Congratulations! You have been nominated for a journalism award – but only if you can afford the table

by Jessica Evans, Freelance journalist

Let’s talk about the problem with diversity in journalism awards.

​A few years ago, I was nominated for an award in journalism. Which was very exciting, for about five minutes.

After colleagues had sweetly nominated me without me knowing, months later, I received an email from the particular awards, stating I had made the shortlist. I couldn’t stop smiling as my fingers frantically shared the news in the family WhatsApp group.

All my hard work through adversity and classism in London, as a scouser who stuck out like a sore thumb, had paid off in this small, but overwhelming touching way. I felt joy bolt through my body.

Flicking back to the email and turning my attention towards the small print, I scrolled through to see if there were any steps I needed to take to confirm my nomination.

Reading the details underneath the huge banner of congratulations, my smile soon started to drop, and I felt a wave of confusion as I read the next few sentences.

The email stated that £450 per seat must be paid in order to secure a table, and more importantly, secure my nomination. 

​I returned to the family Whatsapp group, explaining the situation. As I was on a very junior wage living in London, and still recovering from unpaid internships, I wasn’t going to be able to afford to stay as a nomination unless I didn’t eat for the coming months.

My parents, forever generous and encouraging, replied back insisting they would pay for my seat. At this juncture, it’s important to note that they didn’t have loads of money to do so, they simply sacrificed other things and very kindly, put me first and invested in me.

Returning back to work in the morning, it was then I learnt that the magazine I worked at, had to pay for seats too at my table. There were 12 seats on the table to fill, including mine. After talking to my editor, she explained this was something they just didn’t have the budget to do at that time.

I emailed the awards organisation explaining the situation that the publication I worked for couldn’t pay for the other journalists’ seats on the table, but that I could pay for mine. I expressed that I’d absolutely love to know a way how I could still remain a nominee on the shortlist and attend the awards, regardless of being able to pay for an entire table. However, there was no maneuver on it.

They only suggested that I could pay for half the table, and my publication could pay for the other half. My name was swiftly replaced with somebody else’s a couple of days that followed.

The awards’ marketing and ethos preached about how they operated ethically and practiced diversity, but in the same breath, they expected every nominee and their publications to be in a position to pay a huge sum of money to stay in the running.

When I was growing up, I fell in love with magazines. From the beautiful tangible product they are, to the power of the written word. However, the glossy women’s magazines I consumed each month were packed with one particular type of voice. A middle-class woman, usually from London.

As my voice never felt represented in many of these outlets, as a teenager, I wondered: do all women grow up to be middle-class women working in London? Is that just simply what happens when we hit our 20s? Or, if this wasn’t the case, where are all the other women hiding? Or if they weren’t hiding, why couldn’t they get their voice heard? Why was the industry of journalism locking them out?

I read a mix of Britain’s bestselling monthly magazines and the majority of the time, there weren’t women I could really relate to. Their middle class problems were my aspirations and their celebrations were things I couldn’t even fathom. When I read female columnists and first-person features from women, they weren’t writing out life from a perspective I recognised – a working class perspective – they were writing a life out from an upper-middle class view. I couldn’t connect and desperately wanted to hear a working-class voice when I was growing up.

I had finally become a working-class voice in the media, where I still hardly ever came across fellow northern working-class women in magazine offices, let alone, working-class scousers, and now, I was having a potential award taken away from me, because I didn’t have the money to fund it.

I found myself being the woman on the outside who was getting locked out too. As my eyes receptively ran through the replaced name on the shortlist, I wondered how many other working-class women who couldn’t afford to take part had also got their name knocked off these lists.

This isn’t just a problem in journalism, but a widespread issue throughout media. Instead, of awards making profit from nominees and attendees, let’s start doing things differently. Then, feel free, to call your awards diverse and inclusive.

Jessica Evans is a freelance journalist, editor and consultant. She has previously written for Stylist, The Independent, Refinery29, Elle, Red, VICE, BBC Three, The Telegraph, The Pool and Cosmopolitan. She is also the Founder of @thefreelancesessions. Jessica is currently creating a magazine to help working class women break into journalism.

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