Speaking at the PressPad launch at the end of last month was a special evening for me. The event was held in the same building I took my first steps as a journalist after joining The Sunday Times through a diversity programme which had aims not too dissimilar to PressPad.
I was still a brace-faced sixth former who knew next to nothing about newspapers when I helped launch News UK’s News Academy programme in 2014. In the days, weeks and years afterwards, it came as a slight shock that I was being propelled into an industry full of people that didn’t look or sound like me.
Since then, alongside working towards my dream job as a reporter at The Sunday Times, I’ve enjoyed trying to quite literally add a dash of colour to the newsroom through the stories I pitch and the people I write about. I also spend a lot of time speaking about the importance of a media industry that represents the people it serves.
So chairing a discussion with two brilliant journalists; Claudia-Liza Armah of Channel 5 and James Ball of the Bureau of Investigative Journalists was a pleasure. Not only because it felt like a fun chat with two friends with similar experiences to me, but because it was a chance for me to learn as a young journalist from a non-conventional background just what it’ll take to succeed. These are my top three takeaways from the evening.
1. “Northsplaining” is real
We’d heard of mansplaining, but up until the launch event, I’m not sure many people from inside the M25 who were in the room had heard of “Northsplaining.”
James Ball was on hand to give us a run through of his experiences in the newsroom as a Yorkshireman, which included excruciating examples of southern colleagues failing to understand important issues regarding the north of England while lecturing him on those very same topics.
Lots of newsrooms are still very London-centric in a way lots of us (myself included sometimes) overlook. A more balanced and representative media needs experiences from right across the country, not just from certain places.
2. Things can be bloody hard
Both James and Claudia spoke movingly about how they’ve had to tough it out at points while waiting on their breakthroughs.
For people from working class backgrounds, that is a widespread truth. You’re often not just trying to impress and get on a foot on the ladder while on placements and internships, in some cases you’re also battling to survive too.
Claudia talked about how she spent six months working for free while she tried to get a foothold in television as her husband supported her, while James explained how he gave up his master’s degree to get £2,000 back for rent while living on payday loans to cover his bills. At one point he even slept rough.
Though I’ve never had it quite as hard, those were strong reminders the playing field isn’t equal for everyone and we should be having discussions about how to address that.
3. The unconventional route works
Degree, Masters/ NCTJ, local journalism, then a national outlet. The ‘traditional’ route into journalism has existed for quite a while now. I’ve been told since 17 it was what I’d have to do and I think countless others can say the same.
What James and Claudia prove however, is that it shouldn’t be that simple and that unexpected diversions can prove helpful in the long-run. James said that a stint at the Grocer, a British magazine devoted to grocery sales helped him brush up on his award-winning data journalism skills, while Claudia jumped into journalism after becoming a mum at 23, using hours and hours spent watching television at home to help hone her understanding of what good, entertaining content looked like.
Though both also have formal journalism qualifications too, a big part of what helped them stand out was avoiding the linear route. We are not all made in a factory, our quirky life experiences are what will help a lot of us stand out.
Shingi Mararike helped launch News UK’s diversity scheme, the News Academy at the age of 17. Following internships on multiple desks at the Sunday Times he was hired as the paper’s first ever apprentice in 2017. A news reporter since 2018, he has had front page stories in both the English and Scottish editions of the paper. His story about children using corrosive fluid as a weapon kickstarted the paper’s “Acid Attack Britain” campaign, while he has also written a number of news pieces and features on race, social mobility and the serious youth violence.