How to do content creation with diversity in mind — Clwstwr’s Media Wales’ Approach to the Creative Industries.
Before we start I’d like go restate an apology. The optics, which no doubt you see. Three Black men discussing diversity and inclusion? My bad! There was in fact a fourth person. Her name is Simone Pennant MBE — a titan in the industry. Circumstances meant she couldn’t be with us on the day.
The logic to the panel set up was to invite keynote speaker Marcus Ryder MBE (if you don’t know his work where have you been?) to deconstruct issues he raised earlier in the day. Marcus has been, amongst many things, the Head of Current Affairs at the BBC in Scotland.
Twice whilst introducing him I promoted him to Head of BBC Scotland, which perhaps in my mind he should be, so Marcus, soz.
Marcus’ opening keynote was enrapturing, with brilliantly-timed humour around buying his his co-authored book, “Access All Areas”. His craft skills to take stats and paint meaningful and purposeful pictures is a thing of beauty. For instance how he, working with Sir Lenny Henry, delineated that British newsrooms are run by a minority of people. Well you knew that, didn’t you? Perhaps not like this though.
Using empirical evidence and population consensus white heterosexual males constitute somewhere around 3.5% in the South and London centric region — from whence national media finds many of its workers. The term “minority” therefore for groupings of people through their religion, sexuality, ethnic backgrounds IS a misnomer. They are the majority of the UK disproportionately under represented says Marcus.
It’s a bubble-bursting myth that is akin to the Internet craze defining whether that blue dress was indeed blue or gold, accept in this case a minority of people have convincingly proclaimed it to be scarlet red — which was never part of the debate. Marcus’s explanation can be found in Access All Areas, a book penned with Sir Lenny Henry.
Pat Younge is an equally colossal figure in the media and diversity. He has strong Welsh roots. He was at Cardiff University back in the late 1980s and is presently Chair of council of Cardiff University. More poignant to our discussion Pat operates from Wales with his indie Cardiff Productions, and is a key player looking ahead within a new conglomerate in the region called Media.Cymru.
Pat would offer local solutions as well as supranational ones from his leadership across the BBC as chief creative officer and the Travel Channel in the US.
And then there’s me, like our speakers I too have seen the spoils on the meandering road of diversity, albeit in different roles to my learned colleagues. As host my role was less my expert opinion, more raise and steer key points my producing team Sally, Laolu and I shared. Its denouement I envisioned would be a sort of Geldof (Live Aid) moment to give us your money. Quit all the talk. Let’s do this.
Let’s do this, because debates around representation can often seem like a Möbius strip. We’ve been here. A bit then about me. Back in the early 1990s I presented and produced the BBC’s only radio show for Black people in London, called “Black London”. From Herman (now Lord) Ousesley’s first interview as head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Suss laws, culture and politics, and interviews like this with Eartha Kitt speaking about the discrimination she faced.
These programmes, together with my time in Apartheid South Africa, and rushes of programmes I couldn’t make such as the King’s Men have recently been designated historically important. Working with archive producer Jose Velazquez, MA it’s been digitised by a global group behind restoring the Mandela Rivonia tapes. They are to be presented at an academic conference heralding the BBC’s history in November 2022.
In 1999 colleagues and I created a diversity agency, the Creative Collective supported by Jon Snow. Our work, including the conference All Change: Increasing Diversity in the Newsroom achieved a modest impact in trying to move the dial, interacting with industry and funding young media workers starting their careers.
Back to the panel. This we believed could be different because Clwstwr’s reputation for creating an ambitious five-year programme around new products, services and experiences is highly regarded. This talk was part of their two day showcase conference, as well as looking ahead to a new horizon as Media.Cymru.
Media.Cymru is a £50m new networked creative industries juggernaut earmarking the next five years of a quantum leap in innovation and diversity as central pillars. At the highest policy level in Welsh government, it too has pledged a commitment to diversity.
Originally when we were devising our session, there were visions requesting the audience to make firm pledges, and a heightened social media campaign to get us trending. Surprisingly the latter is not as difficult as you think. Then following on in the green room we’d consolidate new networks. Best laid plans huh! It didn’t happen for a myriad reasons. But how do you do Panel Version 2?
At their bare minimum panels provide a fix for the audience to see, hear problems and perhaps genuflect. At best follow ups can be the building blocks to new initiatives. In the Metaverse or Web 3 world world we’re entering someone ought to fix how putting a panel together can be a hub for auditing and resolving solutions that emerge from talks and related ones. Think a giant mind map of solutions that can be followed through.
Be the Diversity Virus
I know it doesn’t sound pleasant, does it ? Several years back I was an artist in residence at the South bank Centre under Jude Kelly CBE sharing an office space with rarefied people like Lemn Sissay, Shlomo and Jane and Louise Wilson, and Simon Armitage. Jude referred to us as her viruses. Go out an infect people, she said ( remember this is way before COVID-19). Her producers kept tabs of those infections.
Diversity is a complex problem matrix. Shouldn’t be, but the evidence tells us so. How do you make progress without replicating past tried and tested failures? Here’s where the thought of meeting two senior broadcast execs at the end comes to mind. Nosey me. I’d noticed two attendants’ reactions as we were winding down when I posed a question.
Their answer led me to say hello as we shuffled out. I was asked how’s it going? (A bit unfair to share their names here). I groaned and possibly rolled my eyes. Diversity is the lock whose combination key is in sight at one level, but once cracked you’ll find another key combination awaiting you. It’s like a never ending suitcase of Russian dolls.
I’ve mentioned diversity being treated as a complex problem, but what do I mean? Solving diversity should be a straight forward issue, but the fact it hasn’t been solved begs the question. There are problems and problems — something quite evident in leadership roles (with a twist), and start ups which I’ve twenty plus years experience.
In their book Building the Agile Business Through Digital Transformation Neil Perkin and Peter Abraham identify three main types of problems. At a basic level a simple problem is one whose solution is at hand. Want to buy a gift and you’ve run out of money use your debit card. Complicated problems revolve around team work, time resources, and breaking the problem down into a series of shared solutions. Think putting an astronaut on the moon. Each section, go for launch, go, go, and so everyone plays their part.
Complex problems challenge linearity in finding solutions. They are a one-off. There are complex dynamics enveloping social, political, and economical consequences. Raising a child, the authors contest, is a complex problem, because whatever you learn from one child isn’t the formula for rearing another.
The story of NASA’s O-ring catastrophe, where the crew lost their lives, is an example of what should have been a complicated problem turned complex as detailed in David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
Complex problems are deceptive because traditional approaches to problem solving involve translating experience from one field to another, but where an environment is what psychologists call “wicked”, experience alone that provided previous patterns of behaviour doesn’t cut it.
Wicked environments are dynamic, their rules easily change and any application of a solution that negates a specialists‘ ’understanding and creativity risks cognitive torpor. You know the effect of turning a shark belly up and it can’t move. It’s one reason why solutions to diversity shape shift. Hence, in effect you could say it’s easier to send someone to the moon than to solve the issues around diversity.
Now I don’t purport to be able to come up with a panacea for diversity ( are you kiddin me?) but I can see one area looking into this complex problem, with breakthroughs.
Firstly an analogy. In fact two. Who are some of the best TV producers Black and brown in the UK? There’s hundreds. Four years ago, we attempted to capture a flavour of them re-working that seminal photo A Great Day in Harlem. Fifty seven brilliant established, and a few up and coming media makers gathered for this photoshoot, which was on resized and re-displayed at the Clwstwr event. Thanks Gavin and Clwstwr.
Apologies if you weren’t included; I yearn with my colleague Simone to do some more because the reaction was incredible. Amongst those that gave their nod was Sir Lenny Henry, the DCMS who called it Striking and Original , and my old University of Westminster which witnessed the largest gathering for an exhibition on its campus.
Three years ago having just arrived at Cardiff University I managed to book an appointment (it wasn’t plain sailing) with our Vice Chancellor to see if he’d considered funding a diversity media journal between Cardiff and Birmingham University and its newly created Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity.
The news of Sir Lenny Henry Centre was one of those ideas au natural. Though hardly! Its many facets, from years of campaigning included a Brain Trust devised by Marcus and Sir Lenny. I’d come to know Marcus from meetings he’d been spearheading between his work and journeys between China and somewhere in the world he might be running a marathon.
A journal sounded like a firm idea as part of the brain’s trust. A sort of central nervous system because it documents could be used to create programmes exhibitions etc. I’m pleased to say after a sweaty pitch, with half my presentation tools falling to the floor when I entered the Teak & Mahogany room, the Chancellor agreed remarking too how Cardiff and its history of journals had something to offer.
So working with my counterpart co-founders Marcus and Diane (known from BJTC days), MOUs, contracts, editorial board, and editor that journal Representology is now a reality and doing very well.
That’s the theme right there. Academia and industry working together in a way that throws light, creative and critical, on the complex-wicked world in diversity and with communities. Largely you could argue academia already does. However meeting points tend to be around directed interests: TV execs employing academic experts, or experts critiquing media.
In 2014, when I completed my PhD I turned chapters into a series of films, that I shared with TV2 Denmark TV wanting to know my specialism in Cinema Journalism. Why can’t academia make features of their reports?
In 2021, I was invited by the internationally acclaimed Doughty Street Chambers (Kier Starmar’s old chambers) to speak diversity across the creative industries and academia. I would talk about something similar at AHRC TV event for the Edinburgh festival. Below was my mind map for a Newton’s cradle to create stories. At the root of our perception is stories. Get on top of stories and you inch further to a greater level field.
Platforming and accessing audiences is the target as is harnessing new talent from an extended matrix.An idea waiting to break free is something I call the Outernet — a way of linking platforms to communities ( see Apple piece).
This year we ran the StoryLab. It came as I finished working for the British Library’s 500 years of News project. We’re creating Metaverse storytellers. Not the Facebook kind, but those that see ideas, communities, and resources and tell rich stories. The winner was Joy (see here).
In the past it’s been adhoc using my contacts to broker introductions for students. Many today are successfully working in the industry, but there’s a more strategic approach. This isn’t to say you only take talent from Uni courses, because part of my work has also been outreach.
Representology’s next quantum level leap should be a TV & Radio show harnessing the ideas and research that emerges from both academics and industry figures. It had a fantastic launch with several units across Cardiff University and Birmingham providing infra-structure for a video show.
It’s that combination of storytelling, tech and association between creatives and academics which Media.Cymru is driving and an area I’ve been working in for many years. Here’s where we can break bread, be the inter-facers between broadcasters, academics, and policy makers going forward.
Thanks to Clwstwr. More on their goals and management here
More on me here