When online publication Black Ballad received £70,000 of government money from the Future News Fund earlier year, it pledged to build a sustainable revenue model and feature more voices outside of London. This included researching the experiences of black women in different parts of the UK and hire temporary regional editors to commission those stories.
The publication was founded in 2014 by journalist Tobi Oredein who was frustrated by the lack of representation of black women in the UK lifestyle magazines. She even said: "White women's media cares more about avocados than black women. Then let's make our own."
Black Ballad often features data-led stories alongside first-person accounts. This week's takeover of Huffington Post, for instance, builds on data collected around experiences of Black Motherhood.
Black women have revealed the shocking racism they faced in the UK’s healthcare system during pregnancy and childbirth, in a landmark study by @BlackBalladUK. @Nadine_Writes reports as we launch #BBxHuffPostUK https://t.co/CEKKTbuNoq pic.twitter.com/GVUszgCCbT— HuffPost UK (@HuffPostUK) August 10, 2020
In May, Black Ballad launched The Great Black British Women's Survey and it also recently hired nine regional editors in England, Wales and Scotland.
Come autumn, each regional editor will have a week-long takeover of the Black Ballad website. The Outside London project - soon to be renamed Black Women In Britain - will bring stories of black women from around the UK its moment in the spotlight.
Journalism.co.uk spoke to Black Ballad's head of editorial, Jendella Benson and regional editor for West Midlands, Vicky Gayle via email about the project and the importance of giving black voices a platform. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
With the Future News funding, you launched The Great Black British Women’s Survey. Why did you do this and what did you learn from the data you collected?
JB: The very specific experiences of black women in Britain are not well-documented. We often get folded into general data relating to 'BAME' people or women in general, but the intersections of being both black and female can produce very specific experiences that should be documented and written about.
We have been publishing writing by black British women since 2014, so while we are well-versed and have an archive on a range of topics, we really wanted to focus on the experiences of black women outside of the capital, because so many of the voices we hear are London-centric.
Regional editors will be given a week-long takeover of the Black Ballad website. How is this is going to work and why have you decided to do this?
JB: We want to spotlight each region and really bring it into focus. Each editor will write an editor's letter for that week, introducing the work they commissioned and the stories they thought were important to tell.
Also, it is important that each editor has the opportunity to be recognised for their significant contribution to the project, as often it can be labour that does not get the same recognition as the work of those whose name is on the byline.
What change do you want to inspire through this project?
JB: I think it is important to recognise black women as not a homogenous group.
While there may be lots of crossover between our experiences, a black woman living in Scotland is not going to have the same experience as a black woman living in Wales. Also, I hope it is empowering for the writers and editors involved, providing more opportunities for them in an industry that is not necessarily the most welcoming to 'marginalised' voices at the best of times.
It is also just powerful to see yourself and your stories reflected back at you, that has been consistent feedback that we have had since the start of Black Ballad and it is important that we continue to represent our community of readers authentically.
What impact might this have on the local news industry?
JB: Local news is not in great shape and even when it was, local newsrooms were not very welcoming to black women.
It is important that black women have these opportunities, that they are given the space to write about something that is more than being the resident expert on 'race issues', and that they can have these opportunities without feeling like they have to leave wherever they are and head to London. I do not think London can continue to be the centre of the media and news industry, especially if we want it to actually survive and thrive.
And if you want to pitch to one of our amazing editors, you can do so here:— Black Ballad (@BlackBalladUK) July 31, 2020
Vicky - as regional editor, you will get a week-long takeover of the Black Ballad website this autumn, what can we expect from your region in the West Midlands?
VG: The West Midlands has such a diverse demography and there is always plenty happening. I want readers to get a feel for the different goings-on within the West Midlands and to feel that they have learnt about how national issues impact black women here. The pitches my colleagues have received so far have been so interesting. They are highlighting perspectives and sub-cultures I have never encountered or thought about and that typically do not receive national press attention.
What change do you want to inspire through this project?
VG: For voices and experiences outside London to be of equal value. I have only ever been in regional news so I know how much readers value it but I have also experienced the barriers in trying to report news related to the black community, especially if black people do not represent a sizable percentage of the readership or population in that place. But that should not be a reason not to make black people a priority in news reporting.
I also hope to empower more black female writers and journalists from outside of London to believe in the strength of their work and their unique perspective. Black women have such varied life experiences and backgrounds and feeling inferior is something a lot of us battle with. This is a mindset I want to help shift.
Can you put into words what this means for women of colour outside of London, to be given this platform?
VG: It is a huge and powerful opportunity. The Black Women in Britain project is a way to validate our experiences and the cultures that have shaped us in our separate corners of the UK. So much of the news and culture we are exposed to originates from London. In one way, I love that, because it provokes a sense of aspiration for me personally, but it also means other smaller regions are discounted. This project will allow writers to bring fascinating stories to the mainstream and widen readers' worldview which is exciting.
You will now be receiving story pitches, what are you looking for and what should writers consider before hitting send?
VG: I want to leave it as open as possible so nobody is put off sending a pitch. We are looking for unique stories that showcase a different side to your region and the black and mixed-race women living there.
I would love some article pitches that are underpinned by statistics or that highlight social movements and key changes in the West Midlands. I definitely want to capture stories from the quieter, more rural areas of the region and of course, powerful first-person pieces. To anyone wanting to pitch, just have a read of the Black Ballad website to see if we have covered that subject before and if so, just think about how you would be able to add something different to that story.
- Annalisa Toccara - North East
- Chloe Seivwright - Wales
- Christine Ochefu - North West
- Emmanuella Ngimbi - South East
- Jill Lupapa - East Midlands
- Lilian Amaning - East of England
- Nic Crosara - South West
- Tomiwa Folorunso - Scotland
- Vicky Gayle - West Midlands
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