By Hannah Ajala
Several Black journalists across the U.K. have either a range, or niche area of interest when it comes to the work they regularly produce.
With topics revolving around race and racism, being at the forefront, particularly over the past year, it’s led to many Black journalists feeling pigeonholed to only write about race – when issues affecting race are ‘a hot topic’ or popular in the headlines.
Editors that have hired black writers and editors- make sure you black writers feel heard and seen.
No point hiring black staff if you belittle them or you make it clear you don’t value their lived experience – especially when it comes to issues of race.
— Tobi Oredein (@IamTobiOredein) June 1, 2020
Considering the fact that Black journalists only make up 0.2% in the U.K. can give you a clear idea of what a newsroom will look like for many of them. Today – it’s likely that a Black journalist could be the only Black person in an entire newsroom. If a news story touching on Black issues is raised – the likelihood of the Black journalist in a team producing that story – is high.
There is an advantage – and a disadvantage about this. Yes, through the contacts and connections a Black journalist in the U.K. may have – the chances of this story being presented in a representative way – is high. The story therefore has a stronger ability to be told through a non-white lens.
A disadvantage on the other hand, is that by picking stories only based on one singular topic, it may restrict the Black journalist from other areas of interest that they genuinely have. This treatment has become evident when it comes to times like Black History Month. Commissioning editors will do call outs near and far in October, but crickets shortly follow after in every other month. Here is our take on providing solution/based tips and pointers when commissioning Black writers.
We can change the makeup of the media, but not by tweeting
1. Commissioning editors commission more black writers
2. Editors hire more black journalists
3. Established journalists get involved with trainee schemes
Performative tweets do very little #BlackLivesMatter
— Yvette Caster (@YvetteCaster) June 4, 2020
“Hey Twitter I’m looking to commission black writers today” – editors at publications that employ almost no black writers 😬
— Harriet Marsden (@harriet1marsden) June 2, 2020
Research them before reaching out
Are their interests in writing beyond Black issues and stories? If so, reach out on their other areas of interest too! You may have seen them write an impressive tech or health piece. Have an idea of their writing interests and present to them options of things they can work on.
Question your own bias
If the only stories you want to commission Black writers for are about pain and struggle, then your lens needs to change. How well does this speak of your platform and publication? Is this the narrative you want your readers and viewers to walk away with?
Do regular callouts, it works!
I’ve seen this being done a lot on social media.
📢New job alert📢 I’m heading up a new health + fitness platform on @StylistMagazine and looking for brilliant fitness writers to commission! Esp keen to commission Black and brown writers so we crack the ultra-white fitness scene plssss. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
— Miranda Larbi 🌍 (@MirandaLarbi) December 17, 2020
Platforms like Twitter are such a powerful tool in circulating adverts, requests, interviews, and jobs. Make the call out punchy, straight to the point, and approachable.
Set targets for staff and colleagues
Whether it’s at an Away Day, staff meeting, or circulated email, show that you care, and influence others to follow in the footsteps of understanding the greater need for diversity and inclusion. Keep plugging it into your networks and workspaces how important it is to share stories reflective of the societies you speak to. This should be an all year-round effort.
Keep in touch with those you have worked with and would like to see more of in your spaces!
Once a month, biannually, a coffee meet up? It’s called effort, and letting that person know you care. Your efforts will always be reflective of your interests.
These are just a few tips amongst many others you’ll clearly see and hear Black writers discuss, when it comes to how they appreciate being approached by commissioners.
For many Black writers and journalists within the Black community, October is literally like any other month. It’s not a time for Black journalists to shout or try any harder than they have been already.
When asking on We Are Black Journos Instagram page, ‘what Black History Month means to you?’ These were a few of the responses:
“When October 1st came, I honestly thought “yess, this is the time to make sure our stories are heard and no one can stop me!”. I was excited! I formed a meeting with some corros and our EIC on what we can do to promote our current stories and dive into new ones. But then came the apathy. “We don’t want to pander” says a non-Black voice. “What about Asian and indigenous groups in Australia?” says another. These conversations – albeit quite exhausting for a Black editor – shows me exactly why having a month to tell our stories is necessary. We are not pandering when highlighting accomplishments or shining a light on inequality in the Black community in this country. We are not diluting it either to fit others as this is a moment for US, here and now in the UK. It wasn’t even made that long ago – first celebrated in 1987! So let’s keep this going because we NEED our stories highlighted. We NEED our stories told. We NEED to keep this conversation going, no matter how frustrating because the push back tells me that we still need a platform for our voices to be heard since people will work hard to muffle them. Stay strong. Peace and love. Happy Black History Month ✊🏿xo”
“Black history means to me reclaiming our control over our narrative, unlearning parts of our history that have been distorted/half-truth, learning, bringing to light and celebrating hidden truths, celebrating, remembering, and honoring our past, present and future and the work we need to do moving forward. I also believe that outside of our achievements/ Black excellence , we as Black people are experiencing black history everyday, just simply existing as a community and individuals I believe is also part of Black history.”
“A time to celebrate life and to also take the time to look after our mental health. It’s easy to get roped into doing a lot of work at this time, especially around ‘diversity’ – but for me I’m concentrating alot on taking the time to put my mental health first and saying no to tokenist gestures. As a Black women I’m celebrating Black history month every day just by being alive, living in my purpose, experiencing more happiness than sorrow and walking the path many women before me campaigned and died for, just so I wouldn’t have to ✊🏾”
Let’s put some respect on Black History, the strong importance it holds for so millions around the world, and the constant reminder to honour it beyond one single month.
Photo Credits: fizkes / Shutterstock