Credit: Courtesy of AWP

A new investigative journalism publication seeks to give a platform to reporters without formal journalism training, and gear those stories towards a young crowd.

AWP Magazine was soft-launched in October 2021 by Abbianca Makoni, a 22-year-old journalist who has worked for the Evening Standard and The Independent. She also picked up the top scoop award at the NCTJ's Awards for excellence last year.

The publication is focused on sharing stories and voices of communities across the globe mainly through features and deep-dive investigations. Notably, that has included a three-part investigation into the rise of crystal meth in Zimbabwe by speaking to drug users, investigating why rehab centres are so expensive, and exposing corrupt authorities that fuel the crisis.

It was inspired by her independent documentary, GXNG Girls, a look into the coercion of women and girls into UK gangs published this year. Many people around Makoni said there needed to be a publication for these types of underreported stories.

Then, other journalists her age told her that they struggle to successfully pitch stories to bigger publications. Their ideas are often simply passed to senior staff, get dismissed without explanation, or are substantially altered in the editing process. Makoni decided that AWP was needed to handle things differently.

'Paving our own path'

Unlike the 89 per cent of journalists working in the British news industry, Makoni did not go to university to become a journalist. She took part in a joint apprenticeship with PA Media and the Evening Standard in 2018 which subsidised a 17-week NCTJ course. Her publication seeks to give similar opportunities to journalists who are struggling to get their stories told elsewhere.

For example, AWP published a story last month called 'How Tinder helped me after my pre-lockdown divorce with my wife'. It is firstly a good example of how it wants to appeal to the younger demographic of Gen Z and millennials. But the perceptive reader will also notice the byline simply reads "anonymous user".

This story is told by a man based in a Zimbabwean village who wanted to share his personal experience with other young men in similar situations. Normally, a reporter would simply interview the source and write up the story. Instead, Makoni wanted to help him craft his own personal essay.

To do that, she enlisted the help of her two part-time contributors; showbiz editor Safeeyah Kazi, who previously worked and freelanced for the likes of Daily Express, Evening Standard and YouGov; and foreign affairs editor Nyasha Chingono, who freelances for the Guardian, CNN, News Hawks, and others.

They spoke with the man about the story on the phone, let him do the first draft, sent back corrections, and then he had the last say on the published version. All in all, it took about four drafts to get the final version out. But in the end, they got an authentic story that few other publications would have considered.

"We want to be known as a publication that is here to take in quirky stories and personal essays that run away from hard politics and negative news."

AWP stands for Awall Printss and she has had this idea since she was 15. It plays on the acronym AWOL (absent without official leave), though pronounced 'a-wall'.

"We're a publication that does not need permission to pave our own path," she explains. "As young people help to build this, we are going to continue to take the route that works for us without needing any validation."

The publication currently pays for all exclusives and investigations but no other general news pieces. It is also commissioning young writers regardless of their credentials; those in university, those who have dropped out, or those who never even went. So long as the story is good, it will be considered. The lesson is that when you broaden out who you commission for stories, your articles follow a similar path.

"If people say young people are the future, then we have to actively do something about that," she adds.

"Which is not just to say nice words about them or bring them onto traineeships, but allow them to be on the forefront of the news agenda. That could encourage young readers to be more involved in the news if they’re seeing more people like them."

What the future holds

Influencers are key to sustaining engagement with young audiences as this is now a career goal, according to Makoni.

YouTube will continue to be a point of focus for AWP. For example, travel vlogger Tanaka Travels was the latest guest on its YouTube channel to talk about themes of mental health and the content creator industry. There are more videos to come in the near future talking about the pay gap.

For the time being Makoni is bootstrapping AWP using her own funds while also holding down a role as a content executive at Pocit, a platform for people of colour in tech. It is here where she sharpens her tech and leadership skills for her publication.

But the plan with AWP is to build a loyal community that will open up display advertising and sponsorship opportunities with particular brands as revenue streams. It would also like to look at an affordable subscription model for readers, with a premium option on top for events and masterclasses.

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