Checklist for decision-makers: 10 steps for more diversity in the media


1. Communicating diversity

Department heads who want to ensure that all social groups are represented in their editorial teams should communicate this clearly. If all employees know their superiors are serious about staffing their departments with colleagues from all kinds of different backgrounds with the aim of enhancing creativity and programme content and achieving discrimination free reporting, they will have the necessary support to implement these goals, even against old habits.

And all those who share these goals – often more people than one might assume - feel acknowledged and empowered.

2. Being a role model

Do you want a climate of respect and mutual appreciation in your department? Then live it! The culture in a media house is shaped not only, but decisively, by superiors and those in charge. They set the tone for what is accepted in the company.

A department head who makes discriminatory remarks sends a signal to his/her team that respect for certain groups is not something to be taken too seriously. Conversely, a management culture characterized by mutual respect and appreciation quickly rubs off on the entire editorial team.

3. Diversity officers are needed

While it has long been a matter of course in many U.S. and British media companies to have full-time "diversity officers,“ such positions are few and far between in German media companies. So far, among the public broadcasters, only the WDR and SWR have created full-time positions for "integration and cultural diversity".

Diversity officers should:

  • take the lead in projects that promote diversity within the company,
  • work with all departments and managers to develop effective diversity concepts,
  • monitor compliance with set targets,
  • offer expertise on diversity issues for the company as well as for the general public.

Important: To be able to work successfully, the positions must also have the necessary mandates, budgets, and power. In addition, there needs to be a contact person to whom staff can address cases of discrimination. Ideally, this person should be someone other than the diversity officer.

4. Capturing the status-quo

The path to more diversity begins with recognizing where it is missing. Once you’ve ascertained in which areas this is the case, you can begin to question your own reporting by asking questions such as:

  • How many of our interviewees are people from immigrant families, People of Colour, or people with disabilities? 
  • How often do we hear the voices of immigrants or refugees when reporting on migration issues?
  • How often are images of women portrayed sexist or queer people stereotyped in our media? How often do we portray Muslims or poor people in a neutral or negative context? What stereotypes do we spread about Jews or Russian-Germans, etc.?

In addition, you could ask yourself the following questions regarding your own editorial staff:

  • How many of our department heads are men?
  • How many of newly hired staff do not have an academic background?
  • How many staff members are from immigrant families and belong to groups affected by racial discrimination? (For example, Blacks, People of Colour, Roma, Muslims, Jews, Russian-Germans...)
  • How many of our authors belong to a group that experiences discrimination based on their sexual or gender identity?
  • How many of our editorial staff are people with a handicap?

5. Define set targets

Once the deficits have been identified, the next step is to eliminate them. First and foremost, binding goals are needed.

  • Does the editorial team consist mainly of white non-immigrant journalists? Are there no Black staff members or People of Colour working in the editorial department of a media company with several hundred employees? Then it’s definitely time to set a target. This can be based, for example, on the composition of the readership or the demographics of the circulation area.
  • Media with predominantly males in top positions could commit to a 50 percent quota for women in management positions.
  • If white males are predominantly featured in your reporting, the goal could be to achieve a 50 percent quota for women and one of 25-30 percent for non-white experts and interviewees.

6. Implement diversity measures

In order to achieve the goals set, the right measures are needed for the company. This could be a new recruiting strategy the introduction of quotas or training courses.

All plans must be communicated by decision-makers throughout the company so that all colleagues are aware of what these changes mean for them. For example, they can learn. None of us is free of prejudice, but it is still possible to create bias-sensitive reporting or an inclusive editorial climate.

Editors-in-chief can take care of measures to professionalize their staff, for example, training and further education in which journalists are sensitized to typical discriminatory pitfalls in reporting and intercultural skills are trained. Skeptical employees can be encouraged with incentive systems.

7. Set consequences

All plans for more diversity must be defined by decision-makers and communicated throughout the organization. However, even the best goals are of no use if they can simply be ignored. Therefore, the next step is to define what happens if goals are not achieved. One effective measure, for example, is to link promotions to whether diversity goals are achieved or at least pursued. This has long been standard practice in many U.S. and British companies. The central questions are:

  • How do we measure whether targets have been achieved?
  • How do we determine which measures are successful and which are not?
  • What are the consequences if the targets are not met?

8. Designate who is responsible for the evaluation

One person should be responsible for checking whether diversity goals have been met. This is best done by a person other than the diversity officer, so that the measures can be evaluated as objectively as possible.

9. Evaluation

At regular intervals, concrete figures should be used to evaluate how effective your measures are. This allows consequences to be drawn, strategies to be readjusted, and the approach to be adapted to any changes in society. The evaluation can be done in several ways, which can complement each other:

  • Editorial departments can (voluntarily) keep count of different groups represented in their contributions. This can lead to change through self-motivation and costs almost nothing.
  • Using appropriate software tools can also help to evaluate the output of reporting.
  • Ideally, the evaluation should be carried out by an external person, such as a media and communication scientist with the appropriate expertise, or an independent institute.
  • One or more responsible persons should maintain an overview of all diversity goals, coordinate the measures, and provide regular updates on the current status.
  • A detailed description of the tool DICUM for the professional evaluation of intercultural diversity in media companies can be found in the chapter on evaluation.

10. Ensure transparency. Make progress public.

Have you formulated your goals, decided upon measures to be taken and carried out an evaluation? All that’s missing now is the publication of all information collected and progress made. By making your results public, the interested audience/readership can exercise its control function, potential job applicants can learn a lot about your company's orientation, and the rest of the world can see that you’re serious about the targets you set for yourself. Many media companies in the U.K., U.S., Australia and other countries publish annual diversity reports and provide information on the current status of their efforts on their own websites.

Tips and Tools: How we can help

  • Our organisations have been dealing with diversity in the media for years. You can invite us to give a qualified review of your newspaper, programme, or website. 
  • We are also happy to provide diversity trainers for staff seminars and workshops for your editorial departments, or journalism courses.
  • We analyse the articles and programmes of the commissioning institution, and our results can also be incorporated into workshops to help your journalist report more professionally. 

Here's how to get in touch with us.

Guest Contribution: Media und "Eastern Germany"

East Germans are not "the other" Germans

by Mandy Tröger
A "multiple problem zone" in the media. This is how a recent study describes the eastern part of Germany.[1] The study shows that even 30 years after Germany’s reunification, the East German press market is firmly in the hands of West German publishers. Quality national newspapers published in eastern Germany have very low readership in the rest of the country.

To this day, there is no leading paper or magazine published in eastern Germany that can introduce East German perspectives into the overall-German discourse. Furthermore, hardly any of the top positions at the most important German publications are held by people from the east. They are even missing at executive levels at regional newspapers published in eastern Germany.

Even journalism schools hardly train any young people who hail from the East. In short: West German media institutions dominate the German media landscape and thus also the discourse about "the East". The consequences this has on new reporting should not be underestimated.

East Germans as our "own others”

East Germans and migrants are often portrayed in surprisingly similar ways in the media. Researchers call this phenomenon "East-migrant analogies". People from eastern Germany and migrants are accused of "stylising themselves as victims, not distancing themselves enough from extremism and not yet having arrived in modern-day Germany".[2] Both groups lack representation, both experience devaluation.

In the process, East Germans are marked as the "own others". "East German" is seen as the inferior deviation from the West German standard. This means that the media's view of "the East" is characterised by stereotypes. These stereotypes often originate from the pre- and post-reunification era and are thus well established and easily retrievable. The GDR stood for scarcity, surveillance politics and dictatorship. The everyday experiences of the people and their private ways of life were of no concern then, and still aren’t today.

When "the East" has voted

Today,"the East" stands for extremism, right-wing radicalism or Pegida. It stands for problems such as unemployment and social stagnation, which are often portrayed as "typically East German".[3] Heraus kommt der „anormale Ossi“.[4] This has produced the "anormal East German" who is defined solely based on his origin. This person is often equated with weakness or neediness or simply seen as a burden to society. In news reporting the “East German” is psychologised, biologized, essentialised and ethnisised.[5]

"The East" is also generalised and explained by statistics. This is the case, for example, when a state election is titled "The East has voted" and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is labelled an East German phenomenon, with the party’s electoral successes explained away as the result of its voters having lived under a dictatorship. Individual experiences, regional differences, diversity or social and economic reasons are left out of the picture.

Effects of structural dependencies

A lack of East German diversity and the media monotony with which "the East" is reported is certainly one reason why the national West German press has hardly found consumers there to this day. Why should people consume something that explains "them" and makes the "the others"?

Cries of "lying press" and accusations of “fake news” can also be partly explained by the discrepancy between subjective perceptions and media portrayal of "the East". Ultimately, it is about experiences of alienation in the media, underpinned by very practical processes of alienation during the “Wende”, the so-called “turning point” in modern German history. At the beginning of the 1990s, almost all major newspapers in the GDR were bought by West German publishers, and this development was not limited to the media market. It took place in all social and economic areas.

In terms of the press market, however, this meant that in 1989 regional SED (the former state party of the GDR) monopolies were not dismantled as was supposed to be the case. They remained in existence and ownership went to financially strong West German publishing houses, helping them to further consolidate the market. Thus, what were formerly political monopolies became economic monopolies. Many of the new GDR newspapers founded around the time of the fall of communism (about 120 in 1990 alone) collapsed under growing market pressure. This is one of the reasons why until now, no independent leading national newspaper has been able to establish itself in the East.

Taking history into the future

Being aware of these structural dependencies and how they affect the imbalances in media staff structures and German media content also opens up opportunities.
To portray "the East" and its inhabitants as they really are requires more differentiated reporting at regional and local levels. By steering away from well-trodden stereotypes and established patterns, the media can begin to show people with different experiences and nuanced biographies. This requires more journalists on the ground who understand local structures and can communicate them across regional borders. Because "the East" is completely different in Thuringia than in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. National media ought to reflect this diversity.

This also means that journalists need a constructively critical understanding of history. GDR, the “Wende” and post-transition experiences (even across generations) are important in order to be able to classify and understand current debates. A growing number of academics are doing research on the GDR and eastern Germany beyond dictatorship. Their research includes everyday culture, or the construction of GDR history and they can be consulted as experts.

Other ways of widening the narrow corridor of media representation of "the East" is to make East Germans the narrators of their own stories and to allow complexities and ambivalences. There are many local initiatives with countless interesting interview partners. People can identify with them and see that they are not so "different" after all.

Mandy Tröger is a research associate at the Institute for Communication Studies and Media Research at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. Her book "Pressefrühling und Profit. Wie westdeutsche Verlage 1989/1990 den Osten eroberten" (How West German Publishing Houses Conquered the East) was published in 2019.


Guest Contribution: Diversity at Deutsche Welle

When diversity is a matter for the boss

by Erkan Arikan

“I would like to be a role model for all journalists who want to get ahead in the media profession!" Of course, I said this with a certain naivety at the time because what does "getting ahead" actually mean? Becoming the organisation’s first director with foreign roots? Being able to set the agenda so that one can introduce diverse topics into the programme? 

Perhaps both. Because in the almost 30 years of my career as a journalist, I had never met a director, editor-in-chief or head of department with diverse roots.

Here I am right

That is, until the day I started working at Deutsche Welle almost exactly two years ago. From the very first day, I knew that this was the right place for me, because programme diversity is very important here. But there's also diversity among the decision-makers. And finally, DW Editor-in-Chief Manuela Kasper-Claridge placed this very topic on her personal agenda at the beginning of her appointment.

Today, she is supported by a diverse team of five DW colleagues with different cultural and professional backgrounds. They are all experts in their fields of journalism and regularly exchange ideas with DW staff to bring their suggestions and ideas to the editor-in-chief. Her team is made up of Jaafar Abdul-Karim, Kristin Zeier, Chiponda Chimbelu, Sandra Petersmann and me. In her inaugural speech, Manuela Kasper-Claridge said: "Deutsche Welle stands for great cultural diversity.

Diversity needs experience and empathy

We have journalists working for us with the most diverse roots and with a great deal of understanding for the users in the target regions around the world. It was my express wish that this should also be reflected in the editors-in-chief. I am therefore very pleased about the new members of the editorial board, who will advise us in our work. With their individual strengths and expertise, they will provide content input that is very important, especially with regard to further digitization."

Taking steps to create a diverse team requires not only a certain amount of experience, but also a certain amount of empathy. Such decisions cannot be made by a " workforce revolution" but must necessarily come from the executives. That's why I feel very honoured and also very proud to be part of DW's chief editorial team.

At the same time, I would be very happy if other media houses would follow this example. Because there are a lot of very well-educated journalists out there with diverse roots who would be more than happy to bring professional input to the boardrooms.

Erkan Arikan is head of the Turkish editorial department and member of the editorial board of Deutsche Welle . He is also on the board of Neue deutsche Medienmacher*innen. He is a second-generation descendant of Turkish immigrants. It is particularly important to him that, after more than 60 years of immigration in Germany, people are appropriately portrayed and represented in the media.

  1. 1 Mükke, Lutz. 2021. 30 Jahre staatliche Einheit – 30 Jahre mediale Spaltung. Schreiben Medien die Teilung Deutschlands fest? Arbeitspapier 45. Otto Brenner Stiftung. Frankfurt am Main, S. 3
  2. 2 Foroutan, Naika, Frank Kalter, Coşkun Canan und Mara Simon. 2019. Ost-Migrantische Analogien. I. Konkurrenz um Anerkennung. Deutsches Zentrum für Integrations- und Migrationsforschung. Berlin, S. 37.
  3. 3 Bojenko-Izdebska, Ewa. 2013. Die Ostdeutschen in ausgewählten Karikaturen. In: Rebecca Pates und Maximilian Schochow (Hrsg.): Der „Ossi“: Mikropolitische Studien über einen symbolischen Ausländer. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 191-207, S. 194; Matthäus Sandra, und Daniel Kubiak. 2016. Neue Perspektiven auf „den Osten“ jenseits von Verurteilung und Verklärung – Eine Einleitung. In: Sandra Matthäus und Daniel Kubiak (Hrsg.). Der Osten. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
  4. 4 Kollmorgen, Raj, und Torsten Hans. 2011. Der verlorene Osten. Massenmediale Diskurse über Ostdeutschland und die deutsche Einheit. In: Raj Kollmorgen, Frank Thomas Koch und Hans-Liudger Dienel (Hrsg.). Diskurse der deutschen Einheit: Kritik und Alternativen. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, S. 107–166.
  5. 5 Pates, Rebecca. 2013. Einleitung – Der „Ossi“ als symbolischer Ausländer. In: Rebecca Pates und Maximilian Schochow (Hrsg.). Der „Ossi“: Mikropolitische Studien über einen symbolischen Ausländer. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 7–20, S. 8.