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Newsrooms Are More Diverse - But It's Still Not Enough

01/05/2017 18:06

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Source: Twitter

When I was in the first year of secondary school, enduring a weekly lesson of "citizenship" (which I still don't know what entails to this day), we were asked to sketch a picture depicting where we saw ourselves in 10 years' time.

Whilst the majority of my classmates scratched their heads or consulted their friends for a socially reputable answer, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a broadcast journalist, but specifically, a pretty one, for the female newsreaders that I grew up watching were intelligent but above all pretty.

It was for this reason that I erased the curly afro I had drawn on my gangly stick figure and replaced it with pin straight, long flowing locks. Whilst the artier of my peers used that dreaded "flesh" coloured pencil to shade in the skin of their self-portraits, I left the face of my stick figure colourless, subconsciously concluding that "colourless" was exactly what I had to be if I was to achieve and sustain my dream.

Looking back, I learnt more than I bargained for from that citizenship class. I learnt that 10 years seems like an awfully long time when you're at the tender pre-teen, pre-real-life age of 11. I expected everything in the world to change according to what I wanted and what I envisioned when in reality, the stars don't always align for you, and it proves more difficult to change the world single-handedly than you first thought.

Ten years on and a lot has changed. I graduated university and I grew my natural curly afro out, the one I tried to erase all those years ago. I never lost my dream of being a journalist, although I began to veer away from broadcast journalism as a result of a self-doubt that my aesthetic would only ever be suitable for commercial hip-hop music videos, and not an international newsroom.

Turn on the news at any point during the decade spanning 2007 to now, and perhaps you can understand the logic of my thinking. I was bombarded with middle-class white men in stiff suits reading words off of an autocue which sounded so dispassionate, they went straight through me. Granted, there has been greater visibility of female broadcast journalists over the years, but these were always white women with business-and-pleasure blonde bob cuts. Whilst their journalistic skills deserved acknowledgement, they only ever seemed to be ridiculed in tabloids over what they wore or their "scandalous" wardrobe malfunctions.

These journalists not only looked nothing like the world I saw outside of my bedroom window, but they also looked nothing like me. That was enough to convince me that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be sat behind a news desk.

Earlier this month, I was one of the thousands of Twitter users who praised Sky News when journalists Claudia-Liza Armah and Gamal Fahnbulleh became the first black duo in the history of the network to present the morning news. I was even more bowled over when I turned on Sky News this morning and saw two black female journalists, Armah and Gillian Joseph, presenting alongside each other. I almost cried tears of joy into my granola. For the first time, I saw my reality reflected on the other side of the news desk.

Today was a ground-breaking day for diversity in journalism, not that you'd notice it if you didn't look hard enough. Our casual approach to 'diversity,' the buzzword that seems to be stamped on everything from job applications to soft drink advertising campaigns, is exactly what is preventing it from becoming normalised. Two black women reading the news shouldn't be a one-off spectacle, but it is, and I'm doubtful about how long I'll have to wait until the next occurrence.

There are still a lot of questions about the diversity of newsrooms that remain unanswered and unaddressed. When is BBC News going to keep up with the demographics of 21st century Britain? When are we going to see a black female newsreader sporting her natural afro? How often are we going to see a Muslim journalist commenting on anything other than Islamic extremism?

Journalism is making those essential small steps but still seems to be falling behind other industries when it comes to diversity. Ten years on, I still know now what I articulated through a pencil-sketched stick figure then- that there is still a long way to go until journalism creates an image of itself into which people like me can fit.

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