How is #BlackLivesMatter Starting New Conversations in Media?

Protestors are pushing essential conversations in the media.

By: MDI Staff

For more than two weeks, protestors around the world have taken to the streets to protest structural racism in all of its forms. From the United States, where protestors are standing up to police brutality and the disproportionate use of force against people of color, to the United Kingdom where hundreds of people toppled a statue of British slave owner Edward Colston into the harbour, the protests are making waves and starting conversations. Here are a few that we noticed this week…

Calling Out Tokenistic Newsroom Diversity

Even though “newsroom diversity” has been a rallying cry for years now, as of 2018, only 17 percent of newsrooms were not white, according to a Columbia journalism review investigation. In the United Kingdom, 94 percent of journalists are white. Over the past few weeks, this homogeny has lead to some serious headline blunders and revelations about racism within the ranks, pushing resignations at the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Refinery29. But will it lead to meaningful change?

Over the past few years, there have been huge pushes to hire more people of colour—but while plenty of publications are quick to brag about their diverse hires, it becomes a lot more homogenous towards the top, where decision-makers with the bigger salaries are still most often white and male. Will some of these conversations lead to the kinds of conversations that could lead to meaningful changes, most notably at the top? That is yet to be seen, but at least it is handing the microphone to people like Morgan Debraun, who started Blavity, the first media outlet aimed towards Black millennials, and is starting a conversation that goes beyond token hires and into the crux of what is important about newsroom diversity.

More Media Outlets are Capitalizing the “B” in “Black” to refer to descendants of the African diaspora

Earlier this month, Assistant Professor of Journalism, Diversity & Inequality at University of Minnesota Danielle K. Kilgo (who we interviewed at Media Diversity Institute a few weeks ago) started a Twitter thread explaining why we should be capitalizing the word “Black.” Since then, more and more newsrooms have been adopting the change, finally listening to something that Black people have been demanding for a long time.

One small step for editors, one giant leap for diversity!

A Reckoning Across the Creative Industry

The protests are starting a long overdue conversation among “disproportionately white” creative industries about some the barriers to entry facing people of colour. Social media conversations like #PublishingPaidMe are exposing the vast disparities in how writers and artists of colour are compensated and forcing a reckoning in several industries.

It has also pushed more and more people to publicize initiatives that support Black people in these industries. Arts Leaders of Colour are running a crowdfunding effort for their COVID-19 Emergency Fund that helps struggling BME arts professionals in the US. Firelight Media is another US-based org assisting BME filmmakers through this difficult time. Black Art Futures Fund does not offer direct assistance to individuals, but support a host of Black community orgs, NGOs and start-ups working in the arts and media sector. In the UK, Creative Access helps under-represented communities to enter and thrive in the creative industries, while The Guardian runs a Positive Action Employment Scheme and offers 3 yearly Scott Trust bursaries to aspiring journalists from minority backgrounds to study journalism at MA level. Freelance journalists irrespective of race and location can access “a single grant of between £200-£900 to contribute to subsistence (home/food) costs” through Rory Peck’s Trust COVID-19 Hardship Fund.

Want to know how you can help BME people and organisations in your community? Check out ‘An Ongoing List of Ways to Join the Anti-Racist Fight’ by AnOther Mag and ‘How to Support Black Lives Matter Movement Even if You Can’t Attend the Protests’ by The Independent.

A Debate To Decolonise the History Books

Across social media, hundreds of young people and educators alike have pushed petitions urging school authorities in the US, UK and elsewhere to include comprehensive discussions of race, slavery and colonialism on the curriculum. While some countries are further along than others, the media has published resources, such as The New York Times list of “teaching ideas and resources to help students make sense of the George Floyd Protests.” Since school curricula vary by state, petitions are targeting specific schools, like this petition started by alumni of Xavier College Preparatory in Arizona, or school districts, like this petition aimed at public (state) schools in Fredrick County, MD.

In the UK, this petition to teach British children about the realities of British Imperialism and Colonialism is making waves on, with over 300k signatures so far. Want other suggestions for BLM petitions in the UK? Check out this list of 10 UK-based petitions to help BLM. Of course, you can always start your own petition wherever you are.

Fighting Racial Bias in our Algorithms

Our lives are shaped by computer algorithms. We may think of “algorithms as being rational, infallible decision-makers” but they are plagued by systemic racial, gender and others biases just like the societies we inhabit. Rachel Thomas, a professor at the University of San Francisco Data Institute and co-founder of, does a good job of introducing the different types of unjust algorithmic biases in this YouTube video. The folks over at the Algorithmic Justice League work hard to combat these biases, on a daily basis.

#BlackLivesMatter have driven home the message that this work is long overdue. TikTok, which has become the go-to platform for many in lockdown – has come under special scrutiny for its anti-Black, ableist, anti-poor and other biases. However, Black creators are combatting this in clever ways. Black Lives Matter Utah’s founder Lex Scott organised a #BlackOut asking non-Black creators not to upload any videos for the day, tricking the into promoting Black content. After that direct action the company was forced to issue a formal apology to Black creators—and, we must say, Black creators on TikTok have been absolutely killing it with great #BlackLivesMatter content.

But it isn’t just creators—plenty of people have also been showing solidarity by commenting on #BlackLivesMatter content, boosting the number of likes, posts and engagement to highlight black voices, and bring the conversation to the fore. Check out BBC journalist Sophia Smith Galer’s documentary on exactly how this is going down—all over the Internet, no less!