Raconteur: accelerating diversity with New Voices Programme

Editor Sarah Vizard shares the media brand's ambition to diversify the sector

So tell us a little about Raconteur and your new course, The New Voices Programme.

Raconteur is a B2B media brand. We publish stories that connect modern business on our site, Raconteur.net, and in print through a partnership with The Times. The topics we cover range from technology to HR, marketing to sustainability. If a business leader needs to know about a trend, technology or tool, we cover it. Our content is written by our rapidly expanding in-house team as well as a vast roster of talented freelance writers who come from a range of backgrounds.

However, from the data we’ve collected, we know that our writers, particularly those we use regularly, are not representative of society. It’s an issue in the media industry at large, but one that is exacerbated in business journalism, where those from underrepresented backgrounds have fewer opportunities and role models, and the route into the industry is less clear.

We launched the New Voices Programme (NVP) to address this. The NVP is a 12-week programme where we take six budding writers through the fundamentals of business journalism.

The first seven weeks cover the basics, from how to come up with a unique idea to how to pitch editors, interview experts and craft compelling copy. Then it’s over to the participants to write original pieces. They must take everything they have learnt and turn it into an article that’s right for Raconteur. We’ll then publish it –  on Raconteur.net and, if relevant, in one of our reports in The Times – and we’ll pay the writer our standard freelance rate.

The programme is free and run digitally, meaning it’s open to anyone in the UK, and we’ve tried to hold each session at a time that works around people’s work schedules or caring responsibilities. Participants also have access to a Raconteur mentor, both during the course and afterwards, to help them build their careers. We hope to build ongoing relationships with everyone on the course, so they become regular contributors.

What inspired you to build this programme?

The New Voices Programme is the brainchild of deputy editor Fran Cassidy who noticed that efforts we’ve previously made to diversify our freelance talent pool haven’t led to lasting change. She saw that we needed to do more than simply advertise for openings in different places. We needed to help new people get a foot in the door to start with.

How did you shape the recruitment process to attract diverse applicants?

We didn’t ask people to send CVs but instead to tell us why they were interested in being a business journalist, any previous experience and their availability. We then ran a blind recruitment process through our HR system using no real names, no ages, and no backgrounds.

We tried to get news of the New Voices Programme out as widely as we could, beyond our usual recruitment channel of LinkedIn.

Can you give us an idea of the backgrounds of the people chosen for the course?

The six writers we chose are from a broad range of backgrounds that are underrepresented in media. We have a 50/50 split of men and women, people from ethnic minorities and with disabilities, those who are neurodivergent, and people from the LGBTQ+ community and lower-income backgrounds. We also have a range of ages, not just those leaving school or university, but also people looking to change careers.

How is the course going, and what subjects have you covered so far?

We’re now into week eight of the programme, which is where the fun really starts. We’ve covered the theory aspect of the course, including all the key subject areas we think are crucial to know before becoming a journalist. Now they have to get writing!

We’ll then help them through who to interview, how to structure their piece and look through early versions before each article goes to one of our sub-editors for a thorough edit.

How prepared will course graduates be for a career in journalism? How will you be working with them?

We think the course helps with the hardest part: getting started. Sharing the tools, tips and techniques our regular writers use will give them a grounding in freelance journalism and, more importantly, the confidence to get out there and start pitching.

One of the most challenging parts about working as a freelancer can be the loneliness, so our intake has a WhatsApp group where they support each other and share ideas, and each person on the course has one of the in-house editorial team as a mentor.

We also hope they’ll want to write for us, so we’ll add everyone who completes the course to our freelance roster and offer them the same opportunities as any of our other freelancers to pitch and be paid to write for us.

Are you hoping to run the programme regularly, or is this a one-off experience?

This is the first time we have run the programme, so once it finishes, we’ll ask for honest feedback from the participants. The plan is to learn from our mistakes and successes and run the programme a couple of times a year, hopefully with a bigger cohort. Our team believes business journalism offers writers an exciting, inspiring, stable career, and we want to share that with people who thought this industry wasn’t for them.

How do you think this programme will inspire people from these diverse backgrounds to move into a white-dominated industry?

First, we want to show that the industry is open to people from more diverse backgrounds. That there is a place, and a need, for writers from all walks of life.

While programmes like this are needed, a lot of work is still to be done.

I hope that by giving them the tools to get into the industry and the opportunity to write, we can show that we value the ideas and experiences of everyone and can take a small step towards this industry being more reflective of wider society.

What have you learned from running the New Voices Programme?

Our biggest learning is the huge amount of talent that is out there just waiting to be given a chance. Everyone on the course is smart, switched on and willing to learn. They just needed the confidence and opportunity to get started in this industry. They’ve come up with ideas which we found genuinely exciting because they were coming from a totally different perspective from those we usually see.

We’ve also learned that you can learn a lot by teaching. Knowing how to do something and being able to explain it to someone else is not the same thing!

Speaking for myself, I’ve found that it has reignited my passion for this industry and working with each of the people on the course has reminded me why I love what I do.

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