#AllWhiteFrontPages has been a key campaign for Media Diversified.
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Why the UK media needs more writers of colour

The launch of the Media Diversified directory aims to address the lack of diversity in the mainstream media.

Media Diversified, the organisation committed to the nurture and promotion of writers of colour, has just taken arguably its most important step since launching in July 2013. From this month onwards, it will make available an interactive online directory which media organisations can search if seeking people of colour to comment on the pressing issues of the day. This measure is the latest significant measure for an outlet which, despite only being only a few months old, has made a notable contribution to debate alongside its far larger peers. With the stated aim of “tackling the lack of diversity in UK media and the diversity of whiteness”, it has published a series of powerful critiques on current affairs, most recently by Chimene Suleyman and Judith Wanga in relation to media coverage of the Muslim schoolgirls who fled the UK to join Isis.

Samantha Asumadu, the documentary filmmaker and campaigner, recalls the moment when she decided to found Media Diversified. “A number of things came together at the same time,” she says. “I couldn’t get funding to do my second documentary despite the first one, The Super Ladies, being commissioned and funded by Aljazeera English. I read this article in the Voice, ‘The Evening Standard of Whiteness‘, and it stuck with me. Amol Rajan became editor of the Independent and it became big news in 2013, when really it shouldn’t have been such big news, but he was the first (non-white person to edit a mainstream national newspaper). I wrote this storify about it, A tale of everyday lack of diversity, and it became very popular, and the hashtag #AllWhiteFrontPages started due to it.”

Asumadu was then struck, she says, by several feminists on Twitter who were apparently positioning themselves as spokespeople for women of colour – in her words, “a lot of white feminists calling themselves intersectional feminists”.  As a result, Asumadu “wanted our voices to get heard and to speak for ourselves”.

Media Diversified has seen its audience grow swiftly, having amassed over 19,000 followers on Twitter and seeing those with far larger visibility on the site, such as the Times’ Caitlin Moran, regularly sharing its content. Unafraid of controversy or confrontation, it is currently requesting nominations for “The Trashies”; that is to say, those articles which most “rely on and perpetuate racism and Islamophobia, however subtle this may be”. To Asumadu, her organisation’s online directory of experts is merely another means of challenging what she sees as the media’s misinformed consensus. To be included in the directory, each expert must submit a written application to the Media Diversified website: if successful, their profiles will be made available to companies and charities who pay a subscription fee. The size of that fee will depend upon the size of the organisation, with three different tariffs for those who have ten or fewer employees, between ten and 50 employees, or more than 50 employees. Users can also pay not only for access to the database, but also for a project manager who will be on call for up to 24 hours a day to help with their queries.

As Asumadu is keen to point out, the directory and The Trashies are by no means the limits of Media Diversified’s ambitions. The outlet has launched a series of articles under the #OtherPolitics hashtag, which will provide a succession of alternative perspectives during the run-up to the UK’s general election in May. This summer, in addition, Media Diversified is providing content for Lebara Group’s new mobile digital hub for global migrant workers, and curating a panel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. In the longer term, it is working with West London’s Bush Theatre on a competition and training programme for cultural critics in theatre, film, and dance, and preparing a new website for long-form work, where it can promote authors so that, in Asumadu’s words, “we have our own Teju Cole and Ta-Nehisi Coates”. Supporters of Media Diversified’s output can also look forward to more investigative journalism, given that the organisation now has a budget to support such work, and a broader reach of coverage, with the call now out for a Middle East and North Africa editor. All in all, it is clear that Asumadu and her team are just getting started.

“We’re working on our own literary festival, which we hope to host at the Institute of Contemporary Arts,” she says. “We’ll continue to cultivate and publish skilled writers of colour, and we’re actively looking for poets who wish to try their hand at prose...We hope to do more workshops in camera skills, writing, and pundit skills. We want to be an alternative to VICE.”

Contributors to mediadiversified.org wrote for the New Statesman’s “Race and the Media” week. Read their articles here

Musa Okwonga is a Berlin-based poet, journalist and musician.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.