The Institute hosted the first training session for its Community Voices participants at its Chippendale headquarters this week. The initiative, run in partnership with Media Diversity Australia, is giving underrepresented Australians a greater voice in the national conversation.
JNI’s Director of Education Andrea Ho explains why the Institute is training members of the public and what the program aims to achieve.
“I can’t find the talent!”
It’s a common cry in newsrooms when a journalist has failed to find someone from a minority background essential to a given story. As a manager of program teams, I heard it time and again.
‘Diversity and inclusion’ is a hot topic as newsrooms see gentle (or sometimes drastic) declines in both audience and revenue. It’s an existential consideration for journalism’s business model: relevance grows audience; audience draws revenue; revenue funds journalism. So there has never been a greater need for media to strive to be relevant.
Australian society is transforming. We’re now one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. We don’t look and sound the same as we did 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. That’s no surprise, because if there’s one constant we can count on, it’s change.
But in terms of who makes the news and who’s in the news, has the media kept up? In some areas, it’s dropped the ball, significantly.
Australian media doesn’t show us a true reflection of ourselves as we really are.
It is easy to point the finger at newsrooms and say they need to do better. And, yes, they do. Media organisations need to hire a wider range of people and choose a broader range of guests to bring into their stories, if they’re to remain relevant.
But solutions don’t have to sit solely with newsrooms. We can do other things to help newsrooms solve their problems.
This is where the Community Voices program, a project by the Judith Neilson Institute and Media Diversity Australia, steps up.
If journos say they can’t find the guests they need from under-represented communities, then that’s something that can be tackled.
To be clear: the people are already there! Outstanding people who know their subject matter and their communities backwards, who are engaging, thoughtful and articulate.
Community Voices will give 12 participants the advantages other public figures already have: the specific skills and experience to perform competitively as spokespeople in high-stress media environments, and the contacts in the newsrooms.
Last night we had our first workshop, and I can report our participants were enthusiastic, engaged, and full of questions.
It’s challenging for most people to front up to the media, let alone on difficult topics or in a contested space. So much so, that plenty of companies and organisations invest serious money in media training for their spokespeople, who over time get a lot of experience in commentating.
Media skills can be learned by anyone. Throughout 2021, the Community Voices participants will learn about news cycles and production deadlines, how to get a point across in a media panel, how to present the stories of their communities in media-friendly narratives. They’ll visit newsrooms, meet journalists, and receive coaching on their interviews by professionals with years in the industry.
We’ll give the Community Voices participants the abilities to make them as good as any other high-profile name in a journalist’s contact book.
In other words: Community Voices will make the playing field a little more even.
We are starting with 12 people. I wish it could be more, because every community needs great spokespeople, and every newsroom would make more interesting stories with people like these. But all journeys begin with a first step, and I hope they’ll be the first 12 of more.
If you’re a journo reading this and you’re thinking, well, what now? Keep an eye out. In the coming months, as these Community Voices develop their skills, they’ll be approaching media with comment on all kinds of issues. Get to know them via their profiles, and be ready to invite them in, and add them to your contact book, when the time comes.
And if you’re interested to do the hard work in your newsroom to do better with diversity in your people or your content, you may find some ideas in my Churchill Fellowship paper on practical D&I strategies for media.
Andrea Ho is the Institute’s Director of Education.
She was previously Head of Planning for the ABC’s Regional and Local Division, with executive responsibility for a broad portfolio including emergency broadcasting, diversity and inclusion, content collaboration, workforce development, and technology partnerships for teams in 56 locations.
She has a deep interest in striving for media to reflect and include all Australians, and in 2016 completed a Churchill Fellowship, researching practical strategies for increasing diversity in broadcast media.