This week, Culture Minister John Whittingdale warned the BBC about pandering to the “metropolitan elite” of Manchester, as part of discussions about the future of the licence fee.
Whittingdale told the Commons he was concerned the BBC was not doing enough to reflect the lives of people who live in smaller towns and rural areas across the North.
He said: “It is absolutely essential they try to sustain support for the licence fee in all these communities and not just serve the metropolitan elite in London and Manchester.
“I am very much aware that communities like Cleethorpes begin to feel that the BBC is not providing sufficiently for them.”
Whittingdale may be taking aim at the BBC, but the issue of news platforms failing to represent their audiences is apparent across all mainstream media – be it print press, TV, or radio.
And it’s not just a case of failing to represent people from rural areas, As Whittingdale argues.
Pick up any national newspaper to read a story about over 70s and, more often than not, you are likely to be faced with a story about ill health and vulnerability – usually accompanied by a stock image of frail, wrinkled hands on a walking stick. Rarely do older readers see themselves in the stories they read, watch or listen: stories of people who are active, who are contributing to their community, or are campaigning for change.
On the other end of the spectrum, young working-class people from minority backgrounds may be able to find themselves represented on YouTube or Instagram- but may struggle to see their views and the issues they feel are important reported by mainstream news. Often only being given column inches when it is a negative story about them and their peers.
We believe this has to change – and it can change, with one simple action: make our country’s newsrooms representative of the audiences that they serve.
Our friends at PressPad, who share our mission to diversify the media, have highlighted the drastic need for change. Currently, 51% of leading journalists were privately educated. Former social-mobility tsar Alan Milburn’s State of the Nation report found that only 11% of journalists were from working-class backgrounds, compared to 60% of the population. A report by City University in 2016 found that the British journalism industry is 94% white and 86% university-educated. Just 0.4% of British journalists are Muslim.
And at Yellow Jigsaw we are practicing what we preach. Our dismay at this situation just through words is not good enough – so we are taking action.
We recruit and train community reporters who are aged 50 and over, from a range of backgrounds to report on the news that challenges ageing stereotypes across Greater Manchester through our Talking About My Generation news platform.
And we turn primary school classrooms into pop-up TV studios and newsrooms through our Media Cubs project, to inspire the next generation of reporters from all backgrounds – diversify the news, one mini reporter at a time.
This is Manchester – we do things differently here. We are the leaders of change, so let’s not get drawn into this ‘metropolitan elite’ trap.
If you share our mission, you can do your bit: tell a parent or teacher about our Media Cubs clubs, or refer readers or budding writers to join our Talking About My Generation news team.