“I do think things are changing,” says Gal-dem editor Suyin Haynes of diversity in journalism after a year in which racial equality has been thrust into the spotlight and the news industry forced to look at itself.
“I do feel hopeful about that and I think we’ve been a big part of that, to be honest,” the 26-year-old (pictured) tells Press Gazette.
Haynes, from south east London, was named editor-in-chief of Gal-dem, a British online and print magazine produced by “people of colour from marginalised genders” (its description of itself), last month.
She says there is a lack of diversity within the media, not just in terms of race, but gender and class too, making the industry seem “homogenous”. While Haynes says things are getting better, there is still more to be done.
“There needs to be more career trajectory for journalists of colour, especially younger journalists of colour, within organisations so there are clear paths for them to go to the top,” she says.
“We need to see more people of colour in senior editorial roles, in senior commissioning roles and decision-making roles where they have a seat at the table and [are] able to steer direction and coverage.
“I think that’s really important because it’s all very well and good commissioning writers… but you need to think about who is making those decisions and who is steering those editorial directions.”
On BLM protests: “It was such an intense time…’
Haynes says many journalists of colour are tasked with writing about race issues which, while important, means they can be overlooked for stories on other important issues. She says the more they are treated as “multifaceted” the better. “The coverage will be so much richer coming from those different perspectives. We aren’t just our identities.”
The diversity of voices that Gal-dem aims to represent was particularly important in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests last summer, which followed the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the US.
“It was such an intense time and such an exhausting time,” Haynes says of the impact of the murder of George Floyd on those working at Gal-dem, which is staffed entirely by people of colour.
Founded in 2015 by Liv Little from her university bedroom, Gal-dem has moved from a small, volunteer-driven publication to a team of 12 paid staff. It publishes online at gal-dem.com and also prints a one-off annual magazine with a circulation of 5,000 copies.
The website had more than 600,000 visits in July 2021 and about half of its traffic is from the UK, according to figures from Similarweb.
Gal-dem has interviewed a range of high-profile names, including Oprah Winfrey and British singer Ray BLK. In 2016, it took part in a takeover of the Victoria and Albert Museum for an evening, and in 2018 collaborated with the Guardian Weekend as guest editors.
According to Haynes, the publication aims to tell the stories missed by the mainstream media and platform underrepresented voices, such as trans-men and people who identify as gender fluid.
Examples of such stories include an investigation into the death of Shukri Abdi, a young Muslim girl who drowned in Manchester, whose death her family and campaigners felt was not properly investigated by the police.
Haynes says she feels responsible that the Gal-dem team acts “with authenticity” in what it says and does, but “not because we feel like we have to or we feel like we’re the spokespeople for all people of colour”.
On Society of Editors diversity row
Haynes and other members of the Gal-dem team have been vocal about their stance on the Society of Editors diversity row, which saw the society face criticism for denying racism and bigotry in the UK press in response to comments made by Prince Harry.
“They’ve not really shown so much commitment to addressing racism,” Haynes says of the Society of Editors. She also added her own signature to an open letter to the society.
It states: “Without admitting that racism exists and retracting their previous missive, the Society of Editors are denying the lived experiences of journalists of colour as well as those who have had unfavourable media coverage purely because of the colour of their skin.”
Membership model but no ‘paywall plan’
In March 2020, at the start of the UK’s first lockdown, the Gal-dem team launched a membership model to help support the publication through the pandemic.
Much of the work that Gal-dem does provides a platform for journalists of colour, and the membership model has allowed it to grow its commissioning budget by 65%. Since March 2020, this has helped publish 733 articles, commission a documentary series and put more than £723,000 into the hands of people of colour.
The Black Lives Matter protests led to an increase in members beyond Gal-dem’s traditional audience. It gained 3,000 members – beating its initial goal to reach 2,000 – by the end of 2020, Poynter reported.
Its membership model incentivises people to be a part of the Gal-dem community. The website has no paywall, but signing up to be a member gives you additional perks
“At the moment, I don’t think we see a paywall plan in our near future as we are concentrating on our membership growth,” says Haynes.
“That’s not to definitively rule it out, and I can see why it makes sense for other news organisations in other situations to… go down that route, but for us, two of our core goals are community and accessibility and our membership is crucial to that mission.”
There are three tiers of Gal-dem membership, costing from £4.99 a month, £9.99 a month and £14.99 a month. Perks include a weekly newsletter, discount codes for partner brands, a copy of the annual print issue, an invite to a Whatsapp group sharing events and job opportunities, and early access to events organised by Gal-dem.
All membership tiers also come with a “pay it forward” option that allows someone to pay for someone else’s membership as well as their own every month.
Escaping the ‘London bubble’
Gal-dem has recently received funding to employ an editorial assistant over the summer as part of the Google News initiative. Haynes says the publication had encouraged those living outside London to apply and would offer support with accommodation costs.
She says: “I think it gets all very well to offer an internship [paying] the London living wage, but is that actually a wage that people can live on?”
In other job adverts published recently, Gal-dem has stipulated that applicants “must have an understanding of the lived experiences of people of colour of marginalised genders”.
Haynes says finding paid internships and jobs in journalism when she finished university (LSE) had been difficult. She managed to get an internship at Time magazine, but needed to stay at home with her family to be able to afford to live and work in London.
Whilst Gal-dem is based in London, Haynes is clear that its reach is both national and international and they don’t want its activities and opportunities to be London centric.
Haynes also spoke about the responsibility she feels to take what Gal-dem has learned over the past two years of becoming an established company and sharing those opportunities with young aspiring journalists of colour through being their first commission.
Gal-dem is also planning on partnering with regional organisations in the future to understand audiences better and help the younger people with their work through one-day workshops with Gal-dem editors.
Its annual print issue will be delivered to members in early September, before going on sale to the general public on 20 September.
This year’s theme is the roaring 20s, exploring how things have changed in the past 100 years up to last year’s Covid-19 pandemic. It also looks to the future and the ideas taking society forward. Change is not just a theme for Gal-dem, but something it has been helping to bring about.