“I’m a black girl from South East London. I am the child of immigrants. I have a vagina and boobs. I was raised in a working-class family. I can be loud, opinionated, and outspoken. These elements have made me the person and journalist that I am today. And I am proud of that. But these are also the elements that the media industry would turn its nose up to. These are the elements they didn’t want. They didn’t want those perspectives and those backgrounds reflected on air. And it’s a poorer industry because of that. But it’s an industry that’s changing. Whether that sea of change has come too late to grab hold of younger viewers is a discussion for another day… but the important thing is it is changing. Slowly – but we’re getting there.
And that’s why schemes like the John Schofield Trust (JST) are important. It’s amazing how many people just don’t care that our newsrooms don’t reflect the audiences we broadcast to. It’s amazing how many editors in press and broadcasting pay lip service to it, by paying someone else to deal with that ‘diversity stuff’ – but don’t actually DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Again, that’s why JST is important. Figures routinely show that our newsrooms are skewed in particular directions….
Whoever we are, we should always be aware of our own privilege, and be aware of – to use the American phrase – ‘paying it forward’. We can’t blindly walk through life pulling the ladder out of reach of those who need help up. And just pass the ladder round to those who quite frankly don’t need it. An example: Lionel Barber – editor of the FT – tweeted a picture of a reader’s letter earlier in the week, highlighting the fact that out of 861 columns published since January, not a single one had been written by a black columnist. So, does that mean that not a single person working in that newsroom had noticed? Or was it that nobody cared? Only Lionel can answer that. But what I can answer is there are some amazing young black writers more than capable of writing columns in the FT, but up until now they didn’t want them. Or perhaps they weren’t moving in the FT’s social circles. Again, it comes down to privilege.
Knowing your privilege is at the heart of mentoring. In one way or another I’ve mentored and volunteered with young people who want to work in the media ever since 2002 when I started working at the BBC. I understood the privileged position I was in. Supportive parents, an understanding of black history, going to a good school, and going to university. I understood that despite all the things that should have held me back (the boobs and black skin) – I was lucky enough to also have the things that made me push harder. So, I wanted to ‘pay it forward’ and make sure that those young people who were at a disadvantage could also get a chance. That’s the essential bit of the John Schofield Trust.
John was an ITN trainee, he then got a reporting job at Channel 4, then the BBC…. He was working at World Tonight when he was killed in Croatia in 1995. A year later Susie created the Trust to recognise young journalists. John often spoke about the need for honest advice and inspiration for young journos – so that’s exactly what the Trust provides through its mentoring scheme and e-mentoring scheme. They’re all about social diversity in the industry and retaining talent. Navigating this industry can be hard, it really really can. A lot of bloody good talent has been lost because no-one has bothered to reach out a hand to help. Just to ask if they were okay. And again, the industry is poorer for that.
I honestly love what I do as a job. Since I was a teenager it’s all I’ve wanted. But I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for the various mentors I’ve had along the way. From the moment I stepped into the Guardian newsroom in 1996, to now.… I continue to have mentors. They are worth their weight in gold.
But listen, in 20 years’ time I still want to be earning a wage from TV journalism and that’s where you guys come in. There will be no us, there will be no you unless we continue to fight for the industry that we all love. I feel we lost our way a bit, and got left behind while the young dotcom bigwigs started running the joint. But in the age of fake news what we do is more important than ever… and the support we give our young talent is more important than ever. If we support you, you can pay our pensions… or something like that.
And the final message is very much for the mentees in the room: keep rising, keep kicking arse, and be marvellous.”