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George Viner scholars told of exciting time for journalists of colour

Hannah Pool address George Viner Memorial Fund meeting

Hannah Pool address George Viner Memorial Fund meeting  -  © Jason Harris

23 February 2012

The rise of the new media is opening up exciting opportunities for young black and ethnic minority would-be journalists, freelance writer Hannah Pool told an award ceremony for recipients of George Viner bursaries.

The George Viner Memorial Fund is a charity set up by the NUJ which offers financial help to black and Asian students so they can support themselves while getting the training they need to become media professionals.

The percentage of ethnic minority journalists employed in the media industry is still only 8 per cent, but Hannah, who worked at the Guardian for 14 years, said things are changing:

"One of the best things about modern technology is how it is breaking down the old boys' club, brick by brick, Tweet by Tweet.
"It used to be that you had to have a mum or dad in the business to get your first byline, now you can just set up a blog. A newsroom is at its best when it reflects the society it reports on, whether that's in terms of race, gender or class.
"The problem is that old media is not keeping up with the demographic; people who define themselves as mixed race or dual heritage are the largest growing population in this country. However, the opportunities opened up by new media make it a very exciting time to be a journalist of colour."

The event was opened by Lionel Morrison, chair of the trustees of the charity that has funded more than 150 students. Former George Viner scholars now work as staff and freelance journalists and photographers in all parts of the media, from broadcasting, magazines and newspapers, to public relations, book publishing and online.

He said:

"Last year we were inundated with applications for bursaries and the standard was impressively high. It is vital that the media reflect the community it serves and we have proved that there is a wide range of talent among people from ethnic minority backgrounds who just need a break to help them in their career. That is why many former George Viner scholars volunteer as mentors."

This year's award winners are Latida Mercedes-Fields, 31, who is studying an MA in Broadcast/Television at City University, London; Ikaba Koyi, 22, who is studying an MA in Broadcast Journalism at City University; Nadia Khomami, 22, who is studying an MA in Magazine Journalism at City University; and Zahra Ullah, 22, who is studying a postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University.

Hannah told the meeting that she got her first break after working for the Manchester Evening News while she studied at university. This stood her in good stead when she applied for a Scott Trust Foundation bursary, run by the Guardian Media Group. After work experience on the Surrey Advertiser and Observer, she got a job at the Guardian, starting on news then moving to features. She was appointed the Guardian's beauty editor and wrote a black beauty column.

Her account of her unusual upbringing is recounted in her book, My Fathers' Daughter, she has since left the Guardian to freelance. She said:

"When I was asked to write about black issues, I was worried about being pigeon-holed. I came to the conclusion that it was OK as long as they came back and asked me to write about other things."

Tags: , george viner memorial fund, students, black members, hannah pool