Know the Media, Be the Media, Change the Media
The media play a huge role in all our lives as creators and consumers. The stories we write can impact long after publication and as creators of media – which includes those of us who use our voices on social media – we should try and ensure those who have the lived experiences of what we choose to report on are reflected.
Last month, I co-organised The Ferret’s – Scotland’s investigative journalism co-operative – Annual Summer Conference, ‘Owning a Collaborative Media’ at The University of Stirling, with the aim of creating an inspiring and welcoming learning space. As a co-operative, The Ferret has a responsibility to its subscribers and this includes finding ways to tackle some of the issues which crop up within media, from representation and plurality to financial sustainability and reader and journalist accountability.
One of the discussions which attracted a great deal of debate was Making the Media: The Future(s) of Journalism with representatives from West Highland Free Press, Clydesider, CommonSpace and A Thousand Flowers – all independent media channels from across Scotland – spoke candidly about their values, business and social models.
Who Sells the Stories?
According to the Media Reform Coalition 2019 report, Who Owns the UK Media? Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world. This report shows that just three companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach) dominate 83% of the national newspaper market (up from 71% in 2015).
When online readers are included, just five companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph) dominate nearly 80% of the market, slightly up from the 2015 report. Meanwhile in the area of local news, just five companies (Gannett, Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Tindle and Archant) account for 80% of titles (back in 2015, six companies had the same share).
Who Tells the Stories?
Perhaps there would be better balance in media story telling if historically mis and/or under-represented people were writing the stories? Research undertaken by University of Oxford, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2015 suggests that won’t be happening in a meaningful way anytime soon. The research was drawn from the UK population working across broadcast, print and digital in local, regional and national news orgs in the UK. Sadly, the research only touches upon socio/economic status, gender (only defined by male and female), ethnicity and religion. If we were to look at intersections of sexuality, gender identity, disability, age and class – the picture would likely be more grim.
The most under-represented group are Black Britons, who make up approximately 3% of the British population but just 0.2% of the sample. Asian Britons represent approximately 7% of the UK population but just 2.5% of the sample.
Why does journalism look like this?
The survey found 45% of UK journalists see it as very or extremely important to provide news that attracts the largest audience and twice as many UK journalists believe that their freedom to make editorial decisions has decreased over time as believe it has increased. In addition, right wing political beliefs increase with rank.
Since the Scottish Independence Referendum, issues around representation have also surfaced and it has become increasingly felt that British media doesn’t reflect life in Scotland. This has enabled a space for new and online media such as The Ferret, CommonSpace and existing independent media such as Bella Caledonia to gain prominence in the Scottish media landscape.
Though these media channels try – and try hard on small budgets – to cover key topics across Scotland, they too can encounter similar issues related to representation as national traditional media outlets. The representation of local news from smaller regions and towns beyond the central belt or main cities still struggle to make it into new independent media. However, models such as the employee-owned West Highlands Free Press, demonstrates how independent and local news can work.
Making the Media: The Future(s) of Journalism
Sustaining new media models via crowdfunding, subscription models and grants, though allows for a growth of independent media, can still exclude voices by allowing only those with access to resources to choose which stories and media they want to see.
In a bid highlight the ways in which Scottish media could be truly radical and representative, Telling Our Own Stories: People of Colour in Scotland’s Media took place at Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow. Oftentimes, radical ways of thinking come from those who are the most marginalised.
Having a reflective media which is collaborative and representative of our society can go a long way in exchanging ideas and information in ways which are healing and helpful, instead of harmful. This includes all media; from legacy to new media and from ourselves as media creators and sharers on our social media.
Politics is lurching from one crisis to the next. The neoliberal economic model which has relied on sustained propaganda to account for its failings is also coming in to question like never before. As questions of economic and climate justice intersect with conflicts over national identity, race and class, the openings for new media narratives exit. But we must think outside of the old institutions which grew up with the system in the first place, if we are to realise them.