CEO Blog: Bridging the gap between the media and charity sectors

Posted 10 October 2017

Su-Mei’s first day as Media Trust CEO was spent at our Stronger Voices event, run in partnership with Open Society Foundations and The Guardian Foundation. In her first blog post, she shares her thoughts on the day, diversity within the media industry and the role the industry can play in raising the voices of charities and community groups. 

Having recently joined Media Trust, as their new CEO, I am particularly excited about how it brings together the two aspects of my working life that I am most passionate about – media and charity. However, relocating from Hong Kong to London, it’s been fascinating to discover the disconnect that exists in the UK between the media sector on the one hand and on the other, the charity sector and the vulnerable, marginalised and underprivileged communities they serve.

Stronger Voices

The disconnect and ensuing distrust were palpable at our Stronger Voices forum earlier this month, which was a fantastic and insightful way to spend my first day at Media Trust. The event, co-hosted by The Guardian Foundation and supported by the Open Society Foundations, brought together leaders of migrant and under-represented communities with senior editors and reporters from across Britain’s leading broadcasters, newspapers and online media platforms. In one emotionally charged panel discussion NGO leaders accused the media of stereotyping refugees, over-simplifying issues and always inviting comments from the same one or two community organisations.

As Jon Snow puts it, people working in the media sector still tend to come from the elite.

The forum was opened by Jon Snow, a long-standing Media Trust ambassador. In this year’s incisive MacTaggart Lecture, Jon outlined his concerns about the lack of awareness, contact and connection between the media sector and the left behind in society, the disadvantaged and the excluded. He continued on this theme in his Stronger Voices keynote address. Quite simply, as Jon Snow puts it, people working in the media sector still tend to come from the elite. And with the erosion of local journalism, there’s been a reduction in the diversity that local journalists coming into the sector used to bring.

Stronger Voices panel discussion on stage : Jon Snow with 4 panelists

Stronger Voices Day on Monday 18 September brought together charities and community groups with some of the UK's leading editors and journalists.

Representation in the media industry

However, a lack of diversity is also true in other parts of the creative and media industries. The recent Ofcom report Diversity and equal opportunities in television found that women, ethnic minority groups and disabled people are all under-represented in the industry resulting in a cultural disconnect between the people who make programmes and the millions who watch them with many viewers feeling that broadcasters are making programmes that don’t authentically portray their lives and communities.

At Media Trust, we are very proud of having been a major contributor to growing the pipeline of diverse talent in the sector.

Widening the intake of diverse talent across the media industry is one way of addressing the issue. At Media Trust, we are very proud of having been a major contributor to growing the pipeline of diverse talent in the sector. Our long-standing partnerships with ITN, ITV News and Channel 4 that support Media Trust’s youth mentoring programmes like Breaking into News and Creativity Works/London 360, are nurturing the talent of diverse hard-to-reach young people, many of whom are now rising star broadcast anchors and reporters. Meanwhile, our annual Vlogstar Challenge competition, which launched last week, offers 16-25-year-olds from across London and Essex the opportunity to attend a full day, interactive training workshop on how to create powerful and fun YouTube video blogs. The programme, supported by the Jack Petchey Foundation, YouTube and the Evening Standard, is a fantastic example of how we are helping young people to express themselves and throw a spotlight on the causes they are passionate about via cutting-edge communications media.

Our Creativity Works trainees on a recent visit to the Channel 4 News studio.

Such programmes are key if we are going to improve diversity within media organisations. However, equally as important is the need to expose the sector, at all levels and across functions, to the local issues affecting local communities. I strongly believe this is where skilled-based volunteering can play a vital role. When you give employees the opportunity to volunteer in the wider community, you’re giving them a chance to discover the stories which would otherwise go unheard and to walk in the shoes of those who live outside and beyond their usual networks and comfort zones.

Matching good skills with good causes

This is at the heart of what Media Trust does – we basically match good skills with good causes. We help charities tap into the skills of volunteers from across the media and creative industries who give their time to train, mentor or create content for charities across the UK, helping them to amplify their voice and demonstrate the impact of their work. Our new online platform which launched in August now makes this process even easier and more transparent. There are currently a broad range of charities looking for communications, marketing and media volunteers on our site. I would urge you to take a look and sign up. Just an hour of your time could make a huge difference to a small charity.

I am very excited about working with the creative and media sectors to develop new, innovative and impactful programmes that will create a more diverse representative workforce.

Given all this, together with the polarisation that is evident in UK society today and the undermining of the media thanks to fake news, I am very excited about working with the creative and media sectors to develop new ,innovative and inpactful programmes that will create a more diverse representative workforce, while driving volunteer-based initiatives that connect people from the UK’s world class creative and media industries to local communities and local issues.

If you have any thoughts on my blog or ideas for what else we can do at Media Trust to contribute to a better outcome for all, please email me at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you.

Warm regards,

Su-Mei Thompson

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