Great journalism requires voices from all backgrounds and writers with a wealth of experience. This is important to ensure the industry represents its readers, but also so that it can spot new and interesting stories and challenge the status quo.
The question is, how does the industry achieve this? When it comes to increasing diversity, there can be issues with supply and demand. If there have been fewer opportunities in the past for writers of colour, the knock-on effect will be that there is now a smaller pool to hire from. If scores of talented disabled writers decide not to pursue journalism due to a lack of accessibility, it will naturally be harder to commission them.
At Raconteur, we decided one way to tackle this was to launch the New Voices Programme (NVP). It aims to offer an introduction to the world of business journalism for talented writers from underrepresented backgrounds. The 12-week course covers the fundamentals of business journalism for those looking to freelance: from how to find and pitch great stories, to how to conduct interviews, use data to support arguments and structure stories for maximum impact. The course is completely free, entirely online and culminates in each participant writing an article that we publish and pay them for – at the same rate as we do any other writer.
Running a course such as this is just one of many ways in which publications can promote greater diversity among their writers, but we found that there were many elements of the process which could be applied elsewhere. From how to hire better to how to make that talent feel welcome, these were some of the key learnings we took away from the first run of the NVP.
Embrace inclusive hiring
To get the best possible people onto the course, first, we had to find them. We posted our course ad on Linkedin and got in touch with the National Union of Journalists, but we knew we would have to go further than this. We also reached out to organisations whose work is dedicated to diversifying the industry, from Brixton Finishing School and Creative Access to Disabled Writers and the Media Diversity Institute. We also took a multi-channel approach with help from The Media Mentor on Twitter and So You Want to Be a Journalist on Instagram.
When it came to deciding who to accept onto the course, we opted for a blind recruitment approach. A software platform would take names, photos and any mention of gender from applications and CVs, so we allowed people to self-identify if they believed they belonged to an under-represented group. We only learned the names of those we invited to meet us. These meetings were kept casual, and short and were conducted over Zoom, as we acknowledged there were aspects of the traditional interview process that can be a barrier for certain people.
Make reasonable adjustments
Once the cohort was chosen, we asked them what time and day each week would work for them to take part in the hour-long learning sessions. We knew that finding under-represented people to take part was just the first step, we also had to make sure the course was accessible for them and worked around those with jobs or caring responsibilities.
But even when we tailored timings as much as possible to suit the participants, a formal course setup still may not work for everyone. Those who are neurodivergent or those who struggle with poor mental or physical health may find a weekly commitment difficult, so we made sure to record every session and follow up each week with participants.
Create support networks
Collaboration and community are critical when it comes to starting out in any new career – even more so in the case of freelance journalism. Working alone can be isolating, so we wanted to ensure that every member of the NVP felt as supported as possible. Every participant had a mentor from the team at Raconteur, but they also formed a Whatsapp group to share advice and check in with each other.
Be open to less experience
We kicked off the NVP in June 2022 with an initial cohort of six writers. Of the six, four were non-white, four were female, four identified as being from working-class backgrounds, one as disabled, one as neurodivergent and one as LGBTQ+. All were in their 20s and 30s, despite there being no age cap and this is something that we want to focus on for the next iteration of the course.
Of the initial six, five completed the programme and published an article on Raconteur.net. Two have gone on to write for us again and have featured in our print publications in The Times. One has gone on to work in radio journalism. Every single one proved to be a talented writer, capable of changing the face of business journalism for the better. What we need now, is more of the same, and those looking to truly diversify the industry would be wise to start looking out for raw talent and potential, rather than work experience and connections.
Raconteur will be running the second iteration of the New Voices Programme this Spring. Applications will open in April 2023.
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