-who was also addressed by Yasir Mirza, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at the Financial Times. Prior to the FT, Yasir worked at BBC Studios where he developed diversity and inclusion strategy and launched an inclusion advocates network. At Guardian News & Media Group Yasir conceived and launched the Guardian’s Citizen Reporting Programme.

Yasir stressed that the discussion and work around Diversity and Inclusion in the UK is now focusing on creating the conditions, including psychological safety to help flourish story-telling that creates a sense of belonging for everyone in the society. This is not an easy task as the goal is to tell stories from different perspectives and by diverse storytellers who are not at the same time burdened with the expectation of representing the “whole community”. It’s a double-edged sword or a poisoned chalice, Yasir added. “Too often unrealistic expectations are put on journalists from minorities. We need to be deliberate in supporting and developing different types of voices, different lenses in our news coverage. Having a diverse staff alone is not enough, it does not fix the issue. We need to focus now on how we talk about minorities as communities. To avoid the traps of representation, while at the same time creating a level playing field for those who experience cultural barriers and exclusions. Journalists need to find a way to be objective and have values at the same time”. He added that this is a very complex task, and the journalistic community still hasn’t figured out the best way to address it. 

Sagal Hussein Omar testified to poisoned chalice experience of being a minority journalist. A radio journalist, writer, researcher, and a producer, Sagal worked for the Swedish Radio (SR), the biggest media house in Sweden, for over a decade. In 2019 she started @walaalo_studio dedicated to producing content with a focus on minorities in Sweden. Originally from East-African Somalia Sagal came to Sweden as a five-year-old girl, escaping the civil war which was consuming her country. She grew up as part of the Somali diaspora in Sweden and was headhunted to journalism by the Swedish Radio who at the time actively sought out minority voices and perspectives to cover the news.

Looking back at her experience she reflects the hostile work environment she joined, consumed with gaslighting and the norm of ‘objectivity’ which the “minority perspectives” could never satisfy. “Newsrooms are stuck under gender and racial lines, which is caused by lack of education. It didn’t matter what I said, when my perspective was more critical than what the newsroom was used to, it was marked as having ‘an agenda”. Minority journalists are always accused of “putting themselves into the story” which is a catch-22 situation. Being perceived and de-facto recruited for their minority perspective they are not allowed to bring those perspectives into the newsrooms without being accused of being activists or breaching the impartiality objective. “Visibility and representation are nothing without strategic plans” Sagal added. “SR would hire different people but stop there. There was a complete lack of understanding on what a different perspective means. The reason people from minority backgrounds want to join journalism is because they are acutely aware of the biased coverage of the realities faced by their communities. I’ve wasted half of my years (there) having my stories questioned in a way that (eventually) made SR seem like the wrong place for me to be. (The management) blandly ignoring the humongous blind spots, the cluelessness that we (minority journalists) had to grapple with. It was exhausting”. 

Dr David Dunkley Gyimah reflected on the role of allyship between the academia and commercial outlets working together to ensure diversity becomes a more meaningful word. Advocacy and exposure are important factors for creating change. “Exposure is about shining a light at the blind spots in media’s representation practices. Advocacy about critiquing, calling people out for what they are not doing, or what they should be doing”. Dr Dunkley Gyimah worked as a journalist for 15 years before becoming a Reader/ Associate Professor in Journalism at University of Cardiff. He was born in the UK but grew up in Ghana and worked during the apartheid in South Africa. When he came back to the UK, he experienced a form of what he calls “sophisticated racism”. A multiple international award-winning journalist and innovator in media he dedicated his career to creating initiatives and digital spaces where meaningful discussions around diversity and representation happen. 

David also stressed the importance of having people from minority backgrounds in middle management. These people are critical, to ensure the top of the organization understands and takes diverse perspectives seriously. “Having people from minority backgrounds in the room is important, it helps to understand where people are coming from, and understand their experiences. But it takes good managers to let these people shine, give them opportunities, ensure that when they get to the top they are not eroded and exhausted”. 

The session ended with Greta Gober’s announcement of a call for paper for a special issue of the Central European Journal of Communication (CEJC), where change management for social innovation will be in the focus. “There is a growing realization that we need leaders who are managing for social innovation, whose focus is on the stakeholder, i.e., people and communities who are affected by their decisions, rather than the traditional approach where the focus is only on making the shareholders happy”.

We illustrate the debate with an art work All the Things from Tim Etchells where he invokes the idea of future possibilities in diverse contexts and at different scales, opening the question of the future in terms of small events and large ones, personal and intimate happenings as well as broad social changes or actions. This neo is currently in Warsaw.