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#PasstheMic - researching women of colour in Scottish news

by Professor Karen Boyle and Melody House at the University of Strathclyde, and Talat Yaqoob founder of Pass the Mic.

Pass the Mic is a project focusing on women of colour in Scottish news media. Initially an online database of women of colour experts, thanks to funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, from 2020-21 the project has expanded to undertake direct work with women of colour experts and media partners STV, The Herald, Sunday National, Daily Record, Scotsman, Courier and Holyrood magazine to challenge exclusionary cultures within news media and create a platform for the expertise of women of colour. This funding has also enabled them to undertake research to establish baseline information about where women of colour currently appear in Scottish news media in partnership with Gender Equal Media Scotland.

What we studied and why

Our study focused on Scottish news media over seven days from Monday 9th November 2020 and included television, newspapers, web news and twitter (see Table 1 for a list). Across all platforms, we focused on news and opinion, but did not include editorials, advertising or sports stories unless these were presented as news, i.e. were presented within the main news bulletin, or on the front pages of a newspaper. For television, all news stories in each programme were coded. For newspapers and web the top 20 stories for each outlet were coded. For twitter, we captured our data daily at 6pm and included all tweets from the prior 12 hours, up to a maximum of 25 tweets per account. We focused on tweets only, not retweets, replies or comments. We didn’t code direct duplicates (i.e. if @STVNews retweeted themselves), but did include different tweets linking to the same web story where different images or text were used.

Table 1: News media sample, Monday November 9th – Sunday November 15th 2020











Television (all)Newspapers (top 20 stories) Sister Sunday publications also includedWeb (top 20 stories) * = subscription requiredTwitter (25 stories)
Reporting ScotlandHeraldHerald*@HeraldScotland
STV NewsScotsmanScotsman* (subscription)@TheScotsman
The Nine/ The SevenNationalNational*@ScotNational/ @SunScotNational
Daily RecordDaily Record@Daily_Record
Scottish SunScottish Sun@ScottishSun
Scottish Daily MailBBC News Scotland@BBCScotlandNews
Sunday PostSTV News@STVNews











In total, we coded 3121 news stories the vast majority of which were stories from across the UK (92.4%), with specifically Scottish news making up 71.5% of our sample. Perhaps unsurprisingly – as our sample included Scottish Daily Mail, Scottish Sun and Daily Record which share content with sister publications based in England – newspapers had significantly less Scottish content than other media (54.8%). However, their Scottish-based twitter accounts still tended to highlight Scottish stories, with twitter having the highest percentage of Scottish stories overall (85.1%). This was, at least in part, due to live updates from the First Minister’s daily coronavirus briefings.

In addition to coding the geographical scope of stories, we identified the topic of the story, using a pared down version of the categories used in the Global Media Monitoring Project. We also noted whether stories were explicitly about gender or racial inequality, or about a woman of colour. The number of stories appearing in these categories was very small: there were 33 stories about gender in/equality (1.1% of all stories); 69 stories about racial in/equality (2.2%); and 30 stories about women of colour (1%). This means we don’t have a lot to say about these in the blogs which follow as the numbers of people appearing in these stories is too small to enable meaningful analysis – although this is a finding in itself!

If you want to read more about what we coded, you can access our methodology guide with the full details used by all coders here.

Who’s in the news?

Our study is centrally concerned with who makes the news both as journalists and as people in news stories. Across our sample, we coded 3410 journalists or anchors and 10,129 people appearing in these stories.

For each person, we gathered additional information. For both journalists and people in the news we wanted to know their gender and whether or not they were a person of colour.

We additionally coded their occupation and function in the story (using categories adapted from the Global Media Monitoring Project), and noted whether or not they were photographed or directly quoted, as well as whether they were described using a racial marker and whether their religion was mentioned.

Coding gender and whether or not someone is of colour can be tricky as this information isn’t always obvious from the story itself. In a study like the Global Media Monitoring Project – which takes a snapshot of where women appear in news media globally every five years – the emphasis is on visibility and so GMMP asks coders only to work with the information they get from the news story itself. However, the emphasis of Pass the Mic is slightly different – our concern is with inclusion rather than necessarily visibility. So we decided to do a bit more digging where someone’s gender wasn’t immediately obvious or if we couldn’t tell from the story if they were a person of colour or not. We did this by conducting an internet search for public individuals writing or appearing in stories: in effect, we actively searched for women of colour in our sample. This still left us with some “don’t knows”: where, for example, a story had no byline or was attributed to a “Record Reporter”; or where a quote was attributed to “a source” or a private individual, such as a neighbour. Even with such an active approach, the marginalisation of women of colour in the Scottish news media is very clear!

As our concern is specifically with racial in/equalities, rather than, for instance, questions relating to nationality, migration or refugee status, we used the category “people of colour”. The term “people of colour” originated in the US and is typically used to refer to anyone who is not white. Although this term is in less common usage in Scotland, it was more helpful to us than related terms such as BME (Black and Minority Ethnic), BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) or BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee) for three main reasons.

Firstly, we are interested in questions of media representation, not – for instance – in questions which might arise specifically from citizenship status. Related to this point is a specific difficulty in coding international news stories. For instance, a person who is in an ethnic majority in the context the news story takes place can still be in a minority in Scotland, where the news is being consumed. We wanted to be able to compare how people of colour are represented in foreign, UK and Scottish news, and the term “minority ethnic” doesn’t allow us to do this.

Secondly, we recognise that there are many white minority ethnic communities in Scotland that face discrimination. However, the discrimination they face is not on account of being white. For this reason, although still imperfect, “people of colour” allow us to best capture the information of relevance to this project.

Thirdly, the Pass the Mic project as a whole focuses on the discrimination and inequality experienced as a consequence of being a visible minority (women of colour). Here we understand visibility to be a double-edged sword for women of colour. On the one hand, women of colour in Scottish public life can be hyper-visible precisely because of their marginality: we know, for instance, that women of colour receive disproportionate abuse when they do participate in public life. At the same time, and as this study demonstrates, women of colour are relatively invisible as commentators, experts and opinion makers.

All of these terms – including the one we are using – have been subject to important criticisms for the ways in which they can lump together people with very diverse experiences. In this sense monitoring the position of “women of colour” in the Scottish media can only ever be a starting point, and in the future we hope to be able to drill down and examine differences within this category. Given the small numbers we are dealing with in this study, to be able to do meaningful comparisons here would require a different approach across a longer time period.

This also leaves us with a challenge when trying to compare our media sample with the population it represents. For instance, the 2011 census revealed that 86% of the population in England and Wales was white; 7.5% were from Asian ethnic groups; 3.3% from Black ethnic groups; 2.2% mixed/multiple ethnic groups; and 1.0% other ethnic groups. Scotland was considerably less diverse, with 4% of the population being from groups that were not white. Against that measure, the media doesn’t seem to be doing too badly with 8.5% of people in the news being of colour. However, between 2001 and 2011 the proportion of people from non-white minority ethnic groups in Scotland had doubled, so figures that are now ten years old are not especially helpful.

And of course, Scottish news is never just “made in Scotland”, not least given the range of powers reserved to Westminster and the largely-shared media landscape: 28.5% of our stories were not about local or national Scottish news.

We should therefore expect that proportions of people of colour in our news should be considerably higher than in our population.

Read the next blogs in the series here:

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