Why isn’t our press more diverse?: Peter Wilby

Former editor, New Statesman

Walk into any national newspaper and the paucity of black and brown faces will be obvious. Walk into the editorial conference, where senior executives decide the stories, and you're unlikely to find a single ethnic-minority face.

If you know how newspapers work, this will be unsurprising. Editors rarely advertise jobs or even set out systematically what skills they require from recruits. They rely on proxy indicators: a first degree from Oxbridge, a postgraduate journalism certificate (after completing courses for which there is only limited financial support), a willingness to spend months on unpaid "work experience", backed by a recommendation from somebody the editor once worked with or met at a dinner party ("Bright boy/girl, just give him/her a try, would you?").

The tiny number of black and Asian people who somehow squeeze past these exacting requirements - which also exclude just about anybody who doesn't have connections in the metropolitan professional classes - will find that they become instant experts on "race relations". A riot in Tottenham? Send the black reporter. Islamist stirrings in Birmingham? Send the Asian. Somebody to cover Royal Ascot? Send . . . oh, perhaps not.

Black and Asian journalists easily become ghettoised, as did women, 50 years ago, when they were largely confined to writing about children or cooking. Things are changing, albeit slowly. Ethnic-minority journalists become science, education, even political editors, though, despite the titles, these positions carry no hiring or commissioning powers.

The Mail's Baz Bamigboye is long established as a show business columnist. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Gary Younge have regular columns in national papers. But no minority journalist is anywhere near a national editorship and, until that changes, newspapers will continue to portray the world from an almost entirely white perspective.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Britain