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Diversity in newsrooms: UC study says improvements still needed

Elly Mackay

9 March 2023: Many journalists in Australia believe that the news media needs to work on improving diversity, according to new research from the University of Canberra.

The Valuing Diversity in News and Newsrooms research project was conducted by the News and Media Research Centre, and surveyed 2,266 members of the Australian public, as well as 196 journalists to determine the perceived diversity in newsrooms and the news media.

Lead researcher on the project, Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Kieran McGuinness, said the findings show that while the news industry is beginning to address criticism of its lack of diversity, there is still a lot of work to be done.

“While many acknowledge that improving diversity is a priority and say that their organisation has diversity and inclusion policies in place, actual targets and training are less common,” Dr McGuinness said.

“From our survey and interviews of journalists, we found that discrimination and barriers continue to be a problem faced by women and those from ethnically or culturally diverse backgrounds.”

Despite this, almost half of respondents indicated that they thought the news was doing a good job with gender diversity as well as ethnic and cultural diversity.

It also found that audiences are split on whether Australia is an equal society.

“When asked if men, women, and non-binary people are all treated equally, 41 per cent agree and 38 per cent disagree,” Dr McGuinness said.

“On whether people of all ethnic or cultural backgrounds are treated equally, 39 per cent agree and 41 per cent disagree.”

When it comes to journalists, many believe that there is less diversity at senior levels in a newsroom than at junior ones.

67 per cent agree that their organisations’ junior level is doing a good job with employee diversity. In contrast, only 23 per cent agree that senior levels at their organisations are doing well on this front.

Dr McGuinness says while that statistic is jarring, it does provide promise for the future.

“If news organisations can reduce burnout and keep diverse young journalists in the profession, we can expect to see more diversity throughout the ranks in future,” he said.

Almost one in three of the journalists surveyed indicated they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. Among women, the proportion is much higher, with almost half of female journalists saying they have been discriminated against because of their gender.

“We also found that around one in five (19 per cent) say that there are barriers when applying for jobs in their news organisation because of gender,” Dr McGuinness said.

“A much higher proportion (38 per cent) say there are barriers to career progression and promotion because of gender.”

The research aims to be part of a broader project exploring the many aspects of diversity that journalists consider in their professional practice.

“While the primary focus in this research is on gender diversity and ethnic or cultural diversity, the intention is to build on the findings of this project in future studies,” Dr McGuinness said.

The full report findings can be found here.