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George Viner scholar says it was like winning the lottery

26 February 2015

It was like winning the lottery, said Ann-Marie Abbasah when she leaned she had been chosen as a George Viner scholar; now she can pursue her ambition to become a journalist and perhaps one day have her own column.

Anne-Marie was one of five George Viner scholars being celebrated at a ceremony at the NUJ's London headquarters, the recipients of the union's charity founded to broaden the diversity of journalists working in the British and Irish media.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said that the memorial fund reaches its 30th birthday next year, and so far given 200 young people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds funds to help them study journalism.

Anne-Marie is studying a multi-media diploma at News Associates, London. After 15 years of working in social work, she wanted a change in direction and the bursary will now allow her to pursue her dream. She said she loved human interest stories and writing about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

Tracey Murigi is working on an MA in broadcast journalism at Nottingham Trent University. She would love to be a radio producer and was looking forward to a work placement at Radio 4's Front Row. She said:

Ann-Marie Abbasah
Ann-Marie Abbasah ©Mark Thomas

"I would like to do a programme which explores the representation of black and ethnic people in the media and the way race issues are covered."

Last year, she enjoyed working on the university's radio station, deciding the playlist and putting together music packages.

Sangita Lal has chosen an MA in broadcast journalism at Cardiff University. She has a background working in the health care sector and would like to cover health issues as a regional reporter in Bristol.

She believes her background – as a Punjabi and Buddhist – is something she can use as a journalist to provide an alternative to the prevalent white, Christian perspective in the media. Peter Greste, the Al Jazeera journalist recently freed from spending 400 days in an Egyptian jail, gave a talk at her college and now, she says, she is interested in press freedom and believes her generation of journalists should make it a cause.

Yetunde Yusuf is studying an MA in broadcast journalism at City University, London. She has ambitions to become a video-journalist and her main interest is in politics, particularly home affairs. She admires the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson and his ability to report complicated issues simply, but without being patronising. She said:

"I love journalism because it is exciting and unpredictable."

Rahul Vashisht studied a multi-media foundation diploma at the Press Association, London. He was unable to attend the ceremony because he was working, but said:

"The money awarded to me by the George Viner Memorial Fund has helped me turn what was a pipe dream into reality. The bursary covered around three-quarters of my grant and I have since met so many new people including fellow scholars and some of the fantastic members of the NUJ."

All of the winners said how important their membership of the union was and how vital it will be when they start their careers. They later met former George Viner scholars and Carol Plaster. daughter of George Viner.

Reni Eddo-Lodge
Reni Eddo-Lodge ©Mark Thomas

Reni Eddo-Lodge, an award-winning journalist and blogger who has made a name for her forthright articles on race and feminism and has been published in the Guardian, Telegraph, The New York Times, The Voice, Vice and Dazed and Confused Magazine, was the evening's first speaker.

She said the media was overwhelmingly white and that BME journalists needed to challenge many of the stereotypes perpetuated in the press. She said she has never pulled her punches when writing.

Her blogs have covered everything from her decision to stop shaving her armpits to challenging TV stereotypes of "sassy, black women" to a riff on Azealia Banks versus Iggy Azalea on why privileged white people shouldn't steal hip-hop. Her message to the scholars was that "you have to write a lot of things badly before you write well".

The internet had opened up journalism; she said she didn't study at Oxbridge or a Russell Group university, but she was able to get her work seen without being blocked by the gatekeepers.

"Have the courage of your convictions and take advantage of the fact that when you write as a BME journalist you are coming from a minority perspective; you can provide a unique point of view."

Seung Yoon Lee
Seung Yoon Lee ©Mark Thomas

The scholars and their families also heard from Seung Yoon Lee, CEO and co-founder of Byline. The first East Asian president of the Oxford Union said the major challenge for the industry was to find new ways to make journalism pay:

"The media industry hasn't figured out how to fund journalism in the digital age."

His new venture, Byline, is a crowd-funded media platform which matches readers to journalists who contribute a small sum to read articles and it puts together "bespoke newspapers" based on readers' interests. He said:

"Ten years ago the music industry had the same problem. Then Steve Jobs came along. iTunes fixed a problem of funding; but as yet there hasn't been an iTunes moment for journalism."

Tags: , george viner memorial fund, diversity, bme, byline, newspapers, guardian, telegraph, new york times, the voice, vice, dazed and confused, radio, bbc radio 4, broadcasting, al jazeera, press association