Welcome back to the newsletter. Over the past month, we have had a specific focus on diversity in the media. This is now over but, of course, that doesn't mean it ends. Let's summarize.
I also have a new Plus report for you about how to create a scorecard for your subscription strategy. But more about that below...
As you probably noticed (I hope), I dedicated almost the entire last month to focusing on the problems with diversity in the media, and in particular within independent media.
There were a lot of reasons why I had this focus, but most of all because I believe that the independent journalists who are starting something new today are the ones who are going to show us the future.
But what we have seen over the past year is that we are creating a new world of media where, from the start, we have even bigger diversity problems than before. When we look at independent media, it's incredibly male-dominated, in its focus and in the way it's put together (i.e. the way men think media should work), with a focus on "men having an opinion" (which is really a terrible form of media regardless of gender). But we also saw how the media covered this new space with massive male focus.
So, we started 2021 with a new year's resolution for the media industry, urging us to change this. Then Penelope Jones wrote an excellent article about "What is stopping women from leading the way to the future of independent media?" Then a week later, Federica Cherubini joined in with a great collection of resources for people to dive into. And then we finished with a one-hour interview with Isabelle Roughol about diversity and starting an independent publication.
So this was a good start. I'm very grateful for the people who helped make this happen. But, of course, it's just a start.
When I first started discussing this back in September, my hope was to do this across the media industry as a whole, instead of just something I did on Baekdal Plus. I actually reached out to other journalism and media focused sites, and the result is that several of them are planning to do something about this too. There are upcoming conferences about it, seminars, article series, interviews ... but I can't tell you the details because it has not been finalized yet.
But I'm very pleased to see that other journalism sites have started focusing more on this as well.
I do, however, have one concern, which deals mostly with the journalism sites dedicated to traditional media. When I contacted several of them about this, most of them never replied.
This is a problem I have come across quite often. Most of the big journalism sites are so focused on the traditional media that this 'independent media' space is seen as an outside thing. But a journalist starting a newsletter is no different than the New York Times. In fact, they are the ones who will create the new local newspapers that we will talk about in 10 years. Remember, the first continuously published newspaper in the USA was a single page named 'the Boston News-Letter' (started in 1704).
I'm just sad that this is continuing to be a problem. We need these media associations to break out of their traditional bubble and start to embrace journalism as a whole. You should support the future of journalism, not just the existing billion dollar power-structure.
Also, I see another problem with how many interviews are formed. When I and other male media personalities start to talk about diversity, we are contacted by journalists who want to interview us about it.
Obviously, I appreciate the attention, and the journalists meant well, but think about what is actually happening. We have a male-dominated media coverage, and now you are interviewing another man about what to do about it.
My point is that you should have focused your coverage on the many amazing women or people of color instead. Show the world what they can do.
And so the question is, how do we solve this? How do we as publishers fix this problem of lack of diversity in our reporting and in our journalistic focus?
The answer is extremely simple: You create a spreadsheet.
I want to quote a tweet that Ashley Nicole Black posted on Twitter a few weeks back:
Disney+ has these super cute little mini docs. On one, a Pixar script supervisor is talking about how she noticed that their movies were heavily weighted towards more male characters, and male characters having more lines. So she started counting.
In the first script she counted 90% of the lines were spoken by male characters. When she distributed the script she simply noted the fact. With every version of the script, she would simply let folks know the gender breakdown.
They started giving more lines to female characters right away. Eventually people started to expect to see a gender breakdown, and they used it to make the movies better. They later built a tool into the software that automatically tracks it.
The last script they produced (Soul) was 50/50 male/female spoken lines. I just thought that was such a cool example of how one person can change a corporate culture. And she did it in the way she felt comfortable doing it.
She didn't want to say "Hey! Ya'll are fucking up!" The way I probably would have, lol. She simply kept providing the information until it worked. A reminder that there are so many ways to do the right thing. You just have to find your way, and do it.
Her name is Jessica Heidt, and the doc series is called Inside Pixar.
You can see the documentary that she is talking about here: "Inside Pixar", specifically it's the one titled: "Episode 4: Inspired: Jessica Heidt, who gets all the lines?" And yes, this is very much something you should see (it's only 14 minutes long).
The point here is that this is really how simple this is. Create a spreadsheet, and start tracking who you are interviewing. What is your gender split? How often do you feature people of color? But also track how you are doing it.
So, write down what the focus is. Who got the main focus of the story? Did you write about a man but then mentioned a woman as a side note? Well, try flipping that model. Or better, just make it about the woman. Men already have an overabundance of attention. You don't need to include a man in every article to create equality.
It's that simple.
And I'm very happy to tell you that, over the past month, I have heard from several media sites that they will be doing just this. They have already started creating their own spreadsheets for this.
Another really important thing about diversity is representation. What I mean is, do you as a person see people around you that inspire you to do something?
I'm reminded of this illustration of a young girl seeing the first female Vice President of the USA (yes, the US is really late to this compared to other nations).
Or this wonderful drawing by Becky Worley's 13-year-old daughter after the poem by Amanda Gorman.
We can all see how important this is. Representation and seeing people 'like you' do amazing things can inspire people in so many ways.
Again, this links back to our problem with diversity.
When I first started thinking about publishing, back in the late 1990s, I had a wealth of people to be inspired by. There were a huge group of white men who had started their own blogs or mini publications that I followed. And, as such, the feeling that I could 'just start something too' was not even something I really thought about. I could already see that it was possible.
I could think like this because, as a white man, I had been 'represented' since I was born. But even today, more than 20 years later, women and people of color still don't have this.
In my discussion about diversity over the past several months (and years), it has become painfully obvious that the barriers women face are immense, and seeing people 'like you' do things that inspire you is much less clear.
This is the problem that we need to fix.
Again, think about all the articles we have seen about how men are creating newsletters or podcasts. When we cover it this way in the press, we create representation for men, but not for women.
The result is that men feel more comfortable creating their own things, while women are still not sure it will work for them. This is a terrible future that we in the press are responsible for.
As the picture says above: You can be what you see.
But there is another problem here as well. In the press, we are terrible at representation overall. If you go to a newspaper, almost every single story (at least of those featured on the front pages) is about people that you don't want to be like.
It's often about people who are doing something bad. Just recently, one of the largest news sites in my country ran a feature about young women selling pictures and videos of themselves online.
This is not representation. This is anti-representation.
Stories like that just confirm the old problems. You are showing the public that men are the ones creating new things on Substack, while women are the ones selling themselves online. This is not a good way to inspire the next generation.
And so, I call upon every media company to dramatically change this in 2021.
As Becky Worley wrote: Words matter, representation matters, hope matters.
Finally, I just want to mention my latest Plus report. I have talked a lot about subscription strategies, monetization models, and more over the years. But another vital factor is much simpler than that. It is about why people pay.
What motivates people to subscribe to a publisher? Or more specifically, what do you need to do as a publisher to create that motivation?
This is the topic of my latest Plus report, and I have turned it into a scorecard so that you can rate your own efforts.
Take a look at: Paid-for strategies: Defining what people pay for.
Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter
"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé