Dawn Wheatley: Diversity and representation: Do audiences like what they see?

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Nothing highlights the Irish attitude towards how the nation is represented in global media than the recent outcry over Wild Mountain Thyme. But how is this sensitivity reflected elsewhere?Does it trickle down to a news-level? These are the questions that Dawn Wheatly poses in her essay; Diversity and representation: Do audiences like what they see?

2021 was the first time that the Reuters Digital News Report (DNR) asked the public about their feelings towards inclusivity in the media. Dividing identity into six broad groups – gender, age group, ethnicity, where they live, political views, and social and economic class – the DNR first questioned respondents on whether they felt there was enough coverage of each of these dimensions and whether they thought that coverage was fair. 

The past year, Wheatley points out, has seen the news not only dominated by the coronavirus, but by men too. Since March 2020, she says, “two Taoisigh, two Tánaistí, two Ministers for Health, a Chief Medical Officer, an acting Chief Medical Officer, Director-General of the HSE, and the Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group have all been male.” It comes perhaps as no surprise then that 18 per cent of female respondents feel under-represented when it comes to gender balance in the news.

Looking at age, the 45-54 group are the most content with representation, with only 16 per cent unhappy with how their generation is covered in the news. This stands in stark contrast to the 18-24 cohort, 34 per cent of whom felt that there isn’t enough coverage and 47 per cent feeling that they are unfairly treated by the media. Wheatley suggests that when viewed in tandem, these results “should act as a caution for news producers: this is a curious, open-minded generation finding their place in the world, and settling into news habits that they could stick with – or avoid – for decades.”

The DNR found that people in Connaught and parts of Ulster are the least satisfied, with 32 per cent feeling that the region is under-represented. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 21 per cent of Dublin respondents felt that the county is under-covered, with 11per cent reporting that they think there is actually too much coverage. That being said, the majority of people (53-59 per cent) across all provinces felt that there is an adequate amount of coverage for their region. 

The social class category yields interesting results. Among those on low incomes, only 48 per cent feel their social and economic class is fairly represented, compared with 69 per cent of high earners. 

Wheatley notes that it’s important to remember that news doesn’t just happen, rather it is constructed by journalists and editors. Diversity or lack thereof stems from that same construction. While most people are content with levels of representation, we are in a period of heightened public awareness around diversity and inclusivity. This is important for news outlets to remember at a time where consumers have almost limitless access to alternate sources in which they feel better represented. 

Dr. Wheatley’s essay and the rest of the Digital News Report can be viewed here.

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