Shayma Bakht (2020): My journey to Young Journalist of the Year

Shayma at the award ceremony

Shayma Bakht has been named the British Press Award’s Young Journalist of the Year for 2023.

The prestigious title from the Society of Editors, formerly run by The Press Gazette, was also awarded to some of the biggest names in the industry early in their respective careers, including CNN’s Nick Paton-Walsh, The Sunday Times’ Louise Callaghan and the Observer’s Jay Rayner. Judges admired her as a reporter “that will stand up for the underrepresented and vulnerable” and is willing to hold people to account. They praised her first foreign report as a “noteworthy achievement,” saying she was “brave to cover topics where others have not succeeded,” and showed “great skill and a tenacious commitment to stories around human rights.”

As part of her award the John Schofield Trust Fellow, part of the 2020 mentorship cohort, will receive £5000 to spend on travel costs for a three-month international reporting trip of her choice. She tells the Trust what the award means to her and how the advice of her mentor, Jane Bradley, helped her arrive at this career-changing moment.

“I am still in absolute shock to be named the Young Journalist of the Year. I want to pinch myself every time I think about it. I know anyone would feel this way, but thinking about how amateur I was before joining the trust – I was a freelance journalist throwing investigation pitches into the dark, with no network, no connections, running very low on money – it makes this win all the more incredible

As someone with a background in broadcasting, I wasn’t sure if it was the right move to take this job at The Times, but Jane told me I would be “crazy not to take it” and reminded me that with the backing of a respected national paper, I could bring all of my bubbling ideas to life. A story is a story, whether it’s on screen, in a podcast or in a paper. The Times has given me the incredible opportunity to go undercover, to report from the Middle East, and cover major international news stories.

The judges said it was my undercover investigation that found predators were using the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme to prey on refugee women, my report on Afghan families selling babies – which was written for the anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Kabul – and my deep-dive into celebrities using giveaways on Instagram to lure teens to illegal websites that secured me the win.

None of these stories were pieces I was told to pursue by my editors. They were all independent pitches that I fired away because I was still in a sort of survival, freelancer mindset. Jane told me before taking the job that “it would be whatever I made of it”, and I knew I wanted to make it an opportunity to uncover more challenging stories using the new-found resources around me and with the advice of my talented colleagues.

I experienced a lot of rejection before reaching this point. I was put in background roles in newsrooms because some of the editors and producers I worked for did not believe I would achieve the things I dreamed of. But after being told by the judges that I was “exactly what they were looking for in a reporter”, I feel like I can finally take a breath and see that all my hard work has been recognised. I am so grateful.

I still sometimes feel like an outsider in the industry – there’s much more to be done to make journalism in general, as well as investigative work and foreign reporting accessible to everyone, and more inclusive. Without the guidance of the Trust, who work tirelessly to make this industry a more diverse place, I’m not sure how long I would have gone without giving up on those dreams.

This win comes with a massive call-out for any donors who can to support the Trust. Someone like me, from my background, would not have been able to work on the stories I have without being paired with a guide in the industry. There are so many other disadvantaged reporters without a network waiting to make a name for themselves who just need someone to give them insight into this gated industry.

As for the funded trip, I haven’t decided where I will go but I hope to use my time wisely,  show some new skills and have fun.”

Read more from Shayma on the work she’s most proud of on the Press Awards website. For more updates, follow Shayma on twitter and instagram. If you would like to contribute to the Trust’s work supporting the journalism talent of the future please consider making a donation.