Originally published at Warwick Knowledge Centre.
Journalism is a notoriously competitive industry, where, sad to say, factors such as gender, race, and class can still be a barrier to entry. A panel at The Student Journals’ recent ‘Breaking Into Journalism’ conference addressed how people can break through journalism’s glass ceiling and gain access to the industry.
The all-woman panel was chosen to address the three main areas of difficulty mentioned above. Channel 4 reporter Fatima Manji, and Dawn Foster, of Guardian’s Comment is Free, shared the conference sofa in a discussion chaired by The Student Journals’ Deputy Editor Anishka Sharma. Dawn was quick to highlight the problem of unpaid internships.
“Most students can’t afford a six-month unpaid internship,” she said. “A lot of people from more affluent backgrounds can break through where those less fortunate can’t.”
Both speakers agreed that class is a huge barrier, highlighting the difference this makes to the dynamics of newsrooms, and the way that news is reported.
There are a lot of people in journalism who have never met anybody who’s been on benefits for a long time. It can be alienating to be an outsider in the newsroom
“There are a lot of people in journalism who have never met anybody who’s been on benefits for a long time. It can be alienating to be an outsider in the newsroom,” Dawn said.
Her advice is to find a mentor, ideally from a similar background to your own, who can offer advice and support.
“And when you’ve been mentored, why not become a mentor yourself?” she asked. “That will help you to actually change things.” Fatima agreed: “You will all have your own individual problems, but remember that you’re not alone,” she said. “There are some things you can control and some things you can’t.”
Besides class, Fatima identified gender as a big factor in journalism. “Male voices are often the ones that get heard,” she said. But, she added, the discrimination is not always as clear-cut or obvious as it once was. “A lot of the discrimination is very subtle now – it’s the fact you’ll get passed over for a story, passed over for a promotion.” Those in more privileged positions should try to be more conscious of that – “try and talk to people different to yourself,” Fatima added.
Dawn’s advice for breaking into specific areas of journalism is, “if you want somebody’s job, email them and ask how they got it – there are few things journalists like more than talking about themselves”.
Write about what interests you but keep pushing yourself. Hone in on your specialism, rebrand the issue
Both Fatima and Dawn were keen advocates of specialisation as a means of making a name for yourself: “Write about what interests you but keep pushing yourself. Hone in on your specialism, rebrand the issue,” said Fatima, adding (despite being a general reporter herself), “I think specialisms are the way forward”. Nevertheless, Dawn advised, “don’t be afraid to say no to a story”. It’s important to push your boundaries and write what you find hard, the panel agreed.
“To counter the ‘nice little girl’ stereotype, [women should] try to pitch something that breaks out of your own mould,” Fatima suggested. “Women can be successful, but when it comes to stories about the economy, foreign affairs, politics and so on, it’s men who dominate.”
Perhaps fittingly, the final question from the audience Q&A came from a self-described “white, male, middle-class kid” asking “How can we not be scumbags?”
“Be self-aware,” Dawn said, underlining the final, crucial piece of advice I took away from the session. “There are some very nasty people in this industry,” Fatima said. “Be assertive , but not nasty, and learn diplomacy.”
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