2 months ago

‘Family Expectations Made Pursuing Journalism Difficult – But I’m So Glad I Did It’

Journo Resources Fellow

As a young girl, growing up in a South Asian Pakistani household came with great expectations. There was a great emphasis placed on choosing a career that was respected in the community, for example, a doctor, lawyer, or a pharmacist. What was considered respectful for them was based on a number of factors – but the most important was salary.

So when I told my parents I was interested in journalism, well, their reaction wasn’t great.

My passion for journalism started at a young age, from ranting about the general election on social media to debating inadequate policies with my friends. To me, it was more important to pursue a career I enjoyed, rather than one where I earned a higher wage. Despite my parents’ wishes, I decided to pursue journalism anyway and, in 2018, I graduated from Liverpool John Moore’s University with a degree in the subject.

After graduating, I worked in a small local newspaper, before becoming a freelance journalist. It has been a very difficult journey, but I can proudly say that I love what I do. I have the power to give voices to those that need to be heard and educate our generation about the things that matter.

‘Growing Up In A South Asian Pakistani Household Came With Great Expectations’

A photo of Anisah Arif
Anisah Arif (pictured) says her passion for journalism started at a young age. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Anisah Arif)

For those from South Asian communities, like myself, research also shows that some – but my no means all – people choose ‘stereotypical’ careers because of family pressure rather than their interests. In one 2005 study by the psychologist Paul Castelino, it was revealed that family involvement significantly influenced the career paths of South Asian Americans.

“Asian Americans may chose stereotypical careers because these are the types of careers that their families want them to pursue and they think they can do well in them rather than on the basis of their interests in them,” reads the abstract for the research.

I spoke to Sadia Nowshin, junior reporter at #ThisMuchIKnow, who had a very much similar experience to me. During her teenage years, Sadia was pressured to become a doctor by her parents, which influenced her decision to pursue two science A-levels, an experience she says she “deeply hated”. When she chose to embark on a journalism career, her parents weren’t enthused by her decision.

“Once I got through the trauma of choosing those A-Levels, I was determined not to make any more decisions based on my family’s hopes or expectations.”

Sadia Nowshin

“Once I had got through the trauma of choosing those A-Levels, I was determined not to make any more decisions based on my family/culture’s hopes or expectations when it wasn’t what I wanted, and I’m glad I stuck to my guns when it came to my degree/career choice,” she tells me.

Sadia’s parents main fear for her was that she would have limited job prospects. Now, with Sadia working as a full-time junior reporter, their perception has since changed.

“There are still some members of my family who don’t really get it and I don’t think I’ll be able to change their minds anytime soon, if ever, but, on the whole, most of them have finally warmed to my choice and accepted that journalism is what I’m passionate about,” she says.

The Flip Side – Having A Supportive Family

A photo of Sadia Nowshin
Sadia Nowshin now works full time as a junior reporter. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Sadia Nowshin)

Of course, it’s important to note that this notion of parents not accepting their child’s career choices in media or journalism is a reflection of all South Asian households.

In fact, I spoke to Noreen Khan, a radio presenter for BBC Asian network, whose family were completely behind her when she opted to go down a media career path.

“Luckily, I didn’t have pushy parents, but very open-minded ones, who knew that allowing your children to take up careers of their choices was the best way to let your children go,” she says. “I’m so thankful for my parents.”

“Luckily, I didn’t have pushy parents but very open-minded ones, who knew that allowing your children to take up careers of their choices was the best way to let your children go.”

Noreen Khan, a radio presenter for BBC Asian network

Noreen has been a successful figure in the industry for more than 10 years, and has bagged a multitude of awards along the way, including the Services to Media accolade at the British Muslim Awards 2016. Plus, she’s a stand-up comedian, too. For people like me, she’s also a vital role model.

Research Shows Lack Of Diversity In Journalism

A photo of a multimedia journalist
“Coming from a BAME background, it’s clear to me that the fight for diversity is still at large.” (Image Credit: Sountrap / Unsplash)

Coming from a BAME background, it’s clear to me that the fight for diversity is still at large, which is partly why I gravitated towards this career path in the first place. For me, the lack of people of colour and other under-represented backgrounds within the newsroom immediately insinuates that I don’t belong there.

This lack of representation is also perhaps why my parents couldn’t envisage someone like me, a Pakistani working-class woman, presenting the daily news bulletins – instead of the usual white middle-class males on their TV screens.

Indeed, the data shows just how bad the media is when it comes to diversity. In November 2017, a report by the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ Diversity in Journalism found that ethnic minorities were “significantly under-represented” in the media. In total, it revealed that around 94 percent of journalists working in the UK are white, which is only slightly higher than that of the national workforce as a whole (91 percent).

What’s more, according to data from City, University of London, just 0.2 percent of journalists are Black – despite making up 3 precent of the UK population – while only 2.5 percent are Asian, despite accounting for almost 7 percent of the British public.

Worse still, research has shown that people from BAME backgrounds are paid less than their white counterparts. In 2018, this was made damningly apparent when ITN released its BAME Pay Gap Report, which revealed a median 20.8 percent pay gap between colleagues from BAME backgrounds compared with their white counterparts.

“A young brown girl with no J-school background holds little to no chance of landing a pitch with an editor she has never talked with.”

Sakshi Udavant, freelance journalist

Sakshi Udavant, a freelance journalist, believes that journalists of colour face additional challenges in the industry for a variety of reasons, including lower pay. “We lack resources to pursue fancy J-school degrees so [we] can’t get a ‘respectable’ staff job in journalism,” she explains.

“Other ‘stable’ careers sound appealing primarily because journalists of colour, especially ones without expensive credentials, are denied work and/or equal pay. There’s ample discrimination.” She adds: “A young brown girl with no J-school background holds little to no chance of landing a pitch with an editor she has never talked with.”

Still, for all its diversity pitfalls, journalism is a field that is continuously progressing. Newspapers like The Guardian have long-established bursaries for aspiring journalists from under-represented backgrounds, while the National Union of Journalists has offered grants to BAME journalist students using its George Viner Memorial Fund since 1986. Following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent global anti-racist protests last summer, several more publications have made steps to improve their diversity, including New Statesmen, which announced plans to hire a graduate training from a BAME background in September.

However, at a time when we are in the midst of a global pandemic that research has shown is disproportionately impacting people from BAME backgrounds, alongside a major increase in unemployment, the need for diversity is greater than ever.

Choosing A Career Based On Your Interests

A photo of Anisah Arif
“Whatever career you choose, it should be based on your own choices and your preferences, not those of other people,” writes journalist Anisah Arif. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Anisah Arif)

Whatever career you choose, it should be based on your own choices and your preferences, not those of other people. While I think my parents have now accepted my career choice, what matters the most is my happiness – I am happy committing to journalism rather than being in a toxic relationship with a job that I despise.

So, why journalism? I will leave you with one my favourite quotes, believed to be a comment from American actor John Spencer. “When students learn to make sense out of their world,” he allegedly said. “They become the people who will transform it.”

Main Image Credit: WOCinTech Chat