Have you ever missed a journalistic opportunity because you were denied a visa for the trip? Have you ever had to stop an interview because the person you were interviewing started flirting with you? Have you ever been left off a byline because your colleague considered you a fixer? Have you ever had difficulties in gaining high-ranking interview partners because your audience was not important to them? Have you ever concealed information because it would have compromised your own safety or that of your family?
With these questions, we opened an “Unbias the News” panel at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia in May 2019 on behalf of the Hostwriter organization.1 We organized a journalistic “Privilege Walk,” in which all panel participants and a guest from the audience stood along a line and took one step aside each time they answered the question with Yes, while they stopped at a No. At the end of the five questions, we stood in Piazzo Sorbello, spread all over the room, some had taken several steps aside, some less – but we all moved.
What we wanted to show with this exercise was that we are all journalists, but we have different privileges that help determine what we perceive and what we can report about. We all research, interview and verify facts, but we see the world from different angles. Many are excluded. It makes a difference whether we are white, black or brown, male, female or trans, whether we publish in English, Spanish or Chinese, whether we were born in, or migrated or fled from the country we’re reporting on, whether we are young or old, with or without physical or mental disability, whether we come from an academic family or a working class family. Because personal background has an influence on what access we have to topics and protagonists, how we interpret facts, which stories catch our eye – and which we overlook. And the sum of our privileges also determines whether our research is listened to or not.
All this stands in sharp contradiction to a journalism that sees itself as neutral, objective and impartial. For which the individual journalists have no body, no gender and no history, as they supposedly see world events from the outside as independent observers. But an objective perspective that emerges out of thin air, a “view from nowhere,” does not exist.
In fact, the world view of white men is predominantly expressed in international reporting. In 2018, 77.4% of journalists in the U.S. were white and 59% male.2 The latest figures from Great Britain from 2016 showed that 94% of the journalists were white, of whom 55% were male.3 That doesn’t make white men bad journalists. But it means they don’t fully represent the societies they report on. Like all people, journalists have unconscious bias, stereotypical assumptions and national or cultural ideas that affect their view of the world.4 Fighting for more diverse reporting is therefore not a question of political correctness or patronage. It’s a question of quality. These days, journalism cannot tolerate the dramatic underrepresentation of the perspectives of women and People of Color, among others. We understand diversity as a form of journalistic fact-checking. Stereotypical narratives, reductionist notions, structural racism, or hard-as-nails sexism can usually be deciphered by affected journalists in the twinkling of an eye – if they are given the space. This is exactly the motivation behind our Unbias the News anthology: we have asked journalists about their history, their experiences, their suggestions and desires for a more inclusive journalism that is as diverse as our societies. Many thanks to all the authors who do not mince their words and who share their perspectives with some very personal contributions.
To avoid falling into the trap of our own unconscious bias as a Berlin-based organization, we have collaborated with a ten-person strong Hostwriter team from China, India, Cameroon, Colombia, Lebanon, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Syria and Uganda for the selection of texts and editorial work. Without the great personal commitment of all participants under the leadership of Tina Lee – and a shared desire for cross-border discussion – this book would not have been possible.
A big thanks also goes to David Schraven from Correctiv, who supported the project from the beginning without reservation and made this book production possible.
On behalf of the entire Hostwriter team, I wish you, dear readers, a thought-provoking, inspiring and – in the best sense – unbiasing reading of Unbias the News!
Tabea Grzeszyk Journalist and CEO of Hostwriter