As a Black PR professional in the UK I have always been fascinated and usually disheartened by the lack of diversity in the PR sector. A lack of ethnic diversity in PR agencies and in house PR departments is an issue that can no longer be ignored:
“All-white PR and marketing agencies cannot legitimately assert they’re adequately staffed to service global brands whose consumers are increasingly diverse.” https://t.co/T6AwXo2kVe
— Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) November 22, 2017
But whilst diversity in PR is a serious issue, diversity in the media is an even more urgent one. Much of my time is dedicated to interacting with media outlets of various sizes and pitching to press as part of media relations campaigns takes a lot of dedication (and a thick skin). Most clients are more interested in mainstream media coverage than niche coverage despite me trying to give the case for ensuring a balance across all platforms. One particular group of media is often overlooked/under appreciated, even from some clients who would make the perfect fit for those outlets and those are Black media outlets. That is not to say that pitching to Black media outlets is easier than pitching to mainstream media, in fact I have found that it is equally as challenging as they all have the final say over their content and the stories that they place value on. But I still recognise and appreciate the value of having Black press in the UK.
It’s 2017 and I am certain there will still be many who will ask “Why does there need to be a Black newspaper or magazine?”. Black media outlets serve as an opportunity for members of the African and Caribbean diaspora to be given a voice in spaces in which they are often silenced. When there are so few black journalists in mainstream media the stories that are told about the Black population do not always have the best intentions, they do not always represent the Black population fairly and quite often highlight stereotypes.
Watch: Can ethnic minorities trust the British press? https://t.co/v1UJS0WXD8
Only 0.2% of all journalists in England are black and 0.4% Muslim when the UK BAME population is around 13%. How can the media accurately represent a population that it doesn’t reflect? In this case publications that speak for and to these under represented groups is essential. That is why Black media outlets exist and yet they are struggling to survive. I did a quick Google search of “Asian newspapers UK” and came up with at least 7, the same things happen when you type “Asian magazines UK”, there’s some duplication but one can see that it would appear to be a thriving sector, I know that appearances may be deceptive but at least there is scope. However when I Googled “Black newspapers UK” in the same search engine I found far less, the 2 most notable being The Voice and The African Voice. They have both been supportive of my clients but still do not harness as much enthusiasm as mainstream outlets when it comes to audience response. They at least have survived the test of time, New Nation was a weekly newspaper for the Black British population which closed down in 2016 – it could not survive online even after it stopped the print publication. In fact one could say that US based black media outlets get far more traction with UK audiences than our very own Black British media outlets. When we look at magazines here there is only a small number of magazines for Black women (none for Black men) including Pride, Black Hair, Black Beauty and Hair and Glam Africa (which is global but has a strong presence in the UK). Black Hair recently announced that it would stop its print publication and be made available online, surprisingly I didn’t see as much noise online as I saw when Glamour announced that it would be reducing it’s print cycle or when Teen Vogue announced that it would be going exclusively online:
— DIARY fashion beauty (@DIARYdirectory) November 14, 2017
This is not necessarily because Black women do not want to support such publications but in my own circle the feedback I receive from women is that these publications are becoming out of touch and are not relevant. When I posted an image of Pride magazine alongside the highly anticipated Vogue magazine some people were surprised that Pride still existed! How sad is that?
I don’t blame Black British women for moving away from Black British media outlets, if the magazines are not marketing themselves effectively then it is going to be difficult to maintain awareness and if content is not relevant then it is not surprising that readers move away. Black owned TV (Vox Africa, BEN TV etc) and radio (The Beat, ABN radio etc) does have some impact but is not often discussed as much as say their US counterparts. They have the same challenges as print media in terms of content and financial investment.
All is not lost, there are Black media outlets that are bucking the trend taking ownership of the narrative, telling stories that need to be heard and giving a voice to the voiceless. Black Ballad is the perfect example of an online publication that resonates with Black British women, particularly millennials, its readers are members who pay to read the content. They also host ticketed events which are usually sell out events! Not only does this prove that there is a market for Black press but that individuals are willing to pay. Without their paywall membership model and teh investment that it receives Black Ballad would probably not survive and grow at the rate it is growing.
Other good examples include Distinguished Diva for millennial women of colour, Brown Beauty Talk which is an online beauty magazine for women of colour in the UK, Melan Magazine for women of colour and The British Blacklist which provides a platform for Black Creatives in the UK. Black British bloggers are also reclaiming their narrative online with many of them showcasing their influence online and through social media, one great example is the Mad News Blog. Not to mention the countless Black British influencers using Podcasts, YouTube and various other social media channels to get their messages across and build a strong collective voice online. There is still some way to go before Black press in the UK is given as much kudos as Black press in the USA or even nearly as much kudos as British mainstream media as a whole. Whilst we’re a smaller country than the USA and we have a smaller Black population (with our own unique history) we still exist and we still deserve platforms that represent us as Black people in the UK. The only way we can ensure the survival of Black press in the UK is if they get the financial backing that they need and we support them and the only way that Black press can ensure their survival is if they remain relevant to their target market, financially savvy dynamic and push editorial boundaries.