Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Discrimination in the media: it’s not race – it’s money

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 27, 2007

Is radio racist?

That was the question asked at a Radio Academy event I went to last week. Arguments went round in a circles a little bit, with nobody actually producing even anecdotal evidence of any prejudice or discrimination in the line of their work.

Then my friend Jimmy, who works at the Radio Centre, produced some yet-to-be-published statistics from Skillset, which poured a bit more fuel on the fire:

  • Averaged out, about 6% of the UK population are non-white.
  • 10.9% of the BBC’s staff are non-white
  • 3.1% of staff in the commercial radio sector are non-white.

A bit embarassing for commercial radio really, but you do have to mention that the majority of local radio staff work in regions and small towns. Compare that to the Beeb’s mainly London based staff. And in London nearer 30% of people are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

My own personal conclusion was (in regards to employment) the media industry is possibly the least racist industry there is. But it does discriminate still – against people, of all races, without money.

Greasy poles and NUJ polls

Take my course for example. To train to be a journalist at City University will set you back £5,995. Its equivalent at Westminster is £4,700 and £5,391 at Cardiff.

And on top of that we, plus anyone wanting to go into any branch of the industry, usually do at least a couple of months worth of unpaid work experience. And on rare occasions we get our travel expenses paid. That’s happened to me once.

I’m not for one second trying to moan about this or get above my station. I know I’m one of thousands clambering at the bottom of a great whopping dirty greasy pole; if I didn’t work for free, there are hundreds behind me who will. It’s part of the process.
But it’s worried the National Union of Journalists who today handed a survey to Her Majesty’s Custom and Exise highlighting the exploitation of people on work experience by certain companies. An early day motion’s also been tabled in parliament to discuss the NUJ’s findings.

They say some companies are bringing in unpaid students on work experience to fill HR gaps and sick leave. Here’s one example from the NUJ’s survey:

“At my local paper – I was given several by-lines including a front page exclusive and was not even offered payment for my travel expenses.”

Money, money, money

Again, I’m not here to moan, and a lot of the case studies in the NUJ survey seem to be just general “I didn’t get to do anything” rants. One person even complains I really had to push to get work and used my own initiative to get stuff on air”…well done mate – that’s how it works.

But they do raise a good point about the cost of going into this industry. And if you’re doing the work that a freelancer could be brought in to do, then by rights you should be paid the rates.

It’s a hugely rewarding industry when you get in and – I dearly hope – my six grand will have more than paid for itself this time next year.

But it’s cold and wet on the outside looking in. Is it surprising that people get turned off from the media when they have to sacrifice so much to get in? You need extraordinary amounts of money to get started, and it’s sad fact that most of the people who can’t afford fees or unpaid work happen to be from BME backgrounds.

But that’s a socio-economic problem for Britain as a whole – it’s not something the media industry (as powerful as it is) is not equipped to deal with.

1 in a 1000

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 21, 2007

“Hi is that Max?”

“Yes it is.”

“Hi Max, it’s Adam from BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. How are you?”

“….not too good considering a tree’s just crushed my car.”

That’s how not to brief a guest just before you put them on air.  I was working to the Drive Programme on BBC Cov & Warks and the weather, not for the first time, was making the headlines.

The day’s planning for the programme had been pushed aside in light of the falling trees, powercuts and general chaos caused by last weeks 99mph winds. And it was a great example of local radio reacting to a breaking news story. We were getting dozens of calls from listeners, all eager to tell us what the situation down their road was like, all interacting with the station.

It was an exciting end to an interesting few weeks seeing BBC Local Radio in action. I was regularly impressed by the ideas and creativity that came out of the daily meeting (I’ve decided an ideas meeting is a must in any newsroom) and above how in touch the station was with it’s patch.

Rather than wait for news to come in via councillors, press releases and the like, there’s a real effort to get out and react to what the listeners care about.

BBC Coventry and Warwickshire open centre in actionThe studios in Priory Place, Coventry contain an Open Centre – a new idea in local radio. It’s a wireless hub, cafe and computer classroom all in one and it tries to encourage people to come in even just for a drink. Seeing as many people don’t know where the studios of their local stations are I think this is excellent.

Most impressively, Coventry’s pioneering a citizen journalism scheme called Citizen 1000; The aim is to recruit 1,000 citizen journalists to come and report for the station – whether by phoning in with a story, doing a film review or talking about sport.

Within it’s first three weeks of launching, several CJ’s had phoned in with tip-offs and these became stories that no other rival would get.

That’s absolutely brilliant, and this symbiotic relationship between local radio and local community is something the BBC (and commercial rivals) should seize upon right away.

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Operation Bullseye: the adventures of Dave and Sue

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 7, 2007

Meet Dave and Sue. You’ve probably never heard of either of them, but I’ve discovered them this week on my work placement at the Beeb…and they’re apparently the most important couple in local radio.

Both in their mid fifties, Dave is a self employed plumber and Sue is a school secretary. They’re divorcees with grown up children, who shop at Asda and wear casual clothes. They’re not interested in high culture and politics; for them the world is a depressing place and when they listen to the radio they want to hear “something that will cheer them up and make them laugh.”

Dave and Sue are the result of “Operation Bullseye” launched by the BBC to focus their local radio output. Managers — in true BBC style — invented the couple to give their staff someone to picture in their head when they brainstorm; they’ve even produced photographs for producers to keep on their desks.

For New Statesman writer David Self, Dave and Sue are a monstrosity that demonstrate the dumming down of BBC output.

“This practice of targeting a profiled listener is lifted directly from commercial radio…For the BBC to follow suit is proof that its primary aim is success in a commercial market.”

In my first week with BBC local radio Dave and Sue crop up regularly in discussions; everyone I’ve spoken to there says that they’re a good thing. Personifying the target audience helps producers and reporters get to grips with who they’re supposed to be talking to and it means the stations output is more focussed.

And if you think that many of the people who work in BBC local radio – a large proportion young, mobile and ambitious – are not like Dave and Sue, personifying the audience is crucial…otherwise output would be all over the place.

Official photographs of Dave and Sue aren’t available online, but a quick google search digs up some of these truly scary characters. I wonder if the real Dave and Sue could be one of this lot…

The Dave n Sue collection

The Dave n Sue collection

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