The Guardian Changing Media Summit 2018 - responsibility and the need for change

Guardian Web |

The media climate may dominated by fears of fake news, but there’s a growing sense that the decline in trust of traditional media is not as bad as it looks.

Amid accusations of bias and misinformation, trust in journalism is actually at its highest point in six years, as Guardian chief revenue officer Hamish Nicklin said in the opening talk at the Guardian Changing Media Summit on 7 March. “We’re responsible to make sure this continues,” Nicklin said of the figures, introducing the main theme of the Guardian’s annual media conference: responsibility.

In the walls of the BFI Southbank in London, more than 550 delegates from the world of journalism, advertising and publishing gathered to discuss some of the most pressing issues in the industry today – from the responsibility of social platforms, the role of alternative media sites, to harassment and sexism across the media landscape.

The industry that broke the story about Harvey Weinstein and the media that enabled the spread of the powerful #MeToo debate has itself been embroiled in the scandals. Speakers at this year’s conference shared the view that the industry must look at itself now and change its own ways.

“I’ve said [in the past] the biggest business issue is diversity. It’s not,” said Cindy Gallop, former chairman of BBH New York and founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn/ IfWeRanTheWorld in a rousing keynote speech.

“The biggest issue is sexual harassment. It prevents equality, diversity and inclusion happening. This is not an industry that says ‘we welcome women, we want women’,” she said.

“Our industry has hemorrhaged female talent, creativity and skills,” Gallop added, echoing the Oscar acceptance speech by Frances McDormand where she called for an “inclusion rider”. The media has a responsibility to lead society and culture in a positive way, to “not perpetuate the same old stereotypes”, she said.

Valuing and supporting women in the industry means addressing the issues surrounding pay. Gallop pointed to communications agency JWT’s release of its gender pay gap in March, which is 45% in favour of men. It provided a catalyst to the lively conversation between Guardian columnist Jane Martinson and Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO and founder of WPP, of which JWT is an agency.

Asked if he needs to change the way the industry treats women, Sorrell said he believes women are “more effective” than men. “Women take on more responsibilities than men generally and therefore there’s less ‘water cooler talk’.”

"What are you going to do about the gender pay gap & lack of senior women at @WPP ?" @janemartinson "Promote more women." @martinsorrell Yet @JWT_Worldwide just filled its leadership positions with men. Gallop (@cindygallop)

The discussions at the summit reflected a sentiment that the industry has a responsibility to be diverse in all senses of the term. But there’s a long way to go. Buzzfeed news editor Elizabeth Pears noted that some newspapers in Britain don’t have a single black journalist on staff. “Journalists can be self righteous,” she said. “How can we take ourselves seriously if our industry is also in disarray?”

There were calls for change across the board. Gallop called for advertising agencies to “be diverse – don’t make content about it”, adding, “there is a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women and people of colour seriously.” Laura Jordan Bambach, chief creative officer at Mr President said a diverse task force leads to more creativity. And Farrah Storr, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan UK – whose sales increased by 59% year-on-year since her arrival at Cosmo in 2015 – said diversity is key to maintaining a trusted readership. “We have a duty to readers not to give the same viewpoint. We want different voices, that is true diversity.”

Alongside holding the industry to account in terms of diversity and equality, there were discussions concerning the responsibility of social media platforms as the line between platform and publisher becomes increasingly blurred. Amid an often volatile and abusive environment on social media, Sam Baker, founder of the Pool, said, “We don’t have comments on the Pool because every woman we spoke to said, ‘I’m sick of being shouted at and abused and threatened with rape every time I go on the internet’.”

It brought into light the question of whether social platforms should be responsible for the content they host. Damian Collins, MP and chair for digital, culture, media and support select committee who is leading an inquiry into fake news, said: “We need to look at a new definition of what a social media platform is. [These platforms] are curating content in a similar way to publishers, they sell data they have on users to advertisers, and help advertisers target people.”

Baker agreed that these sites should hold responsibility, saying that “Twitter now feels like a newsfeed. It used to be a conversation.” In response, Madhav Chinnappa, Google’s director of strategic relations, news and publishers claimed the organisation is aware of its role in the news environment, and even likened Google’s community and search guidelines to an editorial code.

“Google takes very seriously the responsibility we have with news ecosystem and our role in it,” he said.

Meanwhile, throughout the day speakers suggested there had been progress in terms of the public’s relationship with media, despite past talk of a breakdown in trust between news organisations and the general public. In fact, traditional media is regaining trust as social media is losing it, according to a study released in January this year, which cited concerns over social media sites not being efficiently regulated. It was perhaps summed up best by BBC Today programme presenter, Nick Robinson: “The idea that mainstream media is dying – in your dreams matey, it’s not.”

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