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Training Matters: Why we need diversity in the newsroom

This week, Ian Murray reflects on why the work of the Journalism Diversity Fund is still needed to improve the modern news room.

Ian, left, is editor-in-chief of the Southern Daily Echo and vice-president of the Society of Editors. He has over 30 years’ experience working in newspapers, including the Stourbridge County Express, Birmingham Daily News and the Daily Echo.

The need for diversity in newsrooms at a national and local level is nothing new.

On my journey from Southampton to the Journalism Diversity Fund lunch at The Sun last week, I recalled my own first newsroom when I started as a trainee reporter over 30 years ago.

I recalled then, on that successful broadsheet weekly paper in the West Midlands, that we all came from the same sort of background. We were all more or less middle class, none of us had been to university, we were white and… we were all male. The paper had no women journalists back then. The women tended to work in the advertising department, apart from the manager, of course, who was always a man. In fact, looking back it was the only time I can recall when there was a tremendous amount of interaction between the advertising and editorial departments, but for the obvious reasons.

Fast forward some 15 years and the newsroom had changed. Now we had female journalists, but the majority of new reporters were still all white, all middle class and now all had degrees. It seemed as if we would only wanted graduates to write for our papers.

This was a recipe for disaster. It did not reflect the diversity of the communities we were serving then, and it certainly does not now. For while our nation was becoming this marvellous, vibrant, diverse society, our newsrooms were failing to keep up.

This was the topic of discussions and debates within the Society of Editors. How could we attract more candidates for journalism posts from the different communities? What were the obstacles preventing the good candidates we knew were out there from applying for posts?

We discovered that national newspaper editors were considering the same issues and together we decided that positive action needed to be taken. That action took the form of seeking financial backing to create a fund to help candidates from diverse communities to get a foot on the ladder of training for our profession. The Journalism Diversity Fund was born.

We realised quite quickly that it was not just candidates from different ethnic communities that needed support, but many in the majority community were finding it difficult to cover the costs of breaking through. The fund was extended to help those candidates also.

And for the future? Like everyone involved I hope that one day the Journalism Diversity Fund will no longer be needed but we know that will not be the case for quite some time. For now, we need more editors to come on board, we need more companies to come on board, not only to donate, but also to play a part in mentoring and adding to the fabulous work that is going on already.

The celebratory lunch was about thanking everyone who is involved with this success story. But mostly it was about congratulating all those successful candidates. Well done indeed.