Gal-dem, a publication launched in 2015, and run by women and non-binary people of colour, has closed down.
There were none like it when I made the choice to try my hand at journalism in 2013. Having left university with a comparative literature undergraduate degree, a desire to write and no idea where I’d go next, I had very little faith that I’d make it.
Like so many other black and Asian aspiring journalists, I didn’t have any contacts in the media. I didn’t have the luxury of simply throwing myself into unpaid work either. Though my parents were not struggling financially at that stage, they weren’t rich, and working for my own pocket money had been something I was used to since I was 16.
So, eager to prove something to myself, to the world, I went out there with my couple of bylines from the University of Kent’s student newspaper, InQuire (I was always too intimidated to really get involved), and chose to take the plunge.
Initiatives like Creative Access, which offered jobs, internships and work placements in various creative fields, were fantastic – but they seemed oversubscribed at the time. As waves of people like me attempted to carve out spaces for our work – for me, through blogging, emailing black journalists relentlessly, and applying for placements I often never got and felt unqualified for – it seemed we were all forced to scramble over one or two roles on offer to us. Until gal-dem.
By the time it was launched, I’d just started on City University of London’s Newspaper Journalism course – something I wouldn’t have done had it not been for the advice of Hannah Pool, another black journalist, who I’d shadowed the year before. Feeling exceedingly out of place and incredibly intimidated, I spent the first week or so there questioning everything. I’d fought tooth and nail for a scholarship (as had, as far as I remember, all of the people of colour on my course) and the interviewing process to get in had left a sour taste in my mouth. I felt like I didn’t belong.
So, when Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff – now an incredibly talented journalist, author and editor, and my equally talented coursemate back then – approached me to write for the newly launched gal-dem, an exciting new publication run predominantly by women and non-binary people of colour, I jumped at the chance.
No one had ever asked me to write for them before. In fact, save for some excellent guidance from Dr Heidi Colthup (my University of Kent lecturer for a Writing in the Media module I took on a whim), I barely even knew how to pitch. I’d completed work experience at local newspapers, and while I was becoming familiar with how newsrooms worked – and how white they always were – my imposter syndrome was debilitating.
A few short years later, I’d written pieces and conducted interviews I’d only dreamt of. I also became gal-dem’s chief sub editor, a role I owe heavily to being where I am today. I made connections with people who were and would go on to be some of the most talented, compassionate and awe-inspiring writers in the business; I got over my fear of being on camera, of socialising with people I barely knew. Seeing Liv Little, gal-dem’s founder, as well as heaps of other editors who juggled life, university and jobs with their roles, confidently steering the gal-dem ship, genuinely changed my life.
Most importantly, I learned that keeping my values and desire to challenge the status quo at the heart of what I did, didn’t have to be compromised in order to be successful. In lifting ourselves up, not just those who worked for gal-dem, but also the many contributors, interviewees, institutions, artists and more who worked with the publication, it sent a strong message to the British media: we’ve always had a wealth of gifted, innovative, POC creatives, they’ve just been ignored.
Such was gal-dem’s impact that, at many of the national publications I would go on to work in, it was quietly used as an essential resource. In the very white newsrooms I worked in, partially waking up to the importance of commissioning creatives who weren’t mates with editors, or kids of their mates, or even relatives, was becoming more common (though many still had, and have, a long way to go).
Still, there was something interesting about it: the exploitation of the tireless work of the team I worked with and relentless copying of their ideas. Because it proved what we’d always known: what we were doing was groundbreaking.
I only wish gal-dem – like so many other incredible publications that have closed over the years – could have continued on in the same way that larger, more financially secure publications have been able to. In this media landscape, even with all the strides made, publications like it don’t stand a chance. That shouldn’t be the case – not just because of my personal feelings, but because it genuinely makes journalism better.
I was a tiny cog in the beautiful machine that was gal-dem. When I eventually left, it felt like I’d left behind a part of me that made me realise I really was good at what I was doing – and all without shrinking myself or my sense of identity in the process.
In the end, gal-dem couldn’t be saved. If that doesn’t spur you on to support similarly brilliant independent publications like Black Ballad, or the many contributors who made it what it is, I don’t know what will. More than ever, these titles need our support. Whether or not you belong to the communities behind them, you should give your support too.