Why getting your foot in the door isn’t enough anymore

BY JASMINE LEE-ZOGBESSOU, FREELANCE JOURNALIST

Securing my first role as a journalist just six months after graduation was a huge ‘foot in the door’ moment for me.

I began writing business-to-business (B2B) content, predominantly for the foodservice industry, but also dabbled in finance, entertainment and tech-led stories during my role. Yet something was missing.

This type of content opened me up to a previously unfamiliar world, giving me valuable insight into niche topics, however I knew it wasn’t content that I could directly relate to on a personal level. That’s when I started to consider taking freelance journalism more seriously.

I was a novice when it came to the world of freelancing, having tried and failed to pitch successful story ideas for my favourite publications for a long while.

It took ages to develop myself in the world of freelance, and although I still have a long way to go, I finally feel more confident when pitching ideas and curating personal content.

One day, an editor from a mainstream publication wanted to commission me. I was told to come up with a few ideas to fit a theme they had come up with for a new series of content.

One of the two ideas I suggested centred around my experiences from the perspective of a Black British woman of both African and Caribbean heritage, yet the editor believed that my idea and experiences were applicable to all demographics, not just mine.

Maybe so, but looking back, the main issue I have with this feedback is, how would this person know what is and what isn’t unique to the Black British community if they aren’t a part of the community themselves?

Many ethnic groups have similarities, however as a Black British woman I have been brought up with differing cultures, traditions, norms and beliefs to every other racial group.

Therefore, even if my community faces a similar issue to another community, the way it’s dealt with, addressed or manoeuvred will not be the same due to these cultural differences.

In the end, I came up with a different idea and received edits and feedback several days later.

To my surprise, my article was completely unrecognisable. Cultural references had been altered, the language and tone altered, sentences had been skewed, and the piece altogether read as if I was attempting to divide my dual heritage.

This article ended up getting scrapped because ‘it wasn’t working’.

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On another occasion, I referenced a viral vine created by a Nigerian actor and vlogger in the first draft of an article. Although it is a well-known vine, in my community at least, I hyperlinked to the vine, knowing that the commissioning editor I was sending my article to might not understand its origin.

When I received edits for the draft, the editor just didn’t understand the vine reference and I found myself having to explain that it didn’t have a hidden meaning, it’s just a funny vine. But they just couldn’t ‘get’ it.

These experiences have taught me that getting through the door is all well and good but what we truly need is more ethnic minorities in senior roles as editors, managing directors and so much more.

Representation and relatability are key. And you can’t have either if the people in senior positions, commissioning your work and providing feedback, don’t understand your cultural experiences.
Jasmine Lee-Zogbessou
Freelance Journalist

If you don’t have representation in the senior levels of management it then becomes difficult to decipher between the valuable feedback that could actually enhance your writing and the feedback that misses the point due to a lack of cultural understanding.

I’m happy that my foot is in the door, but we need to do so much more to ensure that we have access to the thousands of other doors ahead of us.

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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