Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hi, I'm Dawn Maria. I have a Caribbean background, with strong ties to the North of England. I am a proud Yorkshire Lass, and I love living so close to the wonderful Yorkshire countryside, which is such a beautiful escape from the busy day-to-day life. I studied Print Journalism and Business Administration and Management at university. My first job was as a Reporter for a Leeds Paper when I was 16. I loved print day: I used to stand in the print room watching the printing press, which was magical. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to become a writer/ journalist. I also often appear on national television, commenting on global news stories for various broadcasters.
What does your job involve? What happens on a typical day?
After settling into the office and catching up on administrative tasks, it’s time for an editorial meeting with the team. We’ll check news sources, look at forthcoming issues in the title, and check assignments – determining who is covering what, as well as discussing forward planning features. We look at style and content with the graphic team and check the photograph’s to be used in the title. Everyone has the chance to contribute ideas and suggestions to the meeting.
What’s great about what you do?
It feels like such an honour to be entrusted to tell other people’s stories – in a professional, intelligent, and articulate way. I love writing articles that are well-written, well-researched and that make the readers think. I have had such wonderful feedback for my many articles over the years from readers world-wide. It makes me feel great as a writer/journalist.
What are the toughest parts of your job?
It’s tough when you set up a story with experts, over months – and get let down at the last minute; then, have to start the process again to get other experts for the piece, while still meeting deadlines.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Winning the English Women's Award for services to the Media and Journalism made me feel that my hard work had been recognised. Also, writing my children’s book series: The adventures of Jenny and Philip – We all need friends, which is available on Amazon. I had always wanted to write a children’s book for four to seven year olds, with a strong little girl as the main character who isn’t perfect but wants to listen and learn. I wanted engaging characters and a storyline that instils happiness and enjoyment in its young readers.
What's been the biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
I’ve always faced challenges, especially at my middle-class high school in Yorkshire.
There I was, a girl of colour, saying that I wanted to be a writer/journalist and broadcaster. I was told by my teachers that “people like you don’t get jobs like that.” I was the wrong colour. “Don’t even think of working as a journalist.” I was told that the BBC would never feature someone who wasn’t white or middle-class.
I dealt with the challenges by being determined, working hard, getting qualified and working towards my career goal. I am proud of what I have achieved. I realised that I’m actually stronger than I thought. This is also thanks to the strong women around me, especially my mum, who told me to ignore the school’s stereotyping and who told me: “You can achieve anything. You’re as good as anyone else out there!”
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
As a little girl, I was inspired by old black and white films featuring James Cagney. One of his characters worked in a smoke-filled newspaper office where the journalists’ used typewriters and kept press cards tucked in the ribbons of their trilby hats. It was an all-white, all-male environment without any references to females, especially not to women of colour, like me. Yet, as a little girl, I knew that I wanted to be like them: getting the story, filing copy, being a journalist.
As a teenager at a press call in my first job, I was excited to place my press card in my hat, thinking, “This is for you, Cagney! I’ve made it!” My journey into journalism and writing had begun.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry in recent times? If so, what?
When I started my journey into journalism, there weren’t many people of colour. Often, on press calls and briefings in Yorkshire, I was the only woman of colour there. Over the years, I have seen some brilliant people of colour – female and male journalists – doing great work. I have also noticed people of colour in TV studios – whereas, when I started, it wasn’t the case. People of colour were mainly cleaners and security guards and not in the Newsroom. These days, there is more diverse talent in front of and behind the camera, and in production. Things have improved greatly, but more can still be done.
I have noticed a lack of white working-class women and men. Their voices need to be heard and they should be given a chance to write their own stories and tell their own lived experience, in my view. The media needs to reflect all of us. We all have a stake in it. It should not only be about Oxbridge graduates – we are all capable of talking about our own lived experience. So, more doors should be opened to working class people and voices from the North should also be heard.
This includes providing more apprenticeships into journalism, broadcasting, the arts, and grants that should be given to members of underrepresented groups. I’m in favour of journalists visiting schools/colleges to talk about their experience, as this could encourage a more diverse group of young people to enter the industry. Work placements in large media companies, aimed at poorer teenagers alongside mentoring is a good idea, in my view.
How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?
Coming from a strong Caribbean background with strong women in my family has helped. My mum and other women were very valuable against the white noise of ignorant, racist stereotypes and teachers who just put me down, saying I wouldn’t achieve a job in the arts/media.
When I was young, my mum took me to the Caribbean to see my family, and introduced me to my great-uncle, Sir Joseph Nathan France, a politician and a newspaper editor. Seeing someone in my family who was doing what I wanted to do – write and be a journalist – was brilliant for my younger self to see.
Also, my mum is an award-winning artist, and growing up seeing her hold exhibitions was inspiring. Even though the environment was snobbish, elitist and excluded her, she still attended art college until she qualified, and had success. These things gave me the hope and confidence to push forward for what I wanted most – which was writing/journalism.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Don’t let other people’s stereotypes, sexism, and racism define you! You are your own beauty queen – who is able to fix her own crown. You have the power to create all the success and prosperity you desire.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in your field?
Read as many newspapers, magazine and books as you can, so that you experience different writing styles. Go on as many placements as possible, with different types of magazines, papers and broadcasters. This will help you to grow, and make connections and gain references, too.
If you want to be a journalist, hone your craft and don’t stick to one genre. If you write politics, for example, also try your hand at human interest articles – expand your range. That helps you to market yourself as an all-rounder.
Go on a course in journalism. Qualifications also give you an advantage and you learn so much if you do a course – for example, learning about journalism and law.
And before you pitch an article or news story, read the title, to ensure your pitch is relevant to the magazine.
Where can people find you and your work online?