In February 2021, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) was awarded funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, through their Power and Accountability programme, to fund a project to identify and begin to address structural racism in UK journalism. The resulting policy report, published in March 2023, provides an overview of the challenges that Black journalists are facing in the British news media. Read and download the report.
Challenges for Black journalists in UK newsrooms
The following section is informed by data collected through interviews conducted with Black journalists throughout 2022 as well as discourse analysis looking at coverage of issues related to race and racism. The findings demonstrate that mainstream UK newsrooms are often unwelcoming for Black journalists, and the situation is having an impact on practices and outputs. Black journalists are dealing with a number of challenges and barriers to entry, racial microaggressions once in the newsroom and, ultimately, the exclusion of their own voices and other Black people within and outside Britain. Racist attitudes and behaviours have become engrained, whether consciously or otherwise, structurally within news organisations, and there is seemingly a lack of will to fully address systemic issues at their core. Representations of Black people and coverage of issues related to race are problematic and exclusionary. Black journalists are relying on personal and collective coping mechanisms which need to be better supported as do Black-led media initiatives and platforms, in both creation and sustainability. Without a greater reflexivity at all levels on the question of diversity and inclusion, current approaches will not work. The findings below are consistent with some of the key arguments put forward by critical race theorists. This assessment will
consider these principles throughout, to help us understand where the possibilities for change might be located.
It’s a white man’s game
A March 2022 report from the Reuters Institute entitled Race and Leadership in the News Media 2022: Evidence from Five Markets assessed the percentage of non-white top editors in Brazil, Germany, South Africa, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) from a sample of 100 major news platforms. The study found that in the UK, no mainstream media platform had a non-white top editor, noting that the Financial Times, where Roula Khalaf is editor, and CNBC where John Casey is MD, were not included in the sample as outlets were selected according to the highest consumption figures. The report notes that this is highly problematic given that the roles of editor-chief, executive editor, or head of news are the main gatekeepers for news and content and often decision-makers in recruitment and retention processes. Research has also shown that leaders are more likely to recruit in their own image, immediately limiting entry of Black people into the media industry.
This sentiment is confirmed in data collected and reported by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), Diversity in Journalism: An update on the characteristics of journalists, which found that 14% of journalists in the UK came from non-white groups compared to 10% of editors, revealing a disparity in representation in more senior positions. While the NCTJ study notes an increase in ethnic diversity in the last two years, not only does this become less noticeable in senior positions, socio-economic status figures reveal that journalism is on the whole a middle and upper-class profession.
A report published by AKAS in November 2022. ‘From Outrage to Opportunity’, which looked at the presence of women of colour in leadership positions and in news content within news media organisations in a number of countries including the UK found that, in the UK, no people of colour occupy the most senior editorial decision-making positions across politics and health news beats, and that there were no women of colour in the most senior editorial positions covering foreign affairs.
The journalists interviewed for this report all echoed these findings. Newsrooms across the country were seen as unrepresentative, by which it’s meant they were predominantly white, male and middle – even upper–class. Recognising that the UK is a majority-white society is important when it comes to issues of representation. Yet where Black people continue to be marginalised in terms of race, class and lack of agency, there is an argument that in order to compensate, a big increase in representation (and in some cases overrepresentation) is needed in public-facing areas like the media. However, most of the interviewees did acknowledge that things had improved in recent years in terms of representation, particularly since the activism of social movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) had raised awareness of institutional racism across both sides of the Atlantic.
Stakeholders who had been working in the industry for a few years recognised that things had improved in terms of newsroom ethnicity and diversity, and there was a shared experience that this had become more heightened in 2020 and 2021. Many referred to experiences as ‘before’ and ‘after’ BLM and/or the murder of George Floyd in order to situate their experiences historically, but also in terms of institutional behaviour. Journalists noted a change in language used in the newsroom, in news story selection and in their own interactions with senior colleagues and editors in particular. However, there was a shared sense that momentum for change was waning amongst those who might be considered to be allies, and that more had to be done to support Black journalists who were entering the journalistic field.
Working twice as hard
All of the journalists interviewed discussed having to work hard to get into the media. Tenacity, dedication and drive were all clearly present but most prominent was the autonomous nature of their motivation. Culture-related experiences and factors were key influences in their decision to study or work in the media and for many, coming from collectivist type cultures, family played an important part. For some, it was in the form of encouragement to work hard because “I am a Black woman”, in this case referencing an awareness of structural racism and the need to work twice as hard to gain the same access as white peers. For others, socio-economic class played a role. The media industry would have been prohibitive for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds without paid bursaries, apprentices, internships, and financial support made available through schemes such as Creative Access, the Scott Trust at the Guardian, the Journalism Diversity Fund (NCTJ), and other positive action schemes.
In July 2022, the Barbara Blake-Hannah Award, a British journalism prize which was established for Black journalists in August 2020 following the BLM protests, was withdrawn by the Press Gazette allegedly because they decided to start supporting a broader range of diversity. The withdrawal of the prize was seen by many Black journalists as an indication of the industry’s lack of commitment to supporting and recognising Black talent. As one stakeholder noted, “diversity initiatives are always amongst the first to be cut”. This form of racial colour-blindness which stems from systemic and structural issues is in fact ignoring the problem of racism. Reni Eddo-Lodge explores the problems with colour-blindness in her seminal book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, arguing that “Indulging in the myth that we are all equal denies the economic, political and social legacy of a British society that has historically been organised by race… It is fraught with racism, racist stereotyping, and for women, racialised misogyny.” The cyclical nature of colour-blindness means patterns of
behaviour become repetitive, in this case what is seen to be an ongoing lack of support for specifically race focussed diversity initiatives.
Story-telling and role models
Black journalists who chose journalism as a profession were in the main driven by two very different, indeed contrasting, factors. One was a desire to tell stories, a common trait amongst all journalists. For some, this meant a love of writing, for others visual storytelling. This reveals to some extent the lack of different stories being told as many spoke of finding their voice and the potential opportunities they saw in bringing about change through storytelling. Journalism was seen as an outlet for social and political change. As noted earlier, critical race theorists, for example Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (1993), foreground the notion of storytelling as a powerful tool with which to counter untruths. The concept of counter-storytelling becomes integral in contexts and institutional settings where discrimination and unfairness are presented. A perceived desire to “change the narrative” around Black people was commonplace, a narrative which is informed by negative stereotypes of and assumptions about Black African and Caribbean people. Many recounted stories from their youth of inaccurate and biased coverage of events that they had witnessed, and the apparent lack of voices from those most affected by those events. This speaks to the wider issues of structural racism in UK society and the lack of diversity and representation. Perceptions of the media and journalists amongst minoritised people who are more likely to be excluded from content are then shaped by their exclusion. Many of the journalists interviewed spoke of wanting to break that perpetual cycle.
If they don’t see us as people, how can they tell our stories? Because we were grieving. We were a community that was grieving for a child for our friend (following a fatal shooting). Instead of coming to us and talking to us about the fact that we were grieving, they were asking us about semantics and everything else that’s going on. And they were fearing us. I decided that I wanted to change that narrative and I didn’t see people who looked like me or who were doing the type of things I was doing represented in the media.
The second factor impelling many Black journalists to choose a career in journalism was the presence of other Black journalists in mainstream media profession. Seeing Black journalists on screen, ranging from Trevor McDonald and Moira Stewart to Charlene White, and reading their work, from Afua Hirsch to Darren Lewis, motivated people and gave them hope that the news media could offer them avenues for career and personal development. According to the stakeholders in this research, the important function of role models as behavioural influencers cannot be understated. Not only do they open up a world of possibility, young aspiring Black journalists felt able to connect directly with Black role models for career advice and support despite having no previous acquaintance. More crucially, Black role models were unanimously more willing to engage with and act as mentors than their white peers.
XX shared a link to the Scott Bursary scheme offering help. So, I reached out to her, and she was really helpful, with the application and even afterwards when I wasn’t successful. It’s great because you now have a contact with more people like you, we have that common ground. Going back on my experience in the newsroom, a lot of people were in their fifties and white, so it felt like they were from a completely different generation.
Recruitment and retention
When you walk into a newsroom it is like apartheid. You are instantly categorised by the colour of your skin.
Without Black journalists in news organisations, in senior and public-facing roles, the chances for better inclusion were seen to be limited. This was clear at the point of entry but was also evident in the news production process. From ideation through to production, the presence of Black journalists at all levels of seniority was considered to be integral to the functioning of the media ecosystem and providing a diverse public with accurate and important information as well as ensuring that representation is fair and equitable in news media coverage.
When I first started at the XX, I was pitching Black stories and some of them weren’t being commissioned. I think that’s because the editors couldn’t relate to them. Maybe, they felt a bit scared to cover them and, also, they didn’t know how to cover them. The editors have all the power. They’re the ones that commission. Working in a space now where I am constantly doing Black stories and I know loads about this audience, it’s a win-win. The teams are really committed. It’s fun. It’s shared experiences that you don’t have to persuade and convince someone to commission.
The above story outlines the completely different experience felt by a journalist who has worked in both predominantly white and Black media spaces. The sentiment is further confirmed below.
I’ve noticed a lot of the time, actually it is quite often, when we’re interviewing people from my community, that stuff would get chucked out which was really good. It’s like, yeah, but can we understand them? I’m just like really? We did a piece about Boris Johnson and the Tories and, we had a guy, he was great. He was speaking street language, although it wasn’t anything that the average person wouldn’t be able work out what he meant. It wasn’t anything too sort of ‘Jamaican’! I’d given it back to the guys back at the news desk and I was waiting to see the piece to see if they had put it in. Because you tell people, “You’re going to be on tonight at 6 p.m.” I watched it and nothing was in there. I just thought – are you joking? I had gone out and purposely tried to pick diverse people again and nothing.
There was a common perception that in order to enter and succeed in the industry, as one stakeholder put it, “someone needs to have your back”. While the ‘someones’ in this case were in the main senior Black journalists, there was also some comment on the role of senior white managers and journalists in promoting and upholding the work of younger Black colleagues. Many also found the role of white managers to have been invaluable in their career progression and, in some cases, there was a sense that things would have been much more challenging without their support. With so much power resting in the hands of white managers, there is plenty of evidence that supportive and curious management reaps improvements and benefits for all. However, the few Black journalists who had experience of reporting into a Black manager related significant differences to how their story pitches were received and resourced. There was a common agreement that white colleagues, peers, managers, editors were less likely to fully comprehend the struggles of Black journalists. Many interviewees reported of incidents where white colleagues’ ignorance and hostility to Black people’s lived experience can become a trauma, undermining confidence, and performance.
There are times where I think stories are really important issues, like abuses in the police or issues around race, that they’ll just be like, no, not for us. And I think one of the sorts of crutches they lean on is that it wouldn’t do well, it wouldn’t get numbers because of our readership… So I think, yeah, there are, there are different times where I don’t feel heard… There was another piece I remember pitching, which was about a contractor across these London boroughs who was double charging councils for collecting parking fines. And I remember pitching that and just not getting a response. And that’s the sort of thing you think if a white person came forward with that, you do wonder, would they get heard?
This speaks again to the significance of newsroom diversity at all levels over what might be seen as the tokenistic inclusion of Black people in the media that is often referred to as a “diversity hire”. Some of the interviewees recognised that diversity recruitment quotas were at times integral to ensuring a more diverse workforce. However, for many the term has become negatively loaded because it has been usurped by many to invalidate the talents and skills of Black journalists. This negates the effectiveness of hiring more people from minoritised groups unless steps are also taken to provide and guarantee an inclusive work culture and ecosystem. There was a call for greater transparency and accountability around recruitment processes with candidates and with prospective teams in order to avoid misconceptions which can often lead to micro- or even macroaggressions in an already competitive industry. Stakeholders also commented on the lack of job stability with an overwhelming sense that Black journalists were more likely to be given fixed term rather than permanent contracts. Although there appears no available quantitative data to back up this theory, with little feedback on how and why decisions are taken, trust becomes broken and it is possible for negative assumptions to be made.
Once you have more people and more people who are just out there being good journalists, the less likely people are going to just assume that you were there to tick some box or as part of a scheme. I do think there’s something about our industry, which is about – Are they hungry enough? Do they want it enough? Outside of race. It’s all like, how much do you want it? How far are you going to go to get this story? Because you’re competing with each other at other organisations and you’re also competing internally to get scoops, to get the front page, to get this source to you. So it becomes a very individualised, very competitive industry.
In her work, The media diversity and inclusion paradox: Experiences of black and brown journalists in mainstream British news institutions, Dr Omega Douglas argues that not only ethical but also economic reasons reinforce the presence, or lack, of journalists from ethnic minoritised communities in UK news. Douglas notes that the tendency for economic rationales to dominate decision-making in media institutions contributes to the challenges of diversity and inclusion. This finding is confirmed by the data collected for this report. The competitive nature of the media industry and limited number of opportunities for promotion not only means that opportunities are limited for journalists but also encourages what might be described as a form of race-related resentment from white peers and colleagues towards those who are able to move forward in their careers.
I remember when I was in my 20s and a producer who went for my job and didn’t get it said to me ‘ Oh so you are replacing XX’ who was another Black presenter. I kind of got what he meant and I didn’t really challenge him but what he essentially meant was that they had brought in another Black person to replace a Black person because he was white and didn’t get the job. That hurt because rather than thinking I got here for my talent and being better than him I got here because I am Black.
I would hear younger white journalists in informal settings saying things like, ‘Did you hear that so-and-so has got that job? I mean, obviously it’s because, you know, we’ve got a diversity problem and I think that’s great. But that’s clearly why they got the job over me.’ They would frame it as that they are really supportive of these efforts, ‘Yeah, that, that’s definitely why that person got that job or that person’s being hired’ and not realise that that’s racist and rude and doing it in this kind of well-meaning way.
When covering stories like the death of Jamal Edwards, there was often talk of whether it was safe to send a team to the vigil. This event was never going to be violent or dangerous but rhetoric like this shines a light on the simmering racism still existing in newsrooms today.
Clearly, the competitive nature of the industry affects all journalists. However, the commodification of diversity has made racial diversity appear superficial and tokenistic. This means that those employed as journalists, who represent that ‘diversity’, not only have a more challenging time accessing the industry, but also experience an additional set of challenges once they are in the industry where their presence is viewed by some colleagues as tokenistic, rather than based on merit. Douglas argues that the focus on economic rationalities fuels resentment as presence can then be linked to box-ticking and audience ratings, rather than professionalism.
For Black and other minority journalists, too often, but particularly when economic rationalities are centred, visible markers of your identity are attached to how you’re valued and thus positioned in the industry.
The practice of Othering
These experiences speak to what critical race theorists see as the self-interest of racism, and how racism, in language and practices, has become ingrained in the thought patterns of many media practitioners as a result of structural conditions. Racism has become a part of the daily lives and routines of newsrooms – and subconscious choices are being made which fuel racism. Black journalists all spoke of being defined by racist tropes and negative stereotypes based on their cultural and visual identity. More often than not this resulted in a positioning of Black journalists as less qualified or skilled to perform their roles in comparison their white peers.
In the newsroom I’d hear stuff like, ‘Oh, you’re from XX. Why haven’t you been shot yet?’ That kind, that kind of thing. You know, people would be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to XX. Do I need security knowing that I’m from that place’… just not taking me seriously or not thinking that I can do the work or just literally not giving me anything to do because it wasn’t about how good I was. It was about my aesthetic.
One journalist described the situation as one where “people feel emboldened enough to use language that is inadvertently racist”. Another discussed “ingrained perceptions of my intelligence” based on race. These quotations show how Black journalists are continually judged, marginalised, or even excluded from their colleagues, from opportunities and from covering the topics and stories they feel are important, whether consciously or unconsciously by their white colleagues and white senior management. Many spoke of instances where they had pitched ideas for stories which had been rejected by their teams and seniors for being “unnewsworthy” or “irrelevant”.
Although the situation has changed in two years since BLM and George Floyd, there are still key issues with diversity. Numbers and representation of Black people have increased but as one person put it, “We now have three people instead of just one in a newsroom of over 100 people”. One of the key issues with diversity strategies is their cyclical nature, whereby a shocking or large-scale event will force those in positions of power to commit to change. However, that commitment is often short-lived, a point confirmed by the Black journalists interviewed.
There was also a common perception that numbers of Black people had increased mainly in roles that were considered to be “behind the scenes” i.e., in the case of broadcast media, researchers or associate producers rather than presenters. Most spoke about feelings of imposter syndrome as a result of race but also, for many, this was also about class. It should also be noted that, although media organisations were seen to be championing different diversity schemes, it was a commonly held belief that many of these are not really working as they do little to address the structural issues in the industry or indeed society at large.
The news media industry was seen by the Black journalists who were interviewed to comprise mainly of white Oxbridge graduates, mainly men, with little in common with many Black journalists. Working-class Black journalists interviewed for this study were all concerned that without mechanisms to address class structures in the media industry there would be little improvement in conditions for marginalised Black groups. Even those journalists who did not identify as working class expressed their awareness of the place of privilege that socio-economic status and education can provide. This raises a question around whether diversity opportunities should include an intersectional consideration of people from minority backgrounds in order to genuinely address equality of opportunity in entering the industry.
If we are going to have a conversation about diversity and we ignore class then we might as well not have the conversation at all.
If you have a Black middle-class person coming into a newsroom who is really interested in Black middle-class stories, which I have seen, then they’re going to still be missing that big swathe of the most marginalised voices in their coverage.
Although class was the most dominant factor in determining different levels of experience, gender also played a role for many Black women journalists. All of the Black women interviewed recalled incidents of being confused with other Black women colleagues, some repeatedly and on numerous occasions.
I remember there was one day I cried my eyes out because I was mistaken for three Black women in one day. That was something I never expected to happen. First time I was like, okay, then second time – and it happened to be that it was all in one day – and then the third time I just burst into tears and just walked out of the office. I can’t imagine that happening to another white journalist.
I’ve been confused with a colleague who is Black Asian and looks nothing like me. Even my tutor at the NCTJ confused me with another colleague who was Ethiopian so looks nothing me.
For the first year of being there, people confused me for the trainee. They would literally call me (her name) every time. They’d be like, when they saw her, ‘Oh, I’ve seen you on the telly. Congratulations.’ We look nothing alike. We are not the same skin tone. We’ve not got the same hair… We literally look nothing alike. And in the first year they confused me with her, there was just no care in thinking that I was a person or different from anyone else. And that really affected how people looked at me, because I was a journalist but they treated me like I was the trainee. And they still do. They still do.
These experiences which are classified as racial microaggressions are commonplace amongst Black journalists. A microaggression is defined by Yomi Adegoke, in Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, as a statement, action, or incident that is an “instance of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group”, which communicates aggressive negative racial messages and suppositions. They can even be positioned as well-meaning – from “Your parents must be so proud”, or “Are you here on work experience” to “You don’t sound Black”’ and “Is English your first language?”. These are all examples of common microaggressions which were recalled by the stakeholders interviewed.
It needs to be recognised that such racist microaggressions are rooted in racist attitudes which have long been acceptable social norms within British society. Underpinning these attitudes are legislation and institutions which continue to privilege white people within British society, particularly those from the middle and upper classes.
Black stories versus Black teams
I think it can be really difficult to do Black stories well and do them justice because a lot of Black stories are very nuanced. So, when we have had backing from, let’s say, the owners or from the government, and it’s about the government trying to target certain communities like a Black community or something in a positive way or even in a negative way – because they’ve said Black people are more likely to have diabetes or something like that or how Black people were really hit hard by COVID during the pandemic – then those stories will be commissioned and they’ll be done.
I think that pitching stories that are specifically Black stories is a real thought process for me. You think about it, you go through two or three possible answers before you can get it. And you try to have answered all of those questions that might come up before you pitch. The thing is, when you pitch those stories, you have to be the complete expert. You can’t just start a story in the newsroom and hope that it gets produced.
From very early on I realised that as a young Black mixed race woman I was going to be asked to write and concentrate my work around specific areas that I didn’t actually necessarily have any expertise in.
The pigeonholing of Black journalists becomes further complicated when it comes to coverage of race or what are considered to be Black stories. Black journalists, like any journalist, want to be journalists and be able to report on any issue, topic, place or group that they are interested in. This may include reporting on race-related issues, but it also may not. When Black journalists want to report on race-related issues, these should not be viewed as niche but as universal issues that affect all of society in different ways. It is also important that people with lived experience of any issue or aspect of identity where there is a history of misreporting are the best placed to report on stories where those issues are central. Lived experience and understanding that informs reporting will ultimately contribute to less misrepresentation in the media. Equally, being equipped to report on those issues should not exclude you from reporting on other topics.
On the other hand, many spoke to the problematic nature of being chosen to cover certain topics and events. Black journalists noted being called upon by white editors to cover race-related issues and events that are deemed to have news value, based on the white editor’s notion of the kind of story featuring Black people which has news value. This is often revealing of the racist assumptions of those editors rather than the reality on the ground. One journalist recalled being asked to work with a team of white colleagues on a story about Notting Hill Carnival. It eventually transpired that the story involved focusing on security aspects related to the Carnival and the journalist felt that what they wanted was “my face to justify what was essentially a hit job on Carnival”. Others discussed being only asked to cover news from areas associated with Black communities, but always alongside a white team, producer, or editor. The dichotomy between the lack of opportunities and wanting to cover relevant stories sees these silos remain.
When I got to an assistant producer role, they would only give me the jobs about Black people. It was like, ‘Oh, you can only be an assistant producer on Black jobs. ‘ You know what though I wanted to do it. I wanted to be an assistant producer on this piece that they were doing. Then they were like, ‘Oh, you’re not good enough to self-shoot that. You’re not good enough to do that. You’re not ready.’ Then they did this another piece and again, ‘Oh, you’re not ready for that.’ The people that they would choose would be posh white girls to do the jobs. But then, ‘Oh, I’m doing something on Windrush. Oh, yeah, that’s you.’ Oh, I’m doing something on Black history or Black topics. You can be in control. You can do everything.’
Once again, the issue comes down to the lack of diverse representation across newsrooms at all levels. A more diverse and inclusive environment would mean that more content would be covered, edited and produced by Black-led teams and would be more likely to be inclusive and representative of Black people in the UK. This issue also speaks to the hierarchy of news and how stories are privileged over others. As noted previously, many Black journalists spoke about pitching their own stories only for them to be rejected for reasons which were not clear. Stories of sources being cut out of pieces were also commonplace.
One area which was of particular concern for many Black journalists was the newsroom approach to risk assessments and security when it came to covering news from predominantly Black areas. There appears to be an overriding perception amongst white editors and producers that high-level security is required when entering areas which are predominantly Black, whatever the story. This perpetuates racist stereotypes of violence which are often propagated in relation to Black people. It is also further marginalizing Black employees in their team and workplace. ‘Black stories’ refers to those stories told by Black people and which centre Black people, lives, culture and identity.
These conditions are in stark contrast to the feedback from journalists working in Black-led teams and with Black editors and managers. Stories were more likely to be commissioned without the need for extensive justification. Voices were more likely to be heard from diverse sources. According to Black journalists interviewed, the environment felt more inclusive and supportive. In addition, public interest content was being created that serves a wider audience. Many of the journalists spoke of the positive feedback received from audiences from different racial and ethnic backgrounds in this regard. While Black-led teams are not the only solution to improving and increasing the production of public interest content, nor does having a Black manager always guarantee that stories will be selected, there was a clear difference in approach in many cases where teams were Black-led.
There was a unanimously positive response to the creation of roles such as community affairs and race correspondents at a number of media organisations, including the Guardian, the Independent and ITN. These roles were seen as integral to ensuring that the issues of structural racism in society are critically analysed for audiences. Creating and sustaining specialised roles which cover race issues could be more sustainable, and more enabling, in the eyes of the stakeholders. In some cases, there was a concern that such positions might have closed following the departure of particular employees. In others, the issue of the mental health impact on those covering trauma associated with race and racism was also a concern. Aamna Mohdin, a community affairs correspondent at The Guardian, eloquently talked about her role, being pigeon-holed and the importance of reporting on race, saying,
I thought I was scared of being pigeonholed when I was 21. But my fears then came from the racist notion that the stories of people of colour mattered less than our white counterparts … By covering community affair stories, I’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse on the issues driving the national agenda. My beat largely focuses on the impact of Westminster policies on the most marginalised communities, but sometimes my stories bring me to the heart of government. When Samuel Kasumu, No 10’s former race adviser, resigned, I got the exclusive interview. It was an important one, with Kasumu warning of another Stephen Lawrence-style tragedy if members of the government continue to inflame the culture wars gripping parts of the nation.
But it’s the more mundane, everyday stories that I find myself most proud of … I saw that the stories told of ethnic minorities were ones of endless pain and suffering. But we know our lives have always been about much more than that. It’s about balance. So reporting on racial inequality has to go hand in hand with more joyful things, whether that’s writing about the viral Somali TikTok song dominating streaming platforms or people’s deep attachment to the Notting Hill carnival.
I came in, I was like, ‘I’m at the XX and I’m just going to accept the fact that I should be grateful to be here. I should be grateful to have a job here. There aren’t many other options.’
I never said to anyone, ‘You have just given this to me because I’m the Black guy.’ Because I wanted the job, man. As a young greenhorn, to get an opportunity to work in the most prestigious newsroom in the country with a global reputation, you do anything, don’t you?
I always have a realisation that people are speaking to me differently or conversations are happening when I am not around because I am Black.
As noted earlier in this report, Black journalists are often silenced by the lack of opportunities made available to them and general conditions in the newsroom. What this has created is a sense of fear amongst Black journalists, with many frightened of speaking out, worried about harassment and intimidation, and ultimately scared of losing their jobs.
In their book, Access All Areas, Lenny Henry writes about the concern that Marcus Ryder felt when speaking in front of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee about a proposal to increase ethnic diversity in the television industry. The reason that Ryder was ‘scared’, outlined in the chapter of the same name, was down to his employment at the BBC at the time and concern for a reaction from his senior management if he was seen to be criticising existing policy and diversity schemes.
It is scary for any of us to speak uncomfortable truth to our bosses. For people from diverse backgrounds – women, disabled people, Black and Asian people – it is particularly difficult. Study after study has shown that women and people of colour pay a huge price for promoting diversity.
This experience and sentiment was echoed by all of the stakeholders interviewed. Everyone discussed what many referred to as “code-switching” to not only fit in but also as a survival technique to protect themselves from the feelings of anxiety and isolation that they felt as a result of being Black in predominantly white spaces.
I and many people I know have code-switched for different reasons: surviving, thriving and sometimes creating a comfortable environment for others. I realised that I developed this really posh phone voice and that’s a kind of code-switching basically. The newsroom was not a place where it felt like I could be myself. It felt like I was trying to be someone else.
Many of the journalists interviewed spoke of adapting their behaviour and personalities in order to conform to the dominant norms. One example was of a young Black woman journalist who felt obliged to silence herself after accusations from colleagues that she was aggressive and “just did not fit into the team” when she pointed out unfair or biased treatment. For many this was contrasted with their white peers who felt able and unthreatened when speaking out. This type of Othering, positioning people as not belonging to the group, is common in societies where systemic issues of race are present.
I was the arsehole for standing up for myself. I was the arsehole, and I was the one who had to apologise to somebody who was really horrible and entitled because I’m a Black woman, so I’m seeing as threatening.
I feel like I am a shadow of myself in the newsroom. I don’t show my personality. I am anxious about how I am perceived whether as loud or rowdy. No one has said that but I come into the newsroom and have that in my mind as most Black people do.
Someone I actually went to college with…ended up coming to our department. He was in our meetings and also pitching and trying to get involved. And it was interesting because we came from the same college, he didn’t also have a background in journalism. It was interesting seeing us two coming from similar backgrounds but how different the support we’re given was. He was an Irish white man.
Many commented on the number of Black colleagues who chose to leave because of the lack of support they received from their colleagues and the racist conditions underpinning their experiences in the newsroom. Although many commented on workplace support schemes, there were few that stood out as effective at dealing with the mental health impact and trauma that Black journalists are facing. Media organisations that did offer counselling and support services were more likely to use white counsellors which is inconsistent with the needs of many Black journalists in this regard. One organisation, Black Minds Matter, was lauded for its outstanding work connecting Black people with professional Black therapists to support their mental health.
Black journalists are becoming frustrated with being asked to action or support diversity schemes when their white colleagues are not expected to take on additional work outside of their job remit. They feel that this has an impact on their already restricted chances for success as they have less time to focus on career progression. There is a sense that the work that individuals are doing is being co-opted so that media organisations appear to be championing diversity.
At the same time, conventional approaches which are implemented under the umbrella “diversity and inclusion”, which mainly focus on achieving entry-level targets, are not working and rarely take into consideration the day-to-day experiences of Black journalists in newsrooms. In the absence of truly representative and inclusive options for support at an institutional level, Black journalists are turning to informal groups and networks of support. In many cases, unofficial Black mentors provide help and advice. Many also spoke of WhatsApp groups which had been created as means of sharing experiences and messages of support amongst Black colleagues.
The organisation, We are Black Journos, a community platform celebrating and connecting Black journalists and those aspiring to work in journalism, was also mentioned by many for its excellent work in promoting the work and experiences of Black journalists across the media industry. For all of those interviewed, they found that their most important allies were their Black colleagues. For the journalist who was previously quoted as having been mistaken for 3 other Black women in one day, this was clearly the case.
XX, the presenter, he is a Black guy. He’s in a meeting and he literally goes, ‘Can we just go back to the whole confusing XX for XX thing at this point?’ After that meeting, I cried. I actually cried because I’d never had somebody who had had my back like that in the industry.
It is worth noting that there were mixed feelings about the lack of collegiality amongst journalists of colour. Some felt supported by networks for journalists of colour. Others felt that the competitive nature of the industry, and lack of practical sustainable support for more grassroots solutions to inclusion, often prevent these networks from being effective. One journalist pointed out that it was hard to discuss issues around recruitment and promotion options in such groups when the limited options for and pigeon-holing of Black journalists meant they were often competing for the same roles.
 Critical Race Theory is an important and useful framework which examines how structural and institutional racism is entrenching patterns of behaviour that further disadvantage people based on their racial identity. Critical race theorists mostly agree on the following abridged common assumptions: firstly, that racism is a common everyday occurrence in the lives of people of colour; secondly, that because racism serve the interests of many sections of society, there is often little motivation to deal with it; third, race is a social construct; fourth, intersectionality is key; fifth, the importance of story-telling and counterstorytelling by people of colour. This fifth component is often a particularly important motive for Black journalists, and will be looked at in more detail further into the report. See Delgado, R., Stefancic, J., & HARRIS, A. (2012). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Second Edition. NYU Press.
 The report explains its use of the classification of non-white as follows. ‘We… deploy a simple and reductionist, but hopefully still illuminating and relevant, binary, and code each top editor as white or non-white. Non-white is in no way meant to suggest a negative identity, an identity in itself, or an homogeneous group, given the great diversity and complexity of people’s identities, but it provides a way to categorise otherwise very different people who come from institutionally dominated ethnic and racial groups. It helps us point to a dimension of inequality in representation at a macro level.
 Eddo-Lodge, Reni (2017). Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Bloomsbury: London. pg 83.
 Douglas, Omega (2022). Interview with author.
 Unfortunately, there is no data available to verify this claim.
 Adegoke, Yomi and Uviebinené, Elizabeth (2018). Slay in Your Lane. Fourth Estate: London.
 Black stories’ refers to those stories told by Black people and which centre Black people, lives, culture and identity.
 Henry, Lenny and Ryder, Marcus (2021). Access All Areas: The Diversity Manifesto for TV and Beyond. Faber and Faber:
London. Pg. 69.
Author: Dr Aida Al-Kaisy | Publication design: Mary Schrider | Cover image © RyanJLane/iStock