Women of colour in journalism – the way forward

With thanks to WIGGIN for hosting 

And of course our fabulous panel

Lydia El-Khouri, Senior Programme Manager, Media Diversity Institute

Elizabeth Pears, News editor at Buzzfeed

Samantha Asumadu, Founder of Media Diversified, Edmalia Ltd Speakers Bureau and Experts Directory and the co-founder of Bare Lit Festival.

Razia Iqbal, BBC presenter and former arts correspondent

Anita Anand, BBC presenter and author

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Award winning columnist, broadcaster and author

The evening was delivered in two halves. The first, personal, candid, unembellished and at times acutely personal accounts of paths into journalism. We were regaled with stories of the panels’ early years, the stumbles, the setbacks, the resolve to pursue journalism despite parental doubt and disapproval, the highs and the lows.  Why did our panelists choose journalism? It was a reaction to the world around them, an innate curiosity about how things worked, not wanting to let things lie, a growing awareness that the media could be a power for good, a sense that the world was so much bigger than London. ‘I had to fight to become a journalist,’ one speaker said. ‘Feeling like an outsider, I needed to be part of something. Wanting to be a journalist was about connecting with the world.’ We heard about the journalists they admired, their favourite writers, the books they’d read, the colleagues who had their backs, who kept them on an even-keel while they rallied, and coped with setbacks, and disappointments.

The second part of the evening was full of advice for the next generation, for the ambitious, young talented journalists in the room (it was another full house) who hung on their every word, on how best to navigate their careers, avoid the pitfalls and build resilience.

Start with stories. Be hungry for news. Bring something to the table, look in your circle of influence, the people you know. Pitch a story to the right person. If you’re doing work experience, find out who’s got the power and make that person your friend, forget about everyone else, and when it’s time to leave, pitch them a story.

Be courageous, be bold, and use your imagination. Build a core of self-belief so that when things go wrong, which they will, that you don’t think you’re not good enough. Don’t internalise failure but instead, find the anger, the energy, and passion to fight on. ’The single thing I acquired overtime was courage. Where does it come from? Everyone has it; you just have to tap into it; you have to look for it.’ Nothing comes easy to any of us in this room, so it’s a question of getting back up again.’

Don’t count on luck. Yes, it can play a part in success, but aspiration, and a sense of self-belief, is what propels you along, and the determination to get there in the end. There’ll be moments of self-doubt, the imposter syndrome that never entirely goes away, but hard work will see you through.

Read history. There’s a burden on the people that are on the periphery of society to know about the mainstream. It’s a burden that we all take for granted, we think it’s our job to know everything, but it’s our responsibility to point out what others don’t know about our communities, about our history, our stories. It can get tiring to take on the responsibility, but if we don’t, nothing will change.

Read poetry and fiction. You need to be able to tell a story.  Be prepared to talk about it. Don’t read things that are obvious. ‘Yes, it’s critical to be dogged in your search for a story, to recognise its worth, its power, and appeal, to understand why something is happening, but if all you do is chase one thing, your hinterland  is restricted to the immediacy of news.’ There is no gift in regurgitating what other people are reading or other peoples’ work. Think for yourself. Believe in what you’ve found and if you think it’s important, fight for it. It’s enriching to read a novel from start to finish because it gives you the single thing that you may think you don’t have, the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes, somebody else’s mind. It helps you to understand peoples’ stories.’

Take your intellect seriously. Journalism is not a profession, it’s a craft that can be learned. But part of that learning is absorbing knowledge. By all means inject joy and fun and ambition and aim high, but take yourself seriously. ‘There are certain things that you have to allow into your life and into your heart to expand your intellect. Don’t be frightened about being a serious person. Some of the most extraordinary journalists aren’t people who write reams and reams of serious things.’

Make things happen and follow through. Very few of us here can walk into a job. Journalism is a rich and unpredictable journey. Be ready for it, but remember you can steer its course. Take the craft seriously, be tenacious, be committed.

Surprise people. Use your difference. Imagine and come up with new ways of looking at the world. ‘Journalism is an industry that has been so tightly encircled by a particular demographic, that anything you bring to it is going to be new and exciting. Sometimes you have to look deep into your own lives and experiences, relationships and communities, to find the extraordinary stories hidden there.’

Finally, learn from each other. Network, and naturally, join Women in Journalism. WIJ wants to be as diverse as possible. With diversity, a different kind of organisation emerges – strong, powerful, reactive.

On that note, the evening drew to a close.