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July 23, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:28am

Society of Editors to meet diversity campaigners as new open letter condemns its ‘silence’ on bigotry issue

By Charlotte Tobitt

Update 26 July:

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have spoken out in support of the journalists calling for better action on diversity from the Society of Editors.

Through their Archewell Foundation, which has already partnered with Press Pad to award bursaries for mentorship and subsidised accommodation to help people from less represented backgrounds into journalism, the couple said: “Archewell is a proud supporter of journalistic diversity and news media organizations that are committed to reporting the truth, uncovering untold stories and giving voice to the voiceless. In every corner of the world, members of the media are using their power — and responsibility — to inform the public, teach communities, battle misinformation and inspire change.

“We also applaud the work of independent media, nonprofit newsrooms and trusted local news collectives. They demonstrate the deep need for this critical profession to thrive and evolve, particularly in terms of racial equity and representation in newsgathering and newsrooms…

“For these reasons, we are seeking to bring awareness to a coalition of UK journalists calling for stronger initiatives to combat the underrepresentation, inequity and racial bigotry that still persist in this important industry,” they said, linking to the latest open letter to the Society of Editors.

Original story 23 July:

More than 100 journalists of colour have accused the Society of Editors of only “offering a few crumbs” to appease those angered by its previous statements on diversity, and in doing so failing to offer “moral leadership”.

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The open letter dubbed the Society’s new diversity initiatives, which include building an online diversity and inclusion resource hub, as “welcome but inadequate”.

“It does not have the power to solve the longstanding industry-wide issues of inequality and lack of coverage,” the letter said. “However, what it can and should do is offer moral leadership. By its silence, it is singularly failing to do so.”

The Society’s new executive director Dawn Alford (pictured), who is in her first week on the job, will meet the letter’s organisers next week.

Alford told Press Gazette: “I, as the new executive director of the Society of Editors, take very seriously the points they raise, and I am meeting with representatives of this group next Thursday on ways we can move forward and support diversity and inclusion within our industry.

“I believe a determination to work together must be our common goal.

“My personal feelings are that there is not the diversity in our industry that we would like to see and we, the Society of Editors, will robustly play our part in helping improve that over the coming months, and years, on behalf of our members.

“I am looking forward to our discussion next week – to listen first and understand the groups’ concerns – and to discuss with them what we, as a Society, have already done, are in the process of doing, and what we need to consider in the future. I hope to reassure them of our industry’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. I will also propose a regular series of meetings to discuss progress.”

The Society has tried to move on from the row that followed its March statement categorically stating the UK media “is not bigoted” in response to criticism from Prince Harry. Then-executive director Ian Murray, who subsequently resigned, also said the UK press is “most certainly not racist” and argued his case on BBC News with Victoria Derbyshire.

Several nominees for the National Press Awards and candidates for the Regional Press Awards pulled out and both events were postponed. The national winners were announced in a virtual ceremony last week with a special award for the Journalism Diversity Fund and a new Driving Diversity award that went to the FT for its early career programmes.

But the open letter said its 123 signatories “deplore” the fact the Society had not used the time since March or the occasion of the awards to “show genuine commitment to atoning for its insulting and ham-fisted blanket denial of racism”.

“Without admitting that racism exists and retracting their previous missive, the Society of Editors are denying the lived experiences of journalists of colour as well as those who have had unfavourable media coverage purely because of the colour of their skin,” they said.

“Instead the society seems to have taken a stance of offering a few crumbs in the hope that it will douse the anger it provoked.”

The signatories include journalists from the Guardian, Insider, Times and Sunday Times, Financial Times, Gal-dem, DC Thomson, the i, the Independent, Newsweek and Vice, plus freelances and academics.

They said they had no faith in an organisation that is “so detached from our reality” and urged members to reconsider their participation.

Almost 400 editors from UK national and local newspapers and websites plus broadcast media are members. The FT’s Roula Khalaf, Mirror’s Alison Phillips, Guardian’s Kath Viner, i’s Oly Duff, Evening Standard’s Emily Sheffield, Yorkshire Post’s James Mitchinson, HuffPost’s Jess Brammar and Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Rachel Oldroyd were among those who spoke out against the Society’s words in March.

Signatory Marcus Ryder who is head of external consultancies at the Lenny Henry Centre For Media Diversity, tweeted: “Proud to be a signatory to the follow up letter to the Society of Editors  after their refusal to retract their denial of racism in UK media, and thinking ‘diversity statements’ are the same as being anti-racist.”

The Society said last month its new online diversity hub will collate information to help school-leavers from diverse backgrounds get into journalism, senior editors recruit more widely, and mid-career journalists from diverse backgrounds progress.

It also revealed its work in this area is now being overseen by a diversity and inclusion subcommittee, and donated £7,000 to the Journalism Diversity Fund for training bursaries.

Picture: Society of Editors

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