Originally hailing from Liverpool and having experienced a great deal of classism in her many years of working in journalism in London, six months ago, Jessica Evans set up her own journalism company where she helps people who do not come from privileged backgrounds become journalists.
All too aware of how difficult it can be to break into the sector and secure work with news outlets, big titles and glossy highbrow magazines, and in such an industry where companies are still offering unpaid internships or ‘all-expenses’ paid, Jess was concerned that these factors, coupled with the ingrained media bias, would make it even more challenging for working class journalists to have their voices and words seen and heard.
Since starting her business in March, her northern clients have seen success in national and global publications, which is such a win for working class northerners in their journalism careers! Through her platorm – The Freelance Sessions – she runs workshops, including the ‘Power Hours’ where she focuses on whatever the client would like to work on (whether it’s pitching, writing, refining ideas to make them more commissionable to editors etc.) and also runs one-on-one masterclasses on both how to become a freelance journalist and how to get more commissions as an established freelance journo.
Jess has previously written for – Stylist, Marie Claire, The Telegraph, Grazia, Red, The Sunday Times, The Independent, Metro, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, VICE, The Guardian and The Washington Post.
I lost what my dream job at a high fashion global magazine in London because they said I wasn’t “on brand”. Sounds mad doesn’t it? That’s because it is mad. This was in 2016. And since then, not an awful lot has changed in journalism.
The editor said there was nothing wrong with my work or my ideas, but it was just how I wasn’t a ‘good fit’ for the team. She asked whether I was happy there and if I would feel more comfortable somewhere else. Cringe. I was younger and naive to classism. In this scenario, hindsight is a bittersweet thing.
But if I’m completely honest with you, as soon as I unpacked my bag and sat on my new desk, I stuck out against my privileged peers like a sore thumb. I may as well have rocked up in hair rollers every day wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘I’m a scary, working class scouser – don’t worry about not inviting me to ‘Champagne Fridays’, I don’t know champagne is’.
After experiencing heaps of classism, working in the journalism industry in London as a working class northerner, six months ago I felt compelled to set up my own journalism company where I help people who aren’t in the elite or come from a privileged background, become journalists.
As a northerner with a working class background, I have lived through just how tough it can be to break into such a field where companies still offer unpaid internships or ‘all-expenses’ paid, meaning the wealthy or those with a London postcode, get the journalism gigs over the working class who can’t afford it. “There’s a certain snobbery with journalism”, my lecturer told me, or should I say, warned me.
Not to go all This Is Your Life on you (that’s a 90s dad joke if any Gen Z’ers are reading this) but I shall start from the beginning and give you my career in the next 500 words. I did my first two-week work placement at 15-years-old in London at a girls teen magazine, Sugar, that is sadly no more. Between the ages of 18 and 22, I worked two jobs to save up wages from my waitressing and retail jobs to fund myself to try and get my foot in the door. I had no family or friends connected to London, so I slept – mainly in bunkbeds – in different hostels, on and off for three years that I could only just about afford because I was working for next to nothing money. I had my heart set on writing hopeful articles for women and I jumped through rather classist hoops to get there.
While I had many positive experiences in London which I’m glad for, there was such a prejudice that I wasn’t expecting. Before I left my hometown, Liverpool, to make the move, people warned me about the notorious ‘north vs south divide’, but I shrugged it off. I thought they were exaggerating. “Journalists look down on northerners and think they aren’t as intelligent”, my auntie announced at a family gathering. Surely, that’s just a bit of a generalisation? I thought: My journalism degree is solid, my work ethic is strong, I think I’m pretty easy-going to get on with in an office. What could go wrong? Turns out a lot.
I quickly learnt wherever I went in my career; newspapers or magazines there was a lingering, dark cloud of class discrimination there. Whether it was my accent or my Northern tendencies I brought with me, I always felt I was on the back foot, fighting twice as hard as my southern peers for my place in London. My accent, background and class landed me in a position where I wasn’t always been taken seriously in the workplace. This next bit I hate to type out… I’ve probably missed out on certain jobs because I’ve come from a very ordinary background. I resent admitting that, as I don’t want it to be the case, but there’s still masses of discrimination around class out there.
When I worked at a glossy fashion magazine I was asked to tone down my northern accent when I was on camera interviewing people, because “it wasn’t on brand” for their middle to upper class audience. At another publication, working on the fashion desk, my line manager made comments about how “people who speak like you [me]” don’t really know much about fashion, and how it surprised him that I had “ended up” in the industry. Another time, working as a features writer on a culture desk, my colleague questioned if I could really know that much about culture because I was from the north. I also had a former editor who would always make the noises “dey do doe, don’t dey doe” whenever I would speak in meetings or around the office – and not in a jokey manner either.
I reluctantly found myself changing the way I spoke, just to made sure I kept a low profile and wasn’t stereotyped. I felt like a sell out for doing so, but I was determined to make a job in journalism work. I’d gone into 30 odd grand of debt for my degree, spent the majority of money I’d earned on internships in London and worked my bum off for it to work. I softened my accent in hopes this would make editors, managers and colleagues accept me more in the workplace.
I’m not alone in changing my accent though. It was unsurprising when I learnt that 55% of Brits believe there is a stigma around regional dialects, especially in London, that acts as a barrier to securing corporate jobs. While almost 10% of Brits choose not to reveal the true location they were born and raised as they are worried it is stigmatised, and 22% of professionals believe that in order to be successful in their career, they have had to alter the way they speak and change their dialect.
Later on in my career in journalism and in particular, high fashion magazines, I was often the only northerner in the offices I worked in. As soon as I opened my mouth, poof, just like that, I was transformed into a less educated, less on-trend and less able, than the southerner sat opposite me. It sounds quite bleak to say, but I became used to the comments, the sniggers and ultimately, the prejudice.
My classist treatment prompted me to think about my fellow working class northerners who are perhaps just beginning their own struggles in the incredibly elitist world of journalism, or maybe they’re in the thick of it. I wanted to help northern women in particular, get on the journalism ladder when it may seem impossible to do so. I didn’t want these women to be held back by their class, background, upbringing, accent or previous education either.
After seven years in London of working at various magazines and newspapers, I moved back to Liverpool and set up no bullshit, straight forward ways of how to get both aspiring and established journalists’ articles published in the places they most want to write for. I run one-on-one sessions and masterclasses where we focus on the client’s ideas and turn them into paid articles in their favourite publications. Since starting the business, my northern clients have seen success in national and global news outlets, which has been such a win in working class northerners in their journalism careers.
These clients have gone onto to experience press trips, experience high profile industry events and write for some of the biggest publications in the UK, without having to do shoddy, unethical ‘all expenses’ internships in London or more importantly perhaps, go through the many rough years of being discriminated against in the office.
I try my absolute hardest for every person’s work to get out there into the world. It’s such a precious thing to work with people on their ideas and I’m so pleased that 99% of my clients have gone on to get their work paid and published in the publications they love. Encouragingly, some of my clients who weren’t published before, have gone on to have a great freelance journalism career in major UK and worldwide news outlets – some of those commissions were just after their first pitch too!
With my ‘How To Become a Freelance Masterclass’, they are open all year and there are three killer sessions: Intro to pitching, Formatting the perfect pitch and Nailing the article. As it’s one-on-one, I tailor the course to whatever the person wants to get their teeth into – whether that’s concentrating on their ideas of what they’d like to write about, how they can best pitch to editors, how to turn their ideas into super commissionable pitches and just general journalism writing and freelancing advice.
I also run my No Bullshit Saturday Sessions again on Saturday mornings. They are the most informal session where you can stay in your pjs, have cup of tea and we brainstorm over breakfast. We work on how to get your ideas and work published, no fuss or frills, just practical ways of how to can get published in your favourite newspapers, magazines and websites.
Although I work with people of different classes, locations and backgrounds, my mission is to get as many northerners as possible, a successful freelance journalism career.
If you’d like to launch your journalism career or to help your freelance journalism, feel free to get in touch with @thefreelancesessions on Instagram or contact freelance.masterclass.gmail.com for more information.