Do I belong in the journalism industry?

by Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou, FREELANCE JOURNALIST

My alarm goes off at 8am, but instead of hitting snooze like I usually do, I get up eagerly in anticipation.

It’s the first day of my two-week long internship with one of the most prestigious news organisations in the country.

I arrive 20 minutes early, wanting to make a good impression. My checklist is complete—read the news on your commute, think of a good story if they need you to pitch, bring a fresh notebook and pens—and I sit in the foyer, waiting to be taken up to the newsroom.

I’m excited and I’m nervous, but mostly I’m grateful that I even have the opportunity to be here. I am prepared, I look the part and I am ready to be a ‘proper’ journalist—even if not for a long period of time.

When I am taken by a woman up to the spacious newsroom on the fifth floor, I am met by a sea of faces, glued to their computer screens, and the sound of keyboards ferociously tapping away.

They are focused, and as I scan for a friendly face, I cannot help but notice the obvious: no one looks like me. There are hardly any women and definitely no black people.

You’ll never truly appreciate the importance of representation until you need it yourself. I believed in my abilities as a student journalist back then, and still do now I am working full-time and freelancing but being in a room full of Oxford/Cambridge educated, and privileged, individuals is more than enough to make you second guess yourself at times.

During this internship, and another internship with a well-known media platform, I was either completely ignored or partially ignored by the other journalists in the room and the editors, who were supposed to have work for me to do.

I felt uncomfortable and useless and then started to question whether I even belonged in such a middle-class, snotty industry full of people who could never relate to my life experiences or the content I enjoy writing about—race, gender and culture.

It’s natural to feel out of place when you’re the only black person in the newsroom, which happens often as black journalists only make up 0.2% of the industry, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2015).

We’re a small minority, but that doesn’t mean we’re an unnecessary voice.

It wasn’t until I began freelance writing for the likes of media platform Black Ballad UK that I understood just how important my voice is. I’ve written articles for them about dating as a socially conscious black woman, and the black community constantly giving out ‘race’ passes, as well as content that doesn’t discuss race.

It is content that has received supportive and encouraging feedback from friends, family and strangers, and it is content that is needed. This feedback has given me the confidence to pitch to the likes of The Independent, and The Guardian and it has even led to a Metro journalist wanting to commission me because of the content I have written for Black Ballad.

My words and contributions to the journalism industry are unique, in the way that no one can tell my own stories for me. Once you realise this too, entering newsrooms and spaces that you don’t feel represented in becomes easier.

We may have to speak up to be heard but it’s an essential push to challenge the lack of diversity within the industry. Instead of feeling discouraged in these situations, see it as an opportunity to offer a perspective that no one else in the room will have.

Sometimes I still struggle with feeling like I don’t belong, but I definitely do belong in this industry and so do you.

Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou is currently a freelance journalist. After graduating from Sheffield University in 2017 she began her career journey working in the B2B industry, but has steered towards writing for lifestyle and cultural platforms such as Black Ballad, Boiler Room and The Independent (Voices). She is particularly passionate when writing about and discussing race, culture, gender and relationships.

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