There’s a cheap trick journalists can pull when they want to criticise a government policy. You simply divide the amount of money spent on a policy by the change it has made. Let me give you an example:
Take the amount of money the government has spent on a regeneration project that is meant to improve employment in an area and divide by the number of new jobs created in the area.
You can normally come up with a statistic that “shows” each job cost several hundreds of thousands of pounds!
I say it’s cheap journalism but it also plays an important function. It is vital for us to be able to assess if money is being spent wisely and whether government policies are actually achieving anything.
I was reminded of this just the other day when I was sitting on a panel discussion hosted by Thomson Reuters discussing the issue of how to increase the number of black, Asian and other ethnic minorities working in television specifically and the media generally. Before the event started all the panelists were sitting in the ”green room” and the chair person was picking our brains so he would know what to ask us when we were sitting in front of the audience. Two seemingly innocent questions of his struck me:
Question number 1: “Does mentoring actually work in helping black people get promotions?”
Question number 2: “Do the diversity schemes of different broadcasters schemes actually work?”
The questions were not confrontational – he was just trying to get some background information. But they were not properly answered and the conversation continued to flow, I doubt my fellow panelists would even remember them in the general discussion. When it actually came to the actual talk in front of the audience the two questions did not even come up.
But I left the event asking myself; What if a journalist performed that “cheap journalistic trick” on media diversity schemes?
What if a journalist looked at the different initiatives and money dedicated to increasing diversity in the media and divided it by the number of extra black people employed in the media?
A recent Creative SkillSet survey showed that while the number of people employed in the media industry has increased in the last three years the number of BAME employees (black, Asian and minority ethnic) has actually decreased.
With figures like those I fear that if you did my cheap journalistic trick you could find every penny spent on diversity schemes actually cost jobs!
I can see the headline now: “For every £XXthousand spent on diversity the TV industry loses another black person”
Any intelligent person will realise that this is not a fair headline as we have no idea what the employment figures would be if there were no diversity initiatives – in all likelihood the figures would be even worse.
But it still leaves the important question of which initiatives actually work and are worth spending money on? Answering this type of question is now common practice when government’s assess their policies and is often called an “impact assessment”. For anyone interested in increasing diversity in the media finding an answer to this question should be our number one priority.
If mentoring works let’s role out mentoring everywhere, if mentoring doesn’t work let’s stop spending money on it and move on, the same goes for all the different initiatives we invariably role out. This is not an argument for not spending money on diversity programmes but let’s find out what is effective and focus our energies and money on that.
The Reuters event was a great success and I met some incredibly interesting people from the world of finance. But it was the two simple questions no one could answer that left the greatest impression on me.
Editor Current Affairs BBC Scotland