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Black Women Are Leaving Journalism & It’s A Huge Loss

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
Being made redundant was quite dizzying, I would say. It all happened as a bit of a blur,” 31-year-old former news reporter Ade Onibada tells Unbothered.“I wasn’t someone who was blind to the idea of redundancy [layoffs] as it had pretty much been happening at the company every single year. I even compared it to The Hunger Games, as it felt inevitable,” she adds. 
Unfortunately, Onibada is one of the few thousands of journalists who have been made redundant in the past year. Last year, 8000 journalists across the UK, US, and Canada were made redundant according to the Press Gazette. This includes redundancies at Vice, i-D, Business Insider, and GB News. 
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The departure of gal-dem — an independent print and online magazine written for and by women and non-binary people of colour — hit close to home. For many Black and brown writers, gal-dem gave us our first by-lines. Getting your foot in the journalism industry as a Black woman is gruelling but gal-dem offered women of colour a chance to tell their stories. “It meant so much for gal-dem to exist in the world, to tell the stories that mattered to us and our lived experiences, and to do it with authenticity, care, and heart…” gal-dem told The Guardian following its closure. “There is still so much work to be done in improving how the media engages with and honours our stories.”
When you look at the state of the industry, it’s hard to imagine a future within it. The golden era of journalism has long gone and many are choosing to make an escape plan—especially Black women, including myself. While R29 Unbothered remains as one of the few platforms that commission and amplify Black writers both in the US and UK, journalism is still a very, white, middle-class industry with Black journalists only making up 0.2% of the overall workforce. 
There are a few initiatives that strive for media diversity such as Creative Access, The Journalism Diversity Fund, and The Scott Trust Bursary. However, while these initiatives are great for entering the industry, they don’t always help retain Black talent in newsrooms. Many Black journalists feel isolated in their jobs. During my last role, there was one point where I was the only Black person in the whole company. While I didn’t experience any major microaggressions, I often felt misunderstood. 
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I was fortunate to have had an editor who would champion and push for Black stories at my former job but other Black journalists aren’t that lucky. I remember speaking to one Black writer who was told to stop pitching Black stories. 
Then, there’s the issue of racism. In 2021, a report by the  Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) concluded that while there has been an increase in Black journalists in recent years, journalists interviewed claimed that newsroom processes continued to be “exclusionary and racism was commonplace”. A Black journalist might enjoy their job, but they struggle with the day-to-day reality of working in predominantly white newsrooms. 
Losing Black journalists means losing out on powerful, nuanced, and necessary story-telling that accurately depicts the lived experiences from within our communities. Stories such as the dangers of Apetamin, a weight gain drug that some Black women have taken to gain weight. Onibada and her colleague wrote that piece and explained that the article had “real-life changes”. “When we reported on that piece, we reached out to Amazon and told them that the drug was unapproved by the FDA, and the product was removed from Amazon within 24 hours,” she says. 
Onibada also worked on stories about Black children who were farmed during the 60s and 70s and collaborated with Sky News for the general election in 2019, live streaming the general election results. “We were able to produce a fun giant, political show that focused on diverse voices and young voices,” she says.
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Other prominent Black female journalists such as Nadine White have worked on stories such as Child Q (metropolitan police were investigated over the strip-search of a Black girl at school) and The Spac Nation scandal, stories that require cultural and racial sensitivity. It’s one thing to report on Black issues, but it’s another thing to ensure that these stories are being told with important nuances. Especially with the proliferation of social media gossip accounts like The ShadeBorough and The ShadeRoom (its US counterpart), which report on Black stories without journalistic reporting. These popular accounts often miss the accurate facts and relevant statistics that help add context to a wider story. These aspects of reporting are crucial to Black stories as they accurately inform the wider community. 

The continuous threat of being redundant makes choosing to stay in the journalism field a risk to financial and personal wellbeing.

I can recall the day Onibada was made redundant as I was in the same office. Onibada and I worked for the same company, though we didn’t work together as we were working for separate publications. Onibada was (and still is) a journalist I look up to. So, her redundancy was a huge disappointment for me and the company. Onibada’s journey into journalism wasn’t a smooth one. Like most Black journalists we can’t rely on the bank of Mum and Dad, so she had to graft.  “I remember one summer when I worked seven days a week. I worked five days as an intern at a newspaper where they only covered expenses. Then I worked at River Island on the weekend so I could have some money,” Onibada tells Unbothered. 
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Eventually, that hard work paid off as she went on to get a job at The Voice Newspaper and then became a reporter at Buzzfeed UK for four years. “I can genuinely say I loved my time at Buzzfeed. When I was there, the newsroom was really diverse and I had the fortune of having a Black woman as my editor who really encouraged my story ideas and gave me the freedom to push myself,” Onibada adds. 
However, she shares that there were some bad experiences. “The sad parts were sad, and by sad I mean [there were] almost annual redundancies which eventually became how I ended up leaving my job,” Onibada says.  
Though her redundancy is an obvious loss for her personally, she highlights how it’s a loss for the wider industry. “It felt a little bit traumatic because they closed down the whole newsroom. This award-winning newsroom that helped change the landscape of journalism has been shut down, that was sobering and it’s a tragedy.”
Whilst Onibada’s life post redundancy still includes journalism she has pivoted to different industries. “I still think I do journalism but journalism looks different for me now,” she says.“I haven’t been in a newsroom since I’ve been made redundant but I think it came at a good time. The byproduct of being in the newsroom means you often don’t have time to come up and exhale.”
Since being made redundant Onibada has taken new roles that allow her to champion her journalistic skills. “I've been working with Black figures whose work I really admire. I’ve been consulting and working in production doing things where my journalism skills still hold value.”
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The continuous threat of being redundant makes choosing to stay in the journalism field a risk to financial and personal wellbeing. I was not made redundant but a huge portion of my team and the wider company were. Months prior, two of my colleagues in my team left the company. Their roles were not replaced so a team of five was reduced to a team of two. What then unfolded was months of being overworked which eventually led to a breakdown.
I tried to fight it. I tried to brush it off as me being lazy or not working hard enough but it was the opposite, I had overworked myself and I couldn’t relax. I was constantly thinking about work and I went from writing two to three stories a day to writing five. I couldn’t take it, so I quit. 
I felt embarrassed and slightly ashamed but it was the decision that saved my mental health. Since quitting, I’ve been thrust into the freelancing world but the experience has been rocky. Widespread redundancies mean fewer publications commissioning freelancers and more competition. I’ve found myself pitching at an exceeding rate but getting less work. The experience has made me question my position within journalism, especially as a Black woman who predominantly writes about race. 
Whilst I’ve been able to write stories relating to race it’s not lost on me that the majority of these stories are related to trauma. It seems like Black stories around joy aren’t prioritized unless it’s during Black History Month. 
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This feeling is echoed by 31-year-old Jessica Morgan, a former journalist and magazine editor now working in corporate communications in Dubai. “I kept being told my ideas were ‘too big’, ‘too expansive’, ‘too complicated’ about issues facing Black British women today. I constantly felt like I was hitting my head against the wall, and I noticed that only particular stories were getting commissioned,” she tells Unbothered.“To be Black in the media is hard, and most of the time, white editors will only commission us if we're writing about race and/or our trauma which I'm no longer prepared to do, nor ask Black freelancers to do.” 
Morgan started her career in law but soon realized that her passion lay in writing and  simply “fell into it.” After starting a blog to document her mental health struggles after a few traumatic experiences — notably rape and assault — in her former field, Morgan’s writing was picked up by several national outlets and she went on to become a mental health ambassador. “I soon realized that writing about real-life experiences helped people,” she says.

If you ask most journalists, the biggest complaint about our jobs is money. We like what we do, but we want to be compensated for it more.

Morgan looks back on her journalism career fondly and her most memorable career highlights include contributing to the Unbothered platform at Refinery29 UK and writing about women’s experiences during the pandemic. However, there was one incident in particular that really made Morgan reconsider her career. “I got fired from a major online publication. There wasn't any particular reason given as to why I was fired – and still, to this day I'm confused,” Morgan shares.
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Morgan claims her time spent at that publication was exhausted by trying to champion Black people’s voices but getting turned down. “My manager would use diversity as a traffic driver rather than actually wanting to champion underrepresented voices,” Morgan states.
“The treatment of Black freelancers also sent me over the edge. I would always advocate for them and often end up in big rows with my boss over stuff, and I realised that I was growing tired of having to constantly fight. It was impacting my mental health so much,” she explains.
Would Morgan’s experience be different if she had a Black editor? It’s likely. In the UK, new research claims only 7% of those in top editorial positions are people of colour — a role that informs the direction of news content and influences how editorial staff respond to issues such as racial injustice, for example. My editor in my last role was white, championed Black stories and always made me feel seen. Onibada spent several years working under a Black editor who would also champion her ideas. Unfortunately, this isn’t the experience for all Black journos
Now, Morgan works in corporate communications and she loves it. “I work normal hours, I get my weekends back, and I'm no longer stressing about the news cycle,” she says.
Money was also another reason why Morgan considered changing careers.  “I'm 31 and I’m now earning over six figures, tax-free,” she says. “This is something I would never have achieved had I stayed in London in journalism or stayed in journalism in general.” The median salary for journalists in the UK is £34,000, according to Glassdoor (and $48,000 in the U.S. according to Indeed), meanwhile, the average salary for adults in London is £44,000 (and $74,000 in New York). I was recently headhunted for a role that was £24,000. As someone who lives in London, considered one of the most expensive cities in the world, I simply can’t live on that. 
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Onibada shares similar sentiments as she refuses to settle for a job that will pay her pennies. “That’s also another reason why I haven’t rushed to get another journalism job. The pay for journalists in the UK is a joke,” she says.
If you ask most journalists, the biggest complaint about our jobs is money. We like what we do, but we want to be compensated for it more. Especially considering the Fawcett Society found that Black Caribbean are paid 10.6% less than white British women. In a society where more working people in the UK are being considered as ‘working poor’ and where the gender pay gap is wider for women of colour, we need to get paid more. 
Unsurprisingly, so many Black journalists are pivoting to different careers. We feel underpaid, devalued, and taken for granted. But, without Black writers, we lose out on important Black stories. There’s an ongoing conflict in Congo and Sudan. In the UK, we're weeks away from a general election where Black people feel politically hopeless. The U.S. election is coming in November and the feeling is the same. Now, as ever, we need Black journalists on the ground, in newsrooms and behind the stories that matter most.
The media industry needs to ensure that Black women feel valued. We need to be listened to, our stories need to be commissioned without feeling like they are ticking a diversity quota.
This story was originally published on Unbothered's UK edition.

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