The recent global support for the Black Lives Matter movement has thrown a spotlight on the need for local and national news organisations to do far more to make newsrooms representative of the communities they serve. Lynda Moyo, head of what’s on at Reach plc, shares her experiences — and what needs to happen next:
It’s nearly seven years to the day I was interviewed for my current role — What’s On editor for Reach Plc (then Trinity Mirror) regional websites. I applied for the job, which would be a big move for me, going from independent local food and drink website Manchester Confidential, to the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK.
I actually started my career as a glorified brew maker. Despite having a degree in journalism, I hadn’t had much experience that anyone really counted for much. While other students on my course interned at Sky and some of the nationals, I went to Pride (a black women’s magazine) and their little set up in a terraced house in London, because it spoke to me.
It was very much a case of ‘if you can see it, you can be it’ and I remember looking at Jessica Huie (now MBE) across the Pride desk thinking I’d like to be where she is one day.
I couldn’t seem to get a break in Manchester though, and was willing to take anything. Between brewing up, I wrote an article off my own back for Manchester Confidential and sent it to the editor who at the time said “Why are you making the tea? You can really write.” From that day I never looked back.
I knew I’d be in for a culture shock at what was then Trinity Mirror, but I’d worked hard and felt ready to make a difference. However, it still didn’t stop me from allowing potential unconscious bias to get in the way of my ambitions. My life had always shown me that I needed to protect myself because society would not.
Anyone who knows me will also know I’m proud of my afro hair and its chameleon-like tendencies. Seeing me walk through the Manchester Evening News office with waist length jumbo box braids is nothing out of the ordinary. Yet I went out of my way to straighten my hair for that interview because I genuinely believed it could be the difference between “you’ve got the job” and “sorry you’re not what we’re looking for at this time.” That feeling stems from a lifetime of feeling like you don’t fit in, like you’re not quite good enough.
When I got the call to say I’d been successful and to hear my future boss say that it was one of the best interviews he’d ever seen, I felt so accomplished. It was a huge personal victory.
But I was also apprehensive about what I’d be walking into. It’s no secret that newsrooms have a long history to this day of being largely white, male and middle aged. How would I, a young, mixed race woman be perceived?
Those first weeks and months were eye opening for a multitude of reasons. Many believe regional newsrooms are sort of frozen in time, but actually so much has changed in those seven years — we’ve gone from being print focussed to embracing our digital future and that alone has required a huge culture shift.
My job requires travel across the country and if I felt like a minority even in a big city such as Manchester, that was only made even more apparent when visiting other parts of the UK.
I still have some personal experiences at work that leave me flabbergasted — unconscious bias is very much alive and well. But I also have many more positive moments where I’m proud to be a part of the future of newsrooms. There are many allies in this business, even though a lot of what we hear is the negative.
I’ve long been a champion for greater diversity both in our newsrooms and in our content. It’s my belief that you can’t really have the latter without the former.
One specific example of the importance of representing the communities we serve, is from the aftermath of the Manchester terrorist attack in 2017.
My colleague and friend Chris Osuh won a Regional Press Award for his investigative piece questioning what made a young man, Manchester born and bred, kill 22 innocents in his own city. You can read about why Chris’ take on it stood out among all the coverage at the time from regionals and nationals alike here.
‘I have friends and neighbours from diverse Manchester communities, understood second generation communities, and knew something of the Libyan dissident movement’ Chris wrote. If ever you need an explanation as to why diversity in the media is so important, it’s that.
It’s a deep and complex structure that goes way beyond Reach Plc unfortunately. Even just having the conversations and feeling able to write an article like this one is something that wouldn’t have happened seven years ago. You can read about how we’re dealing with what has long been the elephant in the room within our editorial teams here.
Our community reporters have astounded me of late with the efforts they’ve put into getting to the true heart of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and Asian people, rather than just reporting the obvious. This in itself is a big change from how we might have approached this type of issue historically. And while we now need to prove our commitment to these communities ongoing, the beginning is always now.
I’ll end by sharing something from my aforementioned role model, Jessica Huie. She posted a message aimed at ‘Institutions & Corporates’ recently. It was in response to the Open University asking her to take an unpaid position on their council to reach out to students, many of whom are from ethnic minorities.
“Where you start in life DOES more often, dictate where you go. Don’t mistake my ‘success’ for the assumption that overcoming social disadvantage in all its forms is an available path to all. I really shouldn’t still be here. Most don’t make it.
“Put money behind what is otherwise an empty Corporate Social Responsibility motto… I’m open and available for that conversation.”
With our vast platform here at Reach Plc we have a duty to right these wrongs, looking inwardly and outwardly, in an unprecedented way. I hope to be telling a much evolved story in another seven years’ time, and that others who look like me will be doing the same. Watch this space.
This article first appeared on Behind Local News.