In the face of adversity and all-white newsrooms, why am I still pursuing journalism?
Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou is a content executive and part-time freelance journalist with bylines in Black Ballad, Cosmopolitan, Independent Voices and more. But she has also had her doubts about the industry, causing her to lose faith at the beginning of her budding career. She explains why she is using her negative experiences to fuel change.
Admittedly, I have lost faith in the journalism industry, the industry I work in, countless times. Statistics, my own personal experiences, the experiences of other journalists within my community and the behaviour of mainstream media have all contributed to this loss of faith.
And, who can blame me? I am a black British woman who has been a journalist for a few years, and I make up a very small minority of the industry, 0.2% in fact. I’ve worked hard to get where I am but each day, I am reminded I have a very long way to go. My foot is in the door, but at times I have felt like pulling it away.
Being five out of a hundred students in my university years wasn’t the first thing to discourage me from journalism, nor was it the time when my broadcast lecturer patronised me during our intense TV Newsday assignment.
Before I came face-to-face with the crippling nepotism that fuels this industry, I had left university with a few internships up my sleeve and blinding optimism. I secured my first role in business-to-business journalism (not my first choice, but beggars can’t be choosers) and decided to develop what skills I could alongside my peers.
One day, the editor of a popular, political British magazine came to talk to us graduate journalists about the industry and offer his advice. The one thing that stuck with me to this day was his nepotism story. He admitted that a friend of his had asked him to give his son an interview for a role at the magazine and he accepted.
Bear in mind, the son had absolutely no passion or desire to be a journalist or any experience, the editor said. Neither did he have to spend weeks working on a hard-hitting application, just for it to be overlooked. No, his dad just knew the right person.
The editor didn’t give his friend’s son the job, but only because he said the son didn’t display much journalism knowledge (well, duh?). I had to question, if he had basic knowledge or if the editor was desperate to hire that day, would the son have gotten the job?
I looked around at my peers after the editor finished his story and no one else seemed to bat an eyelid. That was the first time my heart sunk. As someone who had sent hundreds of CVs and cover letters to media organisations, with the right qualifications, experience and skills but to no avail, I was shocked.
Ninety-four percent of journalists in the UK are white and with the industry being all about connections and who you know, it’s no surprise that diversity is a serious issue.
Fast forward to a few years later and my main concern is the mainstream media’s clear bias. Last weekend, London was plagued with fascists who had travelled to the city in their hundreds to ‘protect’ the statues of war criminals and racists. This was meant to counter the Black Lives Matter protest that had planned to take part that weekend, and was subsequently cancelled due to this threat.
As a result, these fascists not only clashed with the police but attacked them and displayed severe violence and aggression. I paid close attention to the mainstream media, wondering what narrative and angle they would push.
Personally, the coverage was weak, inaccurate and the language used sugar-coated the situation. The media referred to the fascists as ‘counter-protesters’ (sidenote: how can you counter-protest black lives?), described them punching and attacking police officers as ‘scuffles’ and claimed that they had clashed with Black Lives Matter protestors over footage which saw them clashing with the police.
Clearly, the industry isn’t an easy one to navigate as a black journalist, especially right now. My solidarity goes out to every black journalist who has had to endure working throughout this current period.
So, after all these years, I have asked myself: Why am I still pursuing journalism?
The odds are against me in so many ways but the simple answer to my question is, there’s genuinely nothing else I would rather do. Journalism is my dream and has been since I was a teenager. I can’t give that up in the face of adversity and that is one thing black journalists should take from this.
We cannot make a difference if we quit and if we cower within these spaces. I know it’s hard and I don’t think my faith in the industry will ever truly be restored but determination has replaced that loss of faith and I will use it to push towards my goals.
I don’t want to remain a tiny statistic in such an influential and powerful industry and I hope any aspiring black journalists, as well as current black journalists who feel like me, understand that change cannot come unless we keep trying and do everything we can to support, advise and uplift one another.
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Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou is an ambassador for PressPad