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As a university student, I had to write an essay on the diversity of sources in Australian media. I wrote another essay on Australia’s cross-media ownership laws. While I no longer have a copy of those essays, I remember much of the content, and it’s as relevant today as almost 20 years ago.

Times have certainly changed regarding the layout of Australia’s media landscape. The rise of online media has put substantial financial pressures and seen the demise of outlets, including newspapers.  The “two out of three rule”, the basis of Australia’s cross-media ownership laws, preventing a single media company from owning both a television and radio station or both a television station and a newspaper in the same market no longer exists.

Changes to the legislation have now seen Fairfax Media, publishers of Australia’s oldest newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald (1831), taken over by the Nine Network with its entirely different editorial style and ethos.

I attended the Walkley Foundation’s Storyology festival in Brisbane on the weekend. The Walkley Foundation’s annual awards for excellence in journalism are the pinnacle achievement for journalists. Their annual Storyology festival explores what makes excellent journalism, changes to the media and includes panel discussions with some of Australia’s finest journalists.

Discussion at Storyology was much around massive changes to the news media in recent years including the takeover of Fairfax, the rise of digital mediums, so-called citizen journalism, and the term “fake news”.

Fairfax journalists have always prided themselves on editorial independence, in 1988 fighting for, and winning, a formal charter of editorial independence. The charter meant journalists could report free from commercial pressure to satisfy their advertisers. Journalists are hoping this charter will be honoured by Nine.

In my essays as an enthusiastic young student, I remember vigorously writing about the need for diversity of media ownership and media sources.  A variety of media sources and ownership of media outlets to me remains a sign of a well-functioning democracy.  Gender, age, and cultural diversity ensures meaningful discussion from different perspectives. In essence, it makes us all think about issues from a different perspective.

How I cover an event may be different from how a colleague views an event or issue and this is part of makes us unique as people. As a journalist, unless I’m presenting an opinion in an editorial, I’ll try to remain impartial. However, inevitably my thoughts on how a topic should be reported and what is the angle of the story may be different from that of another journalist.

The differences in perspectives are essential for all consumers of news to make up their minds about issues and stories. However, if as journalists we all come from similar ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and work for the same organisation with a particular culture (even if a for a different medium) then inevitably coverage of issues will lack diversity.

In a multicultural democratic society, we need a diversity of sources in Australian Media with a range of opinions.  My work centres around changing this status quo of women as media sources providing them with the training and public relations to be more confident to get their voices heard.  A survey by the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia has found women still only represent 21 per cent of sources directly quoted in news articles.

Today, Which-50 media has come out and said this July they secretly erased men from their platform only sourcing women in all of their articles. It’s not that Which-50 was against men. Instead, they just realised they were not quoting women enough.

“It turns out we are as bad as everyone else, as the stats around our stories reveal,” wrote editor Tess Bennett.

“In June 2018, Which-50s editorial coverage mentioned 111 men and 24 women (and seven of those women appeared in a single story).”

Race and age diversity are also still under-represented as news sources. In a country which for many years has prided itself on multi-culturalism, cultural diversity of media sources is still lacking.  The recent debate about the media coverage of so-called African street gangs in Melbourne has highlighted this need for more culturally diverse voices in the media.

More people are growing older and healthier all over the world, and the population aged over 65 is projected to triple by 2050.  We need to value, the voices of older Australians. I appreciate working with colleagues and partners older than myself. Their life and career experience are vast and their mentorship invaluable.

I’ve been pondering the question how do we ensure more diverse media sources, voices and reporting in the media?  To me, one of the solutions lies with the rise of an independent media sector and businesses publishing content.

When I was a young child, a family friend owned a small, independent weekly newspaper. He was a thorough investigative journalist who was very outspoken and inspired me to go into journalism. Over the years, he uncovered corruption in local councils, put forth a diverse range of voices and thoroughly covered stories often not given attention in the mainstream media.

In the face of many cutbacks, buyouts, and demise of mainstream outlets in recent years, we have seen the rise of independent publications. It is the rise of these independents which I now see as a significant solution to ensuring diverse coverage of stories and sources.

Like the independent newspaper in my local town as a child, blogs, digital and hardcopy publications, podcasts can all ensure a diverse range of voices and views.  Similarly, if you’re planning an event then look to provide a diverse range of speakers and panel guests.  Promote and train as media spokespeople a diverse range of people of different ages, gender, and race.

Denise Shrivell is the founder of MediaScope, Peggy’s List, Don’s List and a rising political activist. She founded Peggy’s List a couple of years ago to encourage speaker and panel gender diversity at conferences. More than 330 women in the marketing, advertising and media sectors who are available to speak at events are now on the list.  As a follow-on, she created Don’s List, which promotes men who support gender diversity on panels.

“Australia has a solid and vibrant public interest journalism space, and they’re often ex-journalists out of the larger media houses,” she says.

“They are pushing out content on a daily basis that is often deeper and detailed than you may get in mainstream media but they often struggle in reach and monetisation.

“But to me, that’s where public interest journalism really lives even though I don’t want to take away from some of the very good journalism we still see out of mainstream publishers.”

Denise says we should all be seeking out and finding these publishers to show our support by consuming their content, subscribing to newsletters, clicking on and buying from their advertisers.

She says as an industry the media has a huge responsibility to promote diversity because it influences culture.  She is now focusing on not just promoting gender but all types of diversity.

“We are an industry which very much influences what you see in the culture, so there is certainly a responsibility to reflect the very multicultural landscape that is Australia,” she says.

“We are having good discussions about gender, but other forms of diversity such as age, socio-economic, ethnicity, disability all also need to be addressed.”

The Ancient Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said: “The only thing that is constant is change”.   The Australian media in the past few years has certainly gone through change but so too has our society and culture.  Rather than feeling despondent about changes to the traditional media, I’m feeling hopeful that the rise of new media could see a more diverse range of reporting on topics and lead to greater diversity.

If you would like to learn more about developing a strategy to bring greater diversity to your content and events get in touch via email to: nadine@nadinemcgrath.com.au