3 Black queer journalists share their advice for breaking into the journalism industry and what publications should do better to recruit minority employees
- Regardless of any sudden DEI efforts made in 2020, journalist Daric L. Cottingham says the media industry has a long way to go to promote diversity.
- Cottingham interviewed three Black LGBTQ journalists on lessons they’ve learned breaking into the media industry.
- The group also shared their thoughts on how publications can better recruit and retain Black queer journalists.
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As the spike of police brutality targeted at Black people became a constant headline in 2020, the world began to listen to concerns of structural racism and bias, especially in professional settings.
Many industries started to examine their racist pasts. Journalism in particular began to reckon with the lack of diversity in newsrooms, and the racist rhetoric it used in coverage of diverse communities.
These “reckonings” felt like an empty PR attempt, since the same behaviors are still present at many publications in 2021
Despite these “attempts,” we’re left with a lingering question of how can journalism actively change to be as diverse as the communities it reports on. One way is to hire diverse candidates with intersecting identities, such as Black queer journalists who navigate the industry with the added stress of implicit bias rooted in racism and queerphobia.
I spoke with three Black queer journalists about the lessons they’ve learned navigating the journalism job market.
Cerise Castle (she/her) is a Black lesbian multimedia journalist who’s produced and hosted segments for VICE News Tonight, Los Angeles NPR affiliate KCRW, and Wondery.
Tre’vell Anderson (they/them) is a Black queer, non-binary person of trans experience, the president of the National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles, co-chair of NABJ’s LGBTQ Task Force, and editor-at-large at Xtra Magazine.
Femi Redwood (she/her) is a Black lesbian TV news anchor who most recently reported for VICE News on intersectional issues including race, gender, and LGBTQ identities. She’s a board member of NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists and a co-chair NABJ’s LGBTQ Task Force.
Here’s what they had to say, including advice they have for young Black queer journalists trying to break into the industry and advice for publications to better recruit and retain these diverse journalists.
What was one lesson you learned as a Black, queer journalist?
Cerise Castle: The hardest lesson I think is the fastest one you learn: that your voice and ideas will probably always be counted last. I think that’s a valuable lesson because I think it’s helpful to go in knowing the reality of most newsrooms and how most outlets work. Unfortunately, I think it’s a reality that you have to accept most of the time.
Tre’vell Anderson: A lesson that I’ve learned as a Black, queer journalist is that, just because my editor doesn’t understand the importance of a particular story, doesn’t mean that story shouldn’t be told. As Black, queer, trans folks, as folks from a marginalized, less represented community in newsrooms, often the stories that we want to tell about our communities don’t hold that same weight. Or don’t seem as necessary or worthy to our editors, who are white folk more often than not.
Femi Redwood: Pay attention to the media group because it may have more control in how the station or the publication handles things than the individual entity you will work for. If it’s a problematic station group, you don’t want to work there.
What advice do you have for young Black, queer journalists trying to break into the industry?
Castle: I would say not to change yourself for the industry. I had a college professor who told me that to be on camera, I had to have shoulder-length hair and couldn’t wear it naturally. I couldn’t have piercings or do my makeup a certain way. And all of that, just … It isn’t true.
Granted, there will be some news directors that will force you into that box, but you can always be yourself. The first on-camera job that I got picked me because they liked my curly hair and liked that I bleached it. They liked that I had facial piercings. They liked that I didn’t look just like every other reporter from central casting. Playing into your identity can help you out in many situations, to get that job, and to get the story too.
Anderson: My advice to Black queer journalists, emerging and coming into the industry and those that are fairly established, is to remain undaunted as we navigate these spaces. Follow your heart, follow your gut, follow your intense desire to tell your community’s stories, even when the broader media ecosystem, or your editor, or whomever tells you that those stories don’t have any worth.
It’s important to build an identity outside of the news organizations that we might work for and beyond the work we do because being a journalist is a thankless job in many ways. Still, it’s a very necessary job at the same time.
Redwood: My one piece of advice to queer Black journalists is to go into every situation as if you were a straight white man. It’s been my recent guiding principle.
Often we are told we need to accept anything, accept any pay, and accept any position. We are told that unless we check off certain boxes — years of experience, education, awards, etc. — we don’t deserve more. Nah.
Be like straight white men. They are socialized to expect what they believe they deserve. Young queer Black journos need to do that as well. We often see straight white men “fail up” while we tell ourselves, ‘we aren’t ready for a new position, we don’t deserve a raise, or haven’t earned a promotion.’
You deserve that job even if you only worked on your college paper; you deserve that pay even if you didn’t go to what’s considered a top j-school, you deserve that promotion even if you haven’t earned any awards, because why not you.
What can publications do to better recruit and retain Black, queer journalists?
Castle: Pay them. That’s all, that’s my answer. Pay them what they’re worth, more than they’re worth.
Anderson: What these people need to do to recruit more Black queer journalists is the same thing they need to do to recruit more Black journalists, right? They have to get out of their own way and get out of our way.
Many folks hiring and recruiting reporters aren’t doing intentional outreach to groups of color, to 1) Let us know the available opportunities, and 2) Give us the same kind of level playing field that our white counterparts have.
It also requires you to not only augment and change your recruiting habits, but you also need to change your retention practices because once you hire a Black person, you need to make sure that the work environment is one they will want to stay at your company.
That might mean that some people on the team need to leave because they’re toxic, or they’re white supremacists, or they’re racist, or they’re homophobic, or transphobic.
Redwood: It’s all a big circle. And all of these things work hand in hand. To recruit Black queer journalists, you have to create a place they want to work. Because if the environment is homophobic or full of racist microaggressions, then Black folks aren’t going to want to work there.
The next thing is to create paid internships. Expecting journalists to work for free, it’s a form of gatekeeping that unfortunately prevents many Black and brown and queer journalists from getting in. Because statistically speaking, we don’t have the same wealth as white counterparts.
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