Good gig but other than that what's she whining about?

I think this is quite lovely, the multiple levels upon which Adua Hirsch has misunderstood her own industry, the national media. She’s complaining about how few non-pink people (she says BAME but this is what she means) appear on the covers of major magazines in the UK. The underlying reason for this can only be one of two in her mind, either the manner in which editorial staff just don’t give a toss about such race issues or, more worrisome, the racism inherent in the system.

Both are those great big hairy and dangly ones. Editorial staff obsess over who is going to be on the cover, it’s one of the most analysed parts of the production process. They don’t ignore race issues here, it’s at the centre of their work.

But first, a different conceptual error, one very common unfortunately:

This article was amended on 11 April 2018. It originally compared the percentage of BAME figures on the magazine covers we looked at with the BAME population of England and Wales. A better comparison would be with the UK as a whole, which the ONS estimated in June 2016 to be 13.7%

No, it wouldn’t be a better comparison. Instead, what we want to know is the BAME (or non-pink) percentage population in the target market of a magazine. Or in the target population of anything at all in fact. London’s mayor recently published a report bemoaning the lack of BAME in senior management positions, which is to make the same mistake. As some will have noted, large scale immigration is fairly recent in these isles. That means that the BAME percentage of the population is age dependent. Forgive me using stats just from memory but the 2011 census told us that it’s 96% pink among the over 80s, 74% so among the 4 year olds (I assume that any admixture is taken to be non-pink to gain that number). So, who do we draw the senior managers of public services from? Well, despite observable results it’s not the 4 year olds. A “fair” portion of BAME managers would be, even by the standards being used by the activists, something approximating to the 50 to 60 age group that senior managers are drawn from. Which is, given the age structure of the BAME population, different from the percentage of the population which is non-pink as a whole.

It isn’t true that the correct comparator group is the percentage of the whole population. Think of magazines for a moment, Saga is going to be appealing to a different racial mix of population than Steam Train Toys 4 Year Olds Can Make Quarterly is.

But on to the larger mistake being made here. One that could have been solved if Hirsch had gone speak to her own editorial team:

New research by the Guardian’s data team shows how little has changed. The covers of some the UK’s most popular monthlies remain overwhelmingly white.

Of 214 covers published by the 19 bestselling glossies last year, only 20 featured a person of colour. That’s only 9.3%, although 13.7% of the UK are BAME, according to the Office for National Statistics’ latest estimate, published in June 2016. The most diverse month was October, when two magazines showed a black model and one featured an Asian model on the cover. But in two months in 2017, March and May, the front covers of every single title we analysed featured images of white people exclusively. The covers of four magazines – Marie Claire, HomeStyle, Your Home and Prima – did not feature a single person of colour throughout 2017.

The question she needed to ask was, well, how are such pictures chosen?

Ever wonder why Diana appeared so often on covers? Because magazines with Diana on the cover sold more copies than magazines without. And that’s something that’s well known in magazine land, something well known to her own editorial team at The Guardian.

Perhaps this does mean racism in British society but if it does it’s among the readership, not the achingly hip and right on who make up the media production industry. Magazines are a capitalist market – they aim for profit that is. They do what is profitable. At which point we get Gary Becker’s observation, discrimination is punished in a free market by loss of that profit. So, the reason there are few BAME on magazine covers is that putting them on them makes less money. Which is a reflection of whatever you want it to be even if it’s not evidence of discrimination by the producers.

But what’s really lovely about the whining is this:

One obvious indicator of the historic failure of the biggest glossy titles to cater for black and Asian women has been the mushrooming of magazines aimed directly at them. From long-established magazines such as Pride and Black Beauty and Hair to new black platforms such as Black Ballad, Gal-Dem, Glam Africa, and Skin Deep, and Asian titles such as Asian Woman, DesiMag and Burnt Roti, women of colour have been reaching for magazines that normalise their look and the issues facing their communities.

The market, perhaps combined with that capitalist lust for profits, side of our economy has already solved this problem. Magazines aimed at that BAME population have lots of BAME people on their covers. We’ve solved the problem itself.

At which point we’ve got to ask what in buggery is the whining about?

Other than, obviously, getting paid to write a couple of thousand words for The Guardian over nothing very much at all? Which, to be fair and speaking as a freelance who has written for The Guardian myself, is a damn good gig.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. And that’s before complaining about the perennial language-rape that is BAME. It’s ethnic minority, not minority ethnic, ethnic is a fucking adjective not a noun, minority is a fucking noun not an adjective, and black people ***ARE**** ethnic minorities, so the correct fucking english is just plain simple Ethnic Minority.

    Learn.
    English.

  2. Car magazines are known to sell more when the car on the cover is red. They just do. Maybe the same mechanism works with people on the cover.

    You don’t see many black folks browsing the mags at WH Smith, or at least I don’t.

    It is not sensible to me that minorities of any kind have some sort of proportional right of representation in any medium or activity.

    I’m going to a public event today where I confidently expect nearly everyone to be white. I’ll check back tomorrow with results.

    • Twenty six apparently African-Americans, about twenty thousand white and hispanic. It was an airshow. Differently groups like different things, it seems. My spell-checker flags lower-case hispanic. Is it right in this case? If so, why not white?

    • It is an adjective derived from a capitalized word (Hispania), likewise Latins or Latinos. Races seem to be capitalized but I don’t know why; and even here, it depends on whether you are talking about white skin or the White race.

      Do you mean African-Americans (the obligatory U.S. newspaper term for blacks, even in the Caribbean)? If your airshow was in England, did you know that they were from America? Blacks do not indeed flock to airshows; yours would be RAF/USAF, I guess.

      • No, a civilian now, on holiday in SW Florida and it was the Sun-n-Fun airshow which is the best thing ever for an air enthusiast. I’ve been five times over twenty-odd years. And of course I know nothing about the people, they looked Black, which I suppose is the term I should have used. Will it flag caucasian? Yes.

  3. But BAME are over-represented on football and basketball teams. (Sound of crickets chirping.) This rhetoric works in one direction only.

    Rhoda, if I saw on the cover of a magazine a black man I didn’t recognize, or a crowd of black people, I would expect that the text inside would nag me about intractable inequality, and I would not buy it.

  4. A similar argument was made about the lack of BAME football managers – debunked by the simply observation that managers are often ex footballers. Seeing as black footballers are relatively new to the game it stands to reason that a lot of them haven’t reached management age so there are fewer of them.

    I predict that in 20 years time at least half will be BAME

  5. That’s only 9.3%, although 13.7% of the UK are BAME

    That small a difference is noise. But some thoughts.

    1) Last year I can understand. But why only “glossies”? There seems to be little reason to pick only them instead of magazines that are much more read.

    I bet it completely stuffs it if you take out “glossies” and include the best selling magazines of any sort — which will have Markle, Beyonce, Kardashians etc all over them.

    2) The highest 19? What sort of person chooses the highest 19? Do they love prime numbers or have some numerology fetish.

    What money that the 20th best seller completely ruined their statistics?

  6. Seeing as black footballers are relatively new to the game

    Eh? There’s been plenty of black players in English and European football since the 80’s. Playing careers are short, so if there was gonna be a load of successful black managers we’d have seen some evidence of it by now.

    It’s likely there’s a comparative lack of black managers for the same reason there aren’t many black goalkeepers – interest (loads of black guys love the game, but they generally prefer playing outfield).

    And for the same reason there aren’t many black computer scientists – IQ. The likes of Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho probably won’t win a Nobel Prize in cleverness, but they’re also probably a lot more intelligent than the average man, and definitely the average player. Successful managers need to be good at a very wide range of things at the same time, which is a reasonable proxy for IQ.

    So John Barnes was a great player, but his management career was pretty embarrassing. Naturally he blamed the fact he blew millions on underperforming players and then lost a cup tie to Inverness on… racism.

  7. Some imbalance in magazine covers ?
    Even in the right-on Coop 95% of the cover photos will be of women
    I suspect male BBC stars salaries are not topped up by image rights, half as much as women’s are.

  8. It seems The Guardian tends to annoy rather than inform, so why bother reading it then? Surely not for the crossword? You know it is a load of steaming dog turd so why your continued, albeit inadvertent, support? Or (at the risk of annoying jgh by starting a sentence with a conjunction), in a perverse way does their intellectual incontinence amuse?

    Speaking of incontinence, I use to read the occasional copy left behind in Starbucks but discovered it was not worth nicking as the paper was too hard for any other use.

  9. There used to be a very good men’s magazine called Later.

    The first few editions had blokes on the cover – like Bob Mortimer. Part of the magazine’s appeal was that it was for the 20/30 something man who had moved in from “Lad’s mags” – like Maxim.

    The editor realised he could shift more copies by putting pretty woman on the front – which is what he did.

    To follow Ms Hirsch’s logic this is sexist.

    (No, I don’t remember if there were any BAME women on the covers…)