This piece was originally published on The Bristol Cable and has been republished with permission from the author
We decided I should be the beneficiary of our ticket to the swanky awards ceremony. The Hilton's chandeliers and champagne flutes were a far cry from our media co-op’s modest existence. I felt like the proverbial fish out of water, a bumpkin among bigwigs.
Here was the great and good of the UK’s print media sector, a sea of black tie… and white faces. Mainly male, mainly middle-aged. I scan for fellow journalists of colour – there are a handful at most. My heart sinks at the scene.
The same day, the Ethical Journalism Network published a report on structural racism in the media. It warned the UK news media landscape is dominated by white editors, and this is "impacting on the representation of Black people in the media industry and in content". Damningly, it also found that "newsroom processes [continue] to be exclusionary" and racism is "commonplace".
That week, the Guardian announced a programme of restorative justice, owing to the slave trade money it was founded on. Days later, gal-dem – a pioneering outlet for women journalists of colour – announced its closure. The space for writers of colour felt even smaller.
Of course, it is not just race where representation is woefully lacking. A 2019 report found 43 per cent of the 100 most influential news editors and broadcasters went to private schools, as did 44 per cent of newspaper columnists. This compares with seven per cent in the British population.
Perhaps it is no surprise, given that about three-quarters of the British news media is owned by four wealthy, white men.
Read more: NCTJ Diversity in Journalism Report 2023 - the UK news industry remains very white, well-connected and university educated
The Cable exists to challenge the structure of the media. We model changes the industry needs to make: by being member-owned and led, we avoid corporate interests gutting the newsroom to increase the bottom line for shareholders. No clickbait journalism to increase advertising revenues.
But in terms of representation we do too little to buck the trend. Since its founding in 2014, you can count the people of colour to have been on the staff team on one hand. Now, it is just muggins here. The only brown, only Bristolian, only woman reporter, and the only one who didn’t go to journalism school.
I am not complaining – this is my dream job. I get to work in journalism without having to compromise my ideals. I get to report on the stories of my beloved hometown, as part of a team of talented and diligent reporters. I am damn lucky to have a permanent contract when so many of our comrades are facing redundancies.
But it is inexcusable The Cable staff team has not better reflected the diversity of this city – something we were rightly challenged on at our last AGM. Historically, I have not been shy about making my frustrations known. Anti-racism work has been started in the team as a result.
Applying for this job was not a frictionless decision. But I was assured that diversifying the staff team, content and coverage of The Cable was a priority. I made clear, on taking the job, that things needed to change.
I understand the challenge. We are a small team in a cash-strapped, time-poor organisation that is constantly fighting for funding to survive. Bringing in more people underrepresented in the media is not easy.
But in lieu of being able to offer 10 more jobs, we can diversify our freelancer base, which will be a key part of The Cable's strategy going forward.
We have also committed to our recruitment being done in consultation with a diversity recruitment company, with adverts worded to encourage people with transferable skills who are willing to learn – even if they do not have extensive experience – and advertised on platforms specific to diverse recruitment.
Making freelancing fairer
Here is what The Cable has done, or is committing to do:
- We have regularised and raised our freelance rates as part of an updated policy, taking into account what staff are paid.
- I will be holding bookable meeting slots for people to discuss their ideas.
- We will create a new freelancer directory on The Cable website, to help people build their portfolios.
- I am forging partnerships with organisations fighting the good fight to increase representation in the media.
- We are exploring ways in which we can once again run skills workshops and mentor aspiring journalists.
I get imposter syndrome and feel under-qualified. I get the feeling of intimidation when you look at an organisation and no one looks like you.
But, as the wonderful author and my mentor Nikesh Shukla titled his recent book: Your Story Matters. "You don’t need any experience," he writes. "All you need to be is someone with a compulsion to tell a story and a willingness to show up for the act of telling it."
So I am asking: do you feel underrepresented in the media? Do you have a story you want to tell? If you are a photographer, videographer, podcast producer or writer, if you have an idea for an investigation, culture or opinion piece – I want to hear from you.
Priyanka Raval is a reporter for The Bristol Cable, specialising in the world of work, race and racism, and social movements.
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