We are almost two decades into the 21st century and still we find that minority groups continue to be marginalised within mainstream media, often being misrepresented or unrepresented altogether. Which is worse? Surely what is covered within the media is worth discussing (usually), but what about the stories of the voices which are left unexposed? Should they not bear an equal weight of importance, too? Why chose not to cover the struggles faced by black women and girls within Sub-Saharan Africa, but have expansive airtime of an anti-immigration, anti-global aid assistance and misogynistic (for good measure) president? These are complex questions which require much thought and discussion into the ways in which this normative ignorance within media reportage can possibly be improved.
On Saturday 4 March, the ‘War of Words: Progressive Media Conference’ took place at my very own university, the University of East Anglia. The aim of the conference was to bring together like-minded groups and individuals who share the same passion for highlighting the more progressive side of journalism, exploring the benefits that alternative media, such as The Norwich Radical, who largely organised the day-long event, can bring to our societies.
Panel discussions, interactive workshops and talks were given on this very topic, from exploring the representations of such groups and identities within mainstream media, including: Roma and Traveller groups, women, and race, to the powers of a ‘music as a force for change’, which I sadly could not attend – although I have been told that this was an excellent discussion and enjoyed by those who could attend. I attended many of the panel discussions on representations within the media – one of which I will talk more at length about – as well as print media in a digital age and New Internationalist’s community share talk by their very own editor, Hazel Healey. I found the day to be extremely enlightening for 3 very key reasons:
There still is, and there always will be, room for print media in the digital age
I was particularly eager to attend the panel discussion on ‘print media in a digital age’ purely because I have always been interested in print journalism, wanting to have stories covered in print. In my opinion, there is nothing more worthwhile to hold – to physically hold – a printed publication; you just don’t get the same sensation when reading news content online. It is less intimate, less permanent, and indeed, discourages you from reading a piece in depth, but rather to scan over a screen of two to three-line-long paragraphs. So when Jenny Nelson from Red Pepper, another alternative media publication, shared with us her views on the advantages of print media, even within a digitally-dominant world, I felt more invigorated and altogether aligned with her views.
Within her presentation she discussed five main reasons for print:
- Accessibility: – digital media can often exclude you if you are not in a particular location, income or age range whereas you can access print regardless of demographic, and often regions will have a local paper, which enables you to be consistently informed about your local area.
- Quality control: – although digital media has the advantage of being able to edit a piece more instantly than print, print goes through a much longer production process, meaning that editors and proof-readers will check and check again to ensure that each and every piece printed in their newspaper or publication is of high quality journalistic standards and in agreement with codes and conventions. The internet may allow you to voice your opinions freely, but often too much freedom is detrimental to a society and individual alone.
- Critical reflection: – as mentioned earlier, news content online is often much shorter, allowing the average reader to quickly scan an article – sometimes even just the headline – to get the gist of the main argument. Numerous neuro-scientific studies have shown that readers will often scan the screen, spending less than a minute on reading the news online in their day. This is usually not the case with print. Readers who still buy or consume print journalism will often take a much longer time immersing themselves into the core meanings and perspectives within an article, allowing for deeper reading and understanding of the subject, allowing you to have an in-depth understanding of the world around you.
- Beauty: – the majority of publications take pride in the aesthetics of their print projects, making pieces come to life with creative graphics and images, making the consumer proud to be in possession of their publication.
- Community: – the production of a print publication also creates somewhat of a journey with its audience and the society in which they find themselves a political actor in. Through building a certain report with their readers, print journalists often share and represent the opinions of their readers.
These 5 key points were definitely something to bear in mind when addressing print journalism in a digital age. I spoke with Jenny afterwards where we agreed on our shared preference in print journalism to digital content overall, and I confided with her of my banishment of an Amazon Kindle, as I too prefer to read from physical, beautiful-smelling books, rather than off of a screen.
2. Alternative Media
Another thing brought to light from the conference was the variety of alternative forms of media that are out there. As aforementioned, New Internationalist were present, Red Pepper, whom I hadn’t heard of until the conference, The Norwich Radical, The Morning Star, and many more publications are out there for you to widen your scope and understandings of issues occurring within the world, rather than relying on mainstream media giants, such as BBC News or The Guardians – which I do admit to falling victim of.
3. Lack of Representation in Student Media
The third, most enlightening idea shared that day was by Yinbo Yu, a student from UCL, who has also been active in student campaigns including UEA’s Student Union. Within the ‘race in the media’ panel discussion, Yinbo was co-chaired by Aadum Muuse from NUS and Dolly Ogunrinde, who is a UEA alumni.
Yinbo boldly suggested that the UEA media office lacked BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) representations. He brought attention to the fact that, having participated in student media himself, it is largely all white, lacking in diversity of other ethnic origins. This was something I had not considered in the slightest, since getting more involved in student media, but upon reflection, Yinbo’s suggestion holds a lot of truth in it.
Below is the designated area within the Media Office especially for Concrete, UEA’s student newspaper. The paper is printed fortnightly, although they frequently publish articles on their website in between publications. As Yinbo explores: “If you walk into the media offices of student newspapers, it’s all white. If you look at the writers, it’s all white.” If you dare, click here to scroll through the list of editors and main contributors who put the student newspaper together, and Yinbo might just be on to something…
“If you walk into the media offices of student newspapers, it’s all white. If you look at the writers, it’s all white.”
Indeed, having reflected upon this concept, I questioned Yinbo to find out why he thinks this is. He highlighted the existence of institutional racism within spaces, not only within student media, but the student movement as a whole, such as the National Union of Students (NUS), which is still failing black and brown students. He went on to explore that what we, as students, as consumers of student media and societal values, need to be reflecting upon is the internal structures within such environments.
This sense of targeted media, of ‘white’ content produced by ‘white’ contributors is failing to represent other ethnic, minority cultures, due to the lack of BME participants in student media who have the potential to represent the voices of such ethnic groups more appropriately. It is therefore the responsibility of the media collective to encourage students of all nationalities and races to get more involved, in order to deconstruct the embedded, normative and structural factors, which are preventing the representations of such minorities from being given a voice within student media and society as a whole.
Related to this issue is an interview published in the New York Times between George Yancy and Judith Butler, both authors and university professors specialising on the subject of race, who discuss in depth the structural issues embedded within our social systems, which continue to harness the repression experienced by many BME groups.
Representations within the media are very much constructions, and can never fully capture an event or individual’s story from its exact nature, due to certain political agendas, bias and opinion. Yet, what should be agreed on is that every single group should have a moral right to have some sort of representation, and this racial, gendered (the list goes on) hierarchy within our media, which spans over decades within print, and with the explosion of media within the digital age, must be challenged.
Clearly the discussions brought forth during the day were of a fruitful, thought-provoking nature, which certainly had me reflecting upon my own experiences with mainstream, alternative and student media. I aim to be reading more alternative forms of media so as to inhibit distortion from certain constructions of our world. Please do let me know of any publications you would suggest reading, as I am eager to find out about more.