The Northern women breaking into journalism

Reading was my first love, thanks in most part to my older sister who would pass on books to me. I read everywhere and anywhere, always fully immersing myself in those worlds. This passion for reading led me to writing, resulting in notebooks filled to the brim with short stories and in-depth interviews with family members. Since then, I have always said that I wanted to write and be a journalist, and have explored all the options open to me. 

Truthfully, I didn’t know what a journalist was. I didn’t see anyone on the TV who sounded like me. There was very little Northern representation and even less information about how to break into the industry. When you don’t know anyone within the media, getting in is incredibly different.

As was the case for many people last year, my plans somewhat changed. The gap year I had planned disappeared so I needed to find something else to focus on. That’s where writing came back into the picture. Lockdown meant more organisations were offering free online workshops, giving everyone across the country the opportunity to network. From that I connected with a group of incredible women, who, like me, wanted a space for women to write about anything they wanted to and not worry about stress or deadlines. So Empoword Journalism was born. 

Throughout the past year, I never felt like my Northern roots were holding me back. The question I always asked in any workshops was “do you think it’s possible to get a job in the industry without moving to London?” and I always got a resounding yes. However, I am still seeing so many journalist jobs that are based down south with no option of remote working. 

I spoke to some of the women I have met through Empoword Journalism about how they broke into the industry and what they think needs to happen to make it easier for people in the North to break into the journalism industry. 

Mads Raine is a journalist from Hartlepool, and her love of journalism began whilst working on her student newspaper. “The North is definitely represented, but it is not well-represented,” she says. “Most of the action happens in London and if you decide to stay in the North you are cutting off a lot of opportunities.”

Adding: “Neither my school nor my college had their own paper. I didn’t have these creative outlets at my fingertips that so many of my friends had. Throughout my education –  until university that is – I was lacking in creativity and I don’t think being at a state-run school in a high-poverty area is a coincidence.”

“Most of the action happens in London and if you decide to stay in the North you are cutting off a lot of opportunities.”

Mads Raine

Mads wants people to realise that the North has so much more to offer and wants to see “more jobs and more internships brought to the North of England”.

Beth Kirkbride founded The Indiependent in 2014 as a way to give journalists from across the county the opportunity to get their work published and get constructive feedback from editors. Beth, like me, has wanted to write for as long as she could remember. She believes that even though the pandemic has shown that working remotely is possible the media is still very London-centric. 

“When it comes to applying for journalism work experience or graduate schemes being from the North has been a disadvantage,” notes Beth. “These opportunities mean uprooting my life and moving to London, which has a much higher cost of living than the North of England. This is definitely an access and diversity problem in the media industry.”

“These opportunities mean uprooting my life and moving to London, which had a much higher living cost than the North of England.”

Beth Kirkbride

Beth also wants to see more paid work experience opportunities that allow Northern journalists to gain experience without having to foot their travel and accommodation costs themselves.

Lauren Mcgaun is a student with a passion for current affairs and the world around her. She echoes both Beth and Mads belief that there needs to be better work experience for people in the North. 

“I would also welcome more work experience applications that are CV based, which consider your journalistic skills and ability (similar to the current spectator scheme), so that your location and education doesn’t act as a barrier,” she says.

Shahed Ezaydi, is a freelance journalist and Deputy Editor for Aurelia Magazine. Although Shahed has always been fascinated by writing she never saw it as the career for her because she “never really saw someone like me in that world”.  

For Shahed, being from the North has given her a “unique voice in journalism”, as she explains: “Being a Northern woman means I can offer different perspectives or add more nuance and depth to a range of discussions, from race, religion, to local issues.” She continues: “You can always tell when an article or report that’s covering a Northern issue has been written by a journalist who isn’t Northern or who hasn’t lived in the North. I find it lacks the depth and substance.”

“You can always tell when an article or report that’s covering a Northern issue has been written by a journalist who isn’t Northern or who hasn’t lives in the North. I find it lacks the depth and substance.”

Shahed Ezaydi

However, she warns that she doesn’t want to get “boxed into just writing about identity or race and religion”, because “we as journalists (and people) are more than that”.

In terms of improving Northern representation, Shahed wants to see more roles moved up North, but recognises that that isn’t always possible. “Not every company can just move, so publications should also offer their roles on a remote working basis to recognise that not everyone is in a financial position that would allow them to move to London and live there long-term.”

Bethan McConnell is originally from Newcastle but relocated to London for University. “There always seems to be jobs central to London, in both music and journalism, so I figured that I would experience more opportunities and work if I lived in London,” she explains. 

Bethan is now a music journalist and photographer and runs Safe and Sound, a music and culture publication curated by creative women.  “For me, the most important thing is stepping up arts and culture funding in low-income areas, as those classes could inspire our next generation of journalists, musicians, and authors,” she says.

“There always seems to be jobs central to London, in both music and journalism, so I figured I would experience more opportunities and work if I lived in London.”

Bethan McConnell

Adding: “From my own experience the music education I received from school was the thing that motivated me to pursue this career path and without it, I’m not sure what sort of job I would be doing now.”

Evie Muir is a  domestic abuse specialist and freelance journalist. Evie began pursuing a career as a journalist because she felt there was a gap in reporting on gender-based violence. “From a survivor’s perspective, often stories telling our experiences of abuse, exploitation or assault are anonymised,” she says.

“As both a domestic abuse practitioner and survivor, it felt like “if not me, who?” I had stories to tell – my own included – I was angry, tired, passionate and, most importantly, informed.”

Evie became a freelance journalist through an unconventional route. “I studied Sociology and Gender Studies at undergrad level and International Development and Gender Based Violence at univeristy, and have worked in the Domestic Abuse Sector and Charity Sector more broadly for over seven years. So, I entered journalism as an expert in my field and used that to my advantage.”

When writing about topics that can be potentially triggering for you, Evie advises “putting coping mechanisms in place. If this means taking sick leave then do it”. 

Evie’s advice for women entering the industry is to find a support group. “I’d like to mention too that there is such a great network of Northern journos up here who I feel a deeper connection with than I do in more nation-wide networking groups – despite having not met many of them in person!”

“See the value in Northern stories and we will tell you them. Give us a platform to share the stage and we will speak with you.”

Evie Muir

She continues: “It feels like a very nurtured community with shared values of intersectionality, inclusion and the celebration of northern women voices.”

Evie wants to see an increase in remote working opportunities and she wants publications to take a closer look at the experiences of women in the North. “See the value in Northern stories and we will tell you them. Give us a platform to share the stage and we will speak with you.”

Speaking to these women is the best reminder of why I want to be a journalist. For the North to be represented we need people to start breaking down those barriers because where you are from should never negatively impact your future.

Extra Resources: 

The Northern Natter Podcast and Newsletter 

The Peak District Newsletter, filled with job opportunities up North!

The Indiependent 

Empoword Journalism

Journo Resources – a newsletter and website filled with paid job opportunities and career advice 

Words by Orla McAndrew. Orla is a writer and journalist from Leeds and the co-founder of Empoword Journalism, a woman-led project that looks to unite and empower journalists.


Getting to Know Kat Rose-Martin: Actor, Writer, and Inaugural Recipient of the Kay Mellor Fellowship

Words: Helen Brady

In early 2020, the inaugural winner of the Kay Mellor Fellowship was announced. The fellowship is a collaboration between Leeds Playhouse, Kay Mellor and her company Rollem Productions, and it will support a playwright over 12 months, encouraging them to develop their writing. There will be opportunity for an original idea for stage worked into a full-length draft on set and an original idea for a television pitch will also be created. Kay Mellor, OBE is a successful writer, actor and director, perhaps best known for TV series’ Band of Gold, Fat Friends and Girlfriends

Kay Mellor, Kat Rose-Martin and James Brining. Image: Anthony Robling.

The first winner of the Fellowship was Bradford born Kat Rose-Martin. Kat has worked as an actor for Northern Broadsides, Shakespeare’s Globe and York Theatre Royal, as well as having written and directed large scale immersive experiences nationally. Kat explained, “I’ve always written in the voices of characters before I really knew that script writing was a job. I started as an actor, trained at drama school and after a few years working in theatres, I knew that I wanted to write plays that I could relate to. Plays that my friends would enjoy.”

With the arrival of a global pandemic right at the beginning of what should have been an incredibly immersive and creative 12 months ahead, Kat explained if she had since felt any pressure to produce work in such a turbulent time, and if she felt that work had to respond to the current affairs of the time. 

“For me, it always starts with character and story. And there’s certainly a lot of pressure to make work about COVID but there’s also a lot of people saying, ‘make what you want to make’. Personally, I feel some of the survival pots of funding at this time should be less prescriptive – if you want to write about pandemics then great, if that’s not for you, also great. I think there should be no pressure either way – a lot of people have a lot to deal with right now, and we should focus our energy on getting through this.

“Personally, some days I find it really easy, others I need to take a step back and let my brain catch up with what’s on going. The audience appetite will always be a mixed bag – in the first few weeks most popular shows were Contagion and Tiger King – complete opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s hard to predict what an audience wants so it’s important to stay true to what you want to say. I’ve learnt that the hard way.”

Despite the circumstances, Kat was lucky to be able to continue with the fellowship remotely. “It’s certainly a scary time at the moment. Especially as an emerging writer with theatres closed and TV production on hold. The Kay Mellor Fellowship has been such a blessing in that sense. We’ve continued to work remotely, and it’s been a well-needed safety blanket – I would’ve really struggled without it. What’s interesting is that I’ve not had to travel to London as much for meetings with theatres and production companies which has saved me lots of time, money and stress. I’m hoping when Lockdown is over, companies will still consider meeting people virtually.”

Although the north/south divide is improving, there are still significantly more opportunities within the television and theatre industries for those based in London. An enforced shift in how theatres and productions companies operate due to the COVID-19 crisis has proven that remote working can be done, and this would be a welcome shift in operations that stays in place beyond the pandemic. Kat shared, “Everyone assumes you live in London or want to live in London. I’m more than happy in Bradford but it’s tough when I have to get a 6am train to go do four meetings on the same day and back home on the 8pm train then back to work the next day. London gets so much more funding than the regions. But things are changing, people are looking to hear more diverse, relatable stories. I look forward to the day when diverse is the norm and everyone can feel that they’re represented on stage and screen.”

Kat went on to say that although she does not intentionally set out with a ‘Yorkshire’ agenda, being from Bradford is a very important part of who she is and the stories she wants to tell, “There’s so many different people and stories across Bradford and Yorkshire that sometimes I need to get more specific about which postcode or street or neighbourhood a piece is set in because they can be vastly different and affect the story.”

Location is in part what attracted Kat to the Fellowship, which is a collaboration between Leeds Playhouse and Rollem Productions. “Both are on my doorstep and make work that I love. I’ve been to Leeds Playhouse countless times and performed there twice with Northern Broadsides. The spaces are great and the audiences generous. It seems like a natural fit for the work I want to make.

“And which Yorkshire female writer doesn’t want to work with Kay Mellor? I’ve always watched her shows and there’s so much that I can learn about story and about using your authenticity to say something important and making a long-lasting career in an industry that’s often unpredictable. When I found out that the KMF was a joint TV and Theatre development opportunity, I knew it was exactly what I needed. I want to work as much as possible in both industries and explore how they’re similar and how they differ.”

Coincidently, Leeds Playhouse is also one of Kat’s favourite places to perform and enjoy watching pieces by others. “I love Shakespeare’s Globe, I love Leeds Playhouse, I love theatre in non-theatre spaces. For me it’s about the connection between audience and the actors. And so much of that depends on the play, the production, the audience. But when there’s genuine connection between the action and the people experiencing it – that’s what theatre’s all about for me.”

2020 is quickly becoming one of the most challenging years for so many people. The unique set of circumstances people find themselves in means that unique types of support have had to be offered to ensure the survival of some of the North West’s most popular sectors. With the creative industries being made up of predominantly freelance individuals, it is easy for some of them to slip though the net and not receive any support at all.

Kat explained, “There’s lots of support from really wonderful companies who are doing the best they can. Bradford Producing Hub, Leeds Playhouse, Freedom Studios, to name but a tiny few. The Arts Council have handed out funding to companies and individuals. But it’s also really hard, there’s a lot of gaps to fall through and be left struggling. And there’s no doubt that the creative industries need bail outs that other industries have received. Once we’re up and running again, the entertainment sector contributes massively to the economy, but it will take longer and a lot of adapting to get to that point. So, until that time, theatres and TV Production companies need support.”