Sunday, September 25, 2011

People of Color Must Innovate or Die in Digital Media

 On Media Shift from January, the ff from Knigh News Challenge Winner Retha Hill :

In December in this space I asked about the lack of minorities at new media conferences -- both as participants and as speakers. The blog post generated a lot of comments; a Twitter discussion, and the start of a list of wonderful experts -- all persons of color -- who can help make your next new media conference a success..  You can read more of Retha's post here

This is what I posted back

Hello, Retha et al,

I'm a tad late to this ongoing debate. Perhaps I need to get my bookmarks in order?  But I would add that while the cause, a lack of diversity in digital is as much an issue in the UK, I posit a number of suppositions why this is so our end.

I've arrived at these from my position as a senior lecturer and fmr broadcaster e.g. BBC and digital media maker over 25 years. Of course these deserve some empirical research but here goes:

1. There's a blurring division between digital now as a media industry and mainstream media when it comes to major job prospects. Hence mainstream media's Achilles of a lack of diversity has been passed down/up the technology food chain.

2. Whilst in the UK, there have been initiatives to encourage ethnic employment, which were geared towards a political era e.g. 80s and 90s, I'm not sure there have been any specific running initiatives of note encouraging diversity in the digital age.

2a If anything an underlying notion would have it that since digital apparently levels the field, there's little inclination to support diversity in digital e.g. encouraging more speakers of colour, or job prospectors. Democratization, as an oft repeated phrase suggests anyone can do this if they get the tools.

3. The lack of diversity at conferences may be visible, though arguably in the UK in the digital mags there's a high number of people of colour as pundits. However there's respectable levels of  activity I see outside from diverse groups. So perhaps it's about relevance. Many of the conferences being staged around digital have a high bar to attract industry figures and correspondingly medium to high fees.

4. A cause - effect of the steep and competitive knowledge economy has led to stark tiering, most obvious in education and media. You only have to cite the number of blogs by diversity groups /individuals within mass-distributed networks as an example.

5. This here is an interesting one for me that needs investigating, but if the net is about social networks e.g. communities and cultural attractors, even though any app purporting to help the aforementioned will have universal values, there s a perceived notion amongst pros I have come across that strategies to attract specific varying groups has a reduced need for others. 

How do we combat these and the many more other digitalists have noted? For me, its encouraging groups and individuals to become more interdisciplinary, to continue to probe into areas that mainstream and mainstream digital are yet to access. It's not a panacea, but it might help a bit for this and the next screen generation.

UK Knight Batten Winner 2005