The simultaneous disruptions of social and mobile media over the last decade have fragmented reader attention and weakened advertising-based economic models, eroding the roles of traditional journalistic gatekeepers. Because online news outlets are hyper-focused on engagement numbers, shares, viral potency, and sensational shock-tactic reporting to secure advertising revenue, news organisations have had to sacrifice quantity over quality journalism, in order to compete with digital platforms dedicated solely to a variety of listicles, entertainment stories, animal videos, and superficial non-news viral trends.
This competitive strategy has resulted in the "dumbing down" of many news sites while allowing others to thrive with a new spectrum of short form reporting techniques while keeping the spirit of conventional news journalism. However, this hasn't necessarily reduced the power of viral headlines or the necessity for them to take precedence over nuance and accurate reporting. In this sense, these format upheavals have harmed public trust in journalism and resulted in attacks on independent news organisations in a number of countries, including the United Kingdom.
"It is likely that the next decade will be defined by increasing internet regulation and attempts to re-establish trust in journalism, rocked by the next wave of technological manipulation, big data, new visual and voice-based interfaces," says Nic Newman, senior research associate at the Reuters Institute.
In light of this, I believe that media outlets and journalists need to engage with their target audiences more than ever before, given the expected economic and political uncertainties, which will pose additional difficulties to the long-term viability of many news organisations. In this regard, it may be claimed that not only are credible, independent, and under-funded platforms losing ground in the business, but the sector as a whole is losing both its conventional means of news gathering and the cherished processes that are intended to strengthen its ethical idealism.
With the gap between traditional readership and a stream of digital algorithms widening by the day, the most vulnerable communities - particularly the digitally illiterate - lose out, not only by not being able to access the information they need, but also by their stories, struggles, and experiences not being shared equally or fairly.
To change the narrative, I believe that BAME community organisations and other organisations that serve excluded communities in the UK and other European countries with large migrant populations should make some efforts to contribute to the establishment of a media literate community by collaborating with marginalised groups and individuals who are disproportionately underrepresented in mainstream media. They should do this while also increasing public understanding of how the mainstream media industry operates and how it should be consumed and managed.
In this context, funding from the central or local government is needed to run media training workshops that will sharpen the practical content creation skills of people in UK cities such as Birmingham, London, and other cities through the establishment of activities, forums, and focus groups that will bring ordinary citizens and journalists together to cross-pollinate ideas and narratives between the two groups. This building of new ties will try to improve communication between individuals who write news stories and those who are frequently cast in the unfavourable light of those same articles.
Instead of the 'soundbite' drive-by journalism that publishers have gotten accustomed to, these new collaborations should inspire reporters writing news pieces or producing media content to 'dig under the surface' by practicing what is referred to as ‘explanatory journalism’.
Because of concerns about fake news, a lack of fact-checking, and disenfranchised members of migrant communities moving from news sites to less-regulated social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, where conspiracy theories and disinformation thrive, the media mentoring responsibility is critical. People will turn to social media or other alternative media channels to voice their concerns if there is no rapport between media outlets, journalists, and marginalised communities who feel they are victims of injustice, oppression, and are essentially voiceless. This widens the gulf of accessibility to popular news sources for those who don't feel represented within them.
Turning to conspiracy theories or half-truths can be just as damaging or unhelpful for marginalised groups and individuals as being excluded from conventional news transmission channels. One example is the current COVID vaccination apprehension among some people in the UK, including a large number of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities, among whom COVID 19 deaths have been reported to be disproportionately high, particularly during the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic. There has also been discussion about unequal healthcare access. According to research, vaccine apprehension stems in part from misunderstandings and misleading narratives spread by social media posts.
In this light, it is clear that if local communities collaborate closely with respected media outlets, issues such as vaccine scepticism may be publicly discussed, and Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority viewers can hear voices from their own communities debunk falsehoods in mainstream regional news. It is critical to ensure that their voices are prominently included in the Birmingham Mail and on BBC Midlands Today and ITV Central News and other regional and national news platforms. This goal, I believe, can only be accomplished via open dialogue, bringing together important stakeholders and partners, and corporate media commitments to meet critical targets established by people who have historically been disregarded.
The proposed media training projects and forums will also coordinate and expand on efforts to encourage migrant populations to engage with other local communities - and highlight areas where this is already the norm. A discussion of "How migrant populations integrate with a host community that may not be interested in engaging with them" should be reviewed through this media programme.
Birmingham, for example, and its inner-city neighbourhoods, have very few extra-curricular activity centres, chances, or ways for its children to acquire skills and break into the creative sectors, while having one of Europe's youngest populations. Because their desire to express themselves is often stifled, and many doors are closed to them due to negative perceptions of who they are and where they come from, many of these young people turn to petty crime as a means of escaping the harsh realities of life, further limiting their access to critical development resources.
Similarly, first- and second-generation migrants living in these areas of the city are frequently portrayed in the media as docile, lethargic, or disinterested, allowing journalists to ignore their voices in the plethora of articles about these groups and their lifestyles. Funded media training projects, in my opinion, will play a critical role in community involvement between those who have the power to share stories and those who have the desire to contribute stories.
I believe that well-funded community-based media training projects will go a long way toward bridging the gap between mainstream media and excluded communities, as well as overcoming the barriers posed by a widespread media disconnect from most ordinary citizens in major UK cities. To change the narrative, we need to make it easier for these marginalised voices to be heard, so they may centre their experiences as valued members of society while still having control over how their social challenges and wider needs are addressed.
The community media projects will also create a forum where people can freely express themselves to journalists and media outlets, as well as discuss issues that affect them or aspects of their lives that they believe are not adequately addressed due to unequal distribution of resources, in a free and safe environment. The media training projects will also succeed in demystifying journalism by encouraging the local community to embrace and celebrate the value of communicating their personal stories to set the news agenda, as well as encouraging and supporting community members to create 'User Generated Content.'
About the author
Selbin Kabote is a Zimbabwean-born Birmingham based journalist. Selbin has worked for many years as a media trainer in the UK. He worked with migrants and asylum seekers to arm them with the media tools that they need to speak in the media and in public life. The tools also enable them to create their own media platforms for the purpose of telling their stories.
Before coming to the UK many years ago, Selbin worked as a Sub-Editor for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation-ZBC in Zimbabwe and as a journalist producer for the external broadcaster of the South African Broadcasting Corporation - Channel Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Selbin is an activist who believes in the power of highlighting positive arguments for migration as he is of the strong opinion that many migrants who come to settle in the UK have the will and capacity to make the country a great place.
This article is part of our Voices of the Economy series. The project brings together the economic experiences and opinions of people from a range of different backgrounds and showcases voices which are not heard as often when we talk about the economy. To find out more and share your own story, click here.