Last weekend, the online magazine gal-dem was invited to take over the Guardian Weekend. I grabbed a few minutes with Leah, a Bootcamp grad and gal-dem editor. She told me what it was like.
Last weekend, gal-dem, the online magazine by women and non-binary people of colour, was invited to take over Guardian Weekend. For one issue, the gal-dem editing team wrote and commissioned all the pieces.
The resulting magazine was fierce, fabulous, frank and fun, showcasing a wide range of stories from an interview with actress and comedian Michaela Noel to an analysis of the dehumanising effects of racism, Islamophobia and deportations to tips on dealing with hijab acne.
The issue featured the editing, writing and experiences of three Bootcamp 9 grads – Leah Cowan, Bethel Tadesse and Kimberly McIntosh (Jinan Younis, from Bootcamp 8, is also a gal-dem editor). I grabbed a few minutes with Leah on her lunch break in the echoey offices of Imkaan, a Black feminist organisation. She told me what it was like taking over The Guardian.
The Gal-dem team. Photograph: The Guardian
How did gal-dem end up editing Guardian Weekend?
There was conversation between [gal-dem editors] Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Liv Little and Ruth [Lewy, Deputy Editor] of Guardian Weekend magazine. I think it started as a bit of a joke conversation- what if women of colour and non binary people of colour took over The Guardian? And we decided this utopian fiction should be a reality and set the wheels in motion to make it happen.
What was your aim with the takeover? What were you trying to do?
I think it was a broader expansion of what gal-dem’s aims are – to address the fact that the journalism industry is 94 % white and 55 % male. As people of colour, it’s important that our perspectives are reflected in national conversations.
We are committed to demonstrating that women of colour and non-binary people of colour have opinions on lots of things, not just about race or police and state violence. We wanted to show that as writers and creators we have the range and depth that the pale, male and stale journalists do as well.
How was it different to editing gal-dem?
The Guardian is obviously much, much, much bigger than our platform. Many people come to gal-dem because they’re already on board with the credibility of our writers’ voices and perspectives. A lot of the feedback we get is, ‘This really reflects my experience. I feel heard and seen and understood’. When you are creating content for The Guardian, which is written and produced by hundreds of different voices and perspectives, you can’t take for granted that the reader might always be on your side.
For example, in the piece that I wrote, one of the women I interviewed made reference to the fact that climate change is racist. In gal-dem we can make this statement with minimal caveats, simply a hyperlink to a source, but in The Guardian I had to put in an explainer breaking down the fact that the vast majority of countries at risk of the effects of climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa, but that Britain is one of, if not the leading contributor to temperature change.
The fact that climate change is racist wasn’t just accepted as a statement, whereas other assertions weren’t quibbled over. This was a learning curve for me: when you expand your readership you have to give more context, give more information in order to hold the line around the things we know to be true, but aren’t more widely accepted.
The other Bootcampers that were featured, did you meet them through Bootcamp?
I met Bethel at Bootcamp. I’ve done quite a bit of work with Bethel since we met at Bootcamp because the work that we both do intersects quite a lot. And we also just gelled really well on an interpersonal level.
I knew of Kim before. She is prolific on Twitter and on her dating column for gal-dem, and we both attended the Equality and Diversity Forum in London. But Bootcamp was the first time I got to spend time with her, and since Bootcamp we’ve collaborated a lot. Bootcamp kick-started professional relationships for me; on Bootcamp you get to know people really well in a way that you wouldn’t if you just met at a conference.
Left: Kimberly, Bootcamp 9. Photograph: James Drew Turner for the Guardian
Right: Bethel Tadesse, Bootcamp 9. Photograph: Michelle Marshall for the Guardian
What kind of feedback did you get about the issue?
It’s been amazing. Some of it was really touching. A lot of people were saying either, ‘I’ve never bought a newspaper before, and this weekend I bought one for the first time’ or ‘I haven’t bought one in 5, 10 years, and I bought one today’.
Newspapers are arguably a dying industry. Perhaps if we had print and media content that was more representative, more meaningful, and embracing a wider range of perspectives, it could lead to a resurgence of this format.
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