I came to the United Kingdom to ask a somewhat general but complex question: What are the similarities and differences that journalists of color here and in the United States are experiencing in a time of digital disruption and phenomenal fiscal accountability? On this journey of exploration, I spoke recently with two minority members of the U.K.’s 38,000-member National Union of Journalists.
Voices united in hope
Kamil Ahmed is a British-Bengali whose father and mother came separately to the United Kingdom at young ages. Connie St. Louis is a Brit born to parents who immigrated from Jamaica. Despite the different backgrounds of the Asian man and black woman, the lives of these two journalist hold several similarities, and their voices cry out with the same hope for a more diverse industry. Beyond their own past and current experiences, they are cautiously optimistic about increasing diversity among the ranks in British journalism. They believe, however, any change will come in the distant future and with little aide from the industry itself or even from an ever-evolving society or empowered minority groups that, like in America, rose up to demand equality even if the demands would not be fully realized.
Background tells story
One of the commonalities between St. Louis and Ahmed is the push from their parents to excel in education. And post-secondary education for both has made the difference in their lives as journalists. Both believe that it gave them the access through doors that might otherwise be shut to those not a part of the upper-middle class families in England. While St. Louis spends most of her time educating tomorrow’s journalists, her lengthy career in radio for the BBC began during a period when few minorities entered the industry. Ahmed’s ambition led him to seek a job at the The Sunday Times without “knowing” anyone, unlike others who seemingly had connections and were hired there.
Despite the U.K.’s seeming disbelief in institutionalized racism in its journalism industry (and the country), Ahmed and St. Louis both say they know of or have experienced forms of workplace prejudice including hiring practices. Along with their own perceptions, they point to recent studies that show how poorly represented minorities are and a lack of recognition of diversity as an issue or a lack of transparency in how they deal with calls for diversity.
Best opportunity for change
Both journalists say the best chances for more representation of minorities inside the newsrooms of the U.K. are in recruitment of trained and mentored minority youth and thoughtful retention efforts toward experienced minority journalists who would stay, move up the ranks, and facilitate the further hiring of qualified minority journalists.
These two journalists have more to say. I look forward to sharing as much as I can once I’ve gathered more data to balance and round out my ongoing research. Stay tuned.