A holistic approach to creating awareness around inclusion in journalism
Four lessons I learned through the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program
Black Lives Matter
“Media diversity” have become buzzwords. Even “inclusion” is a tainted word now, and let’s not even start talking about the abbreviation “DEI.” At the same time, journalists in the United States still think their newsrooms lack racial and ethnic diversity, and according to research by the Reuters Institute last year in five countries around the world, “White people are significantly over-represented among top editors.”
Has anything changed since the global Black Lives Matter protests in 2020? The killing of George Floyd, the protests and the subsequent debate in the media about the lack of inclusion, fueled my motivation to set up Inclusive Journalism. I heard the same arguments about why our journalism profession is still so white, and I felt I could contribute through my personal experience. I worked in a multicultural media company for over 10 years and it taught me everything about my own blind spots, my prejudices, and my white privilege. It also made me realize the work white journalists can do to create an inclusive industry.
The email about admission to the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program came exactly at the right moment for me. Two years after starting Inclusive Journalism, a weekly newsletter about the topic of inclusion and decoloniality with 200 subscribers, I set up a decoloniality course for journalists and organized my first-ever retreat for journalists in The Netherlands. But I still found it hard to explain what Inclusive Journalism exactly is about. And that was also one of the struggles I encountered during the program.
- Should I say my target audience exists of white journalists, or do people find that offensive?
- Can I fix a problem for an audience that isn’t aware of the problem (yet) because of blind spots?
- Should I find another way into the topic instead of talking about racism and inclusion immediately?
- Are these legit questions, or am I overcomplicating things?
Through the program I learned four important lessons:
#1: audience research
Setting goals, defining KPIs, and creating a business and content strategy: All these things are hard if you’re not sure about the answers to the questions mentioned above. I guess I was unconsciously waiting for someone to appear in my life to give me the answers, but EJCP reminded me of the importance of audience research. An important insight I got from doing eight qualitative interviews and a newsletter survey among subscribers, is the fact that I need to create more content to raise awareness around the topic. And in a society with information overload, the content should be not too hard to digest and it should be easily accessible. Another insight is the fact that there is a willingness to help create change, but at the same time people don’t know how (or believe it is not their job) to take concrete action.
#2 the (dis)advantage of a personal experience
One of the challenges with setting up a media business with Inclusive Journalism is that I bring a very personal experience with me. Working in an inclusive media environment for over 10 years was a life-changing experience, but I can’t expect everyone to go through a similar situation. The reality is that most people work in an environment that doesn’t challenge them on their whiteness. Through studying yoga, meditation, holistic lifestyle coaching, and decoloniality, I learned that embodiment is essential in creating self-awareness. And so an embodied experience can be crucial in becoming aware of your blind spots as a white journalist. This holistic approach to the topic of inclusion is not widely shared yet. The EJCP made me realize I had to distance myself from my experience and create a value proposition that defines what Inclusive Journalism stands for and why people should sign up for the newsletter, course or retreat.
Our newsletter, podcasts, courses and retreats help (white/Western) journalists who want to work inclusively to shake off a colonizer mentality by increasing their self-awareness and confidence around the topic of inclusion and decoloniality and by giving them practical tools to apply to their work and well-being for long-term results.
#3 Creating more content
“You need to create more content to get the word out,” is the main piece of advice I got from my mentor and a few of the teachers in the program. The personal motivation for me to start Inclusive Journalism also caused me to write often about myself. And even though subscribers to the newsletter appreciated the personal tone in my writing, it was energetically draining for me to come up with something to write about every single week. Especially because of the fact that the topic can be quite negative, academic, or both. Besides that, I personally felt lighter, not heavier, after learning more about inclusion and decoloniality. The optimistic side of it, the reward of doing the anti-racism work is key. And many white/Western journalists have had experiences that opened their eyes and challenged their prejudices: a foreign correspondent who changed his perspective by collaborating with his local colleague (fka “fixer”) in India, a war correspondent in Afghanistan who has seen the dark side of Western media dominance in creating false narratives, a journalist and author from The Netherlands who worked in an environment where he suddenly wasn’t part of the dominant group anymore. Sharing their stories will help create a better understanding of what it takes to change perspective.
Looking back at the first 2.5 years of my venture, I realize I have fallen into the trap of wanting to do everything by myself. During one of the speed-mentoring sessions in EJCP, someone asked, “Who do you collaborate with?” I came to understand that collaborations will make my project more interesting to others, too. And, the core of antiracism work and decoloniality is collaboration. Throughout the years I built a network of people around the world who can contribute to Inclusive Journalism through interviews, articles or as teachers in the course. The program gently pushed me to capitalize on these opportunities.
On one hand, the program has been a wake-up call to me. I had become too confident about my own abilities, and I realized I still have a lot to learn. Learning how to accept criticism without taking things personally is part of it. On the other hand, the program reaffirmed the need for the work I’m doing. I will continue doing audience research to get a better idea of the problem I can fix for my target audience. Creating more content, and a podcast as part of it, will be another focus for the coming months. The next decoloniality course will be launched soon, and the second retreat takes place in May this year. Now that the program is finished and my schedule is less busy, I found some rest again and the imposter syndrome is slowly making space for confidence to help me build further on Inclusive Journalism.
Sanne Breimer is a freelance project manager, consultant and journalism trainer for international media organizations, including Sembra Media, Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU).
Sanne works remotely and divides her time between Europe and South East Asia. She founded Inclusive Journalism, with which she aims to educate (primarily) Western journalists about media representation and decolonisation through a weekly newsletter and online courses.
Prior to moving into training, Sanne worked at a managerial level in national public broadcasting in the Netherlands for almost 13 years, with a focus on radio, digital media and innovation. She is Dutch with Frisian roots.