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Black History Month: Why We Need More Diversity in Music Journalism

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Words by Youth Music NextGen writer Amelia Fearon | @empireofamelia

My journey into music journalism as a young woman of colour from a working-class background has only begun to take shape in the past year.

My introduction to music started with Black artists; that’s where I can begin to pinpoint and map out my influences on the board of inspiration. It makes sense to me now, as a young adult, that I would eventually find my creative niche in writing about musicians.

Writing became a form of catharsis, a way of coping with my mental health and documenting my experience being a 20-something, neurodivergent biracial punk growing up in Manchester. My D.I.Y writings led me to a few paid opportunities here and there.

Last year, 'Pitch to Published' was my first major commission working with renowned industry names celebrating young and diverse writers. I spoke on a music panel and since then, I have written about incredible artists on print-based cover stories, such as my latest work with East London’s Hak Baker for Notion magazine.

hak baker on the cover of notion magazine

Before this opportunity, I wasn’t sure that music journalism was something I could make a career in because I hadn’t seen the representation. I’d never seen anyone like me do what I wanted to do. A Black girl writing about guitar music. I'm still unsure if it's a career I can make a full-time living from, but I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

It’s estimated that 88% of people employed as journalists or editors from 2016 to 2022 in the United Kingdom were of white ethnicity, and a similar report conducted by UK researchers in 2015 (Thurman et al., 2016) found that in their representative sample of 700 journalists, the most underrepresented group were Black journalists, making up only a mere 0.2% of their research demographic.

Some people may hold the belief that there are not many young Black women journalists simply due to a lack of demand. However, the scarcity of Black journalists is not because we don’t exist, or because there isn’t a demand for our stories. The fact that I write, along with many other young Black women, is proof that there is a demand for diverse voices in journalism. Instead, we need to discuss how deep-rooted social structures and systemic factors prohibit more writers of colour in the music industry.

I often feel I have to work twice as hard to get to where I need to be, due to the gender, class and race-related barriers that I experience. Although it is certainly recognised that there have been strides towards creating more gender and LGBTQ+ diversity in journalism over the years, there is still a significant gap in hiring Black women journalists.

With every pitch I sent and the responses I received, I became increasingly aware of the glaring lack of representation for Black women writers and editors. My voice was up against a lot of people that I couldn't relate to on many levels. This was further reinforced by the announcement that the Black-owned publication gal-dem would be closing in 2023 after eight years in operation. It made me think: what is the future for Black women writers in the UK? Where is our safe space to pitch ideas freely and honestly? gal-dem always felt like a safe space to me, one that is yet to be replaced.

These issues undeniably discourage young people of colour from pursuing careers in journalism, and the reason for that is the lack of diversification in the industry and the historical exclusion of people of colour by media publications. Most music media companies are white-owned and white-operated, and this isn't limited to the U.K. Women makeup over 51% of the U.S population, and people of colour comprise 39%, yet looking at statistics in the U.S, only a fraction of those demographics have media ownership.

Young writers are often faced with limited opportunities from people higher up who refuse to use their privilege to support the newer generations coming in from diverse backgrounds. I have written for publications that mainly centre their content on rock and guitar music, and I have felt massively underrepresented, 'the brown elephant in the room' and yet, I still felt anxious to challenge that, in fear of being ousted by editors.

On the flip side to that, some Black writers who are successfully commissioned can often be shoved into ‘token’ positions, tasked with covering stories simply because a magazine or publication requires a person of colour to 'authentically' do so. This level of tokenism is deeply harmful to writers of colour in the industry as it perpetuates the belief that their worth as Black writers is solely tied to their racial identity.

There are a lot of music writers of colour who enjoy music outside of R&B or grime. Our competence extends far beyond covering these stereotyped genres and I believe we should have more autonomy to write on the topics that interest us as individuals with unique interests, as opposed to being pigeon-holed into telling stories that the perceived notion fits. I’m a woman of colour who enjoys alternative music, experimental, harsh noise, post-punk, jazz and hip-hop. There is no limitation to my ability to write about different music genres. Should I even need to convince editors of that?

Pursuing a Career in Journalism Beyond Borders

I've found, as a freelance woman writer, that the struggle to contend for commissions is further amplified by coming from an underrepresented background and a different social class. Working-class writers of colour in the northern regions of England, far from the epicentre of London, face several geographical and socioeconomic obstacles.

It is considered true that larger cities generate more creative jobs, stories to cover and network opportunities. Yet, for many working-class creatives outside of London, moving there in the cost of living crisis is simply not a viable option. Personally, I find myself constrained by my financial limitations from a working-class background and looking at government data on the economic well-being of ethnic minority women, all minority group women have a higher chance of experiencing poverty than White British women. Living in poverty can significantly impede the chance for women and writers of colour to pursue creative careers, primarily because the financial ambiguity associated with freelancing prevents a steady, stable income.

Having more underrepresented backgrounds in music journalism can provide not only more inclusive and representative reporting but rich lived-in stories and cultural content. Music storytelling has been dominated by white men writing about other white men for years, but articles from new perspectives are waiting to be told, and it is imperative these stories do not go unheard due to societal and industry limitations.

The importance of more active diversity in the next generation of journalism lies in our ability to bring innovative ideas, push for representation, and encourage marginalised backgrounds to believe in their ability to write and report. I believe my ability to love music at such a heightened level comes from my diverse upbringing, and because of my parents, I was raised on music from all different genres and cultures. I am very proud of my mixed Jamaican and British heritage, and I feel it makes me a stronger writer, with deeper musical perspectives and cross-cultural connections.

The future of having more young women of colour in music journalism largely depends on collective efforts made by the industry and media outlets to advocate change and address these systemic disadvantages. People of colour need more stable access to financial support to relocate and commute, and more Black mentorship / Black networking opportunities in other cities.

I believe that “All music is black music,” and it is widely regarded that Black artists have made an unfathomable contribution to the evolution of music history - an impact so strong that it cannot be captured by metrics or record sales alone. Writing and talking about music, sharing and exploring with one another, is the most authentic way of celebrating it. 

Why, as music writers of colour, are we erased from our conversation in history? To honour music across all genres and preserve history, we must work harder towards more diversity and equal opportunities in music journalism to create opportunities for the next generation.