I still haven't been able to watch the footage of the shootings in Buffalo, New York earlier this month, and I probably never will. I can barely read about it. Given the timing, if I think too long about it, I question what has really changed since the murder of George Floyd.
I am head of creative diversity at News UK, a media business that reaches 40 million consumers through brands like The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, talkSPORT, Virgin Radio UK, Times Radio and now TalkTV. In my role, I support our titles and stations in our quest to represent modern Britain accurately. I started in this role in October 2020, less than six months after Floyd was murdered.
When we witnessed a young black man get murdered in the US right before our eyes by a man who was there to protect and serve him, the world's plates shifted. There was no going back. We were already locked in cocoons due to Covid-19, and then we were served the worst possible trauma through our screens. Every voiceless black person started to scream out – enough is enough. And even the earless started to listen.
Companies rushed to push blackout stamps on social media, declaring the fight against racism was real. Finally admitting: "Houston, we have a problem."
At News UK, we had not long launched a network for black, Asian and ethnic minority colleagues, now known as the Cultural Diversity Network. This network was formed by me and a few others at the end of 2019, to address the representation of black, Asian and ethnic minorities at News UK. We had no idea how much we would be needed a few months after forming – but thank god we were there. We were able to support the business and navigate our way through one of the toughest times for black people in the UK.
We held discussions, talked to the business about racism, lifted the lid on historical microaggressions, and fundamentally raised the agenda for what we were doing to address representation for black people at News UK.
At the same time, the organisation was devising a diversity strategy with a diversity board made up of senior people from across the business and spearheaded by Briony Hughes, HR director and D&I lead, and Dominic Carter, now executive vice-president, publisher of The Sun. That strategy focuses on three key pillars: attracting and developing underrepresented young talent; driving gender and ethnic diversity in our wider leadership and ensuring inclusivity in our workplace and our output.
It was clear that to bring our strategy to life we would need advocacy from across the business – backed by a small dedicated team. And I was delighted to be appointed as News UK's head of diversity, alongside Mark Hudson as head of early talent and Alya Lilani as culture and diversity partner.
The combination of events, the strategy and the Cultural Diversity Network meant we were well positioned to launch our plans for the business in October 2020.
The past 18 months have been busy, and to coincide with Floyd's anniversary, I want to reflect on some of the work we have been doing around inclusion and more specifically what we have been doing to address black representation at News UK.
- We have invested heavily in apprentices and we were the first media business to sign up to the government's Kickstart programme – opening up the opportunity to achieve 60% ethnic minority intake
- We've hosted Reporting on Race workshops for all newsroom staff across our titles
- We've stopped using the outdated term BAME and developed a Common Sense Guide to Inclusive Terminology – giving advice on the correct terminology and language to use around historically marginalised people
- We've invested in recruitment and outreach programmes, using partners such as the Black Collective of Media in Sport
- We are proud to be founding partners of an industry network for Black and Asian Journalists
- News UK is supporting black businesses and initiatives, such as the UK Black Business Show in Birmingham and Black Business Week in London. And we are the lead sponsors of The Black Pound Report – lifting the lid on the untapped black consumer spend in the UK
- Our company-wide support of Black History Month has seen coverage in every product and on every station
- We launched Studio PI – the award-winning photography and illustration agency promoting diverse and underrepresented talent
We have made some great strides but we know we need to do more. I have been struck by how quickly we moved on from the Buffalo shooting incident. That makes me realise what a poignant moment Floyd's murder was. I hope, in our lifetime, we won't have another situation like the Covid-19 pandemic, but I also hope that it doesn't take this type of combustion of events for us to be driven to take action.
Floyd's murder must stay in our memories, if only to remind us of the work we all still have to do.
Shelley Bishton is head of creative diversity at News UK