Spotlight On | Jamie Wareham, founder of QueerAF: “No one should be told their lives aren't worth telling a story about. We’re going to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen again.”
Jamie Wareham is the founder of QueerAF, an award-winning independent platform launching the careers of emerging and underrepresented LGBTQIA+ creatives, and the QueerAF podcast. He is currently the Interactions Manager for On Road Media’s media engagement programmes and a contributor for Forbes, having featured in their acclaimed 30 Under 30 list in 2020.
In this Spotlight On, Jamie discusses the importance of involving the audience in the process of journalism, the current state of media diversity and representation, and why QueerAF decided to become the first LGBTQIA+ publisher in the UK to be independently regulated.
> You’re the founder of QueerAF – what inspired you to establish an independent news title dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community?
An editor once told me to stop pitching gay stories because there was no ‘money’ or ‘audience’ in them. I was devastated, imagine being told so early on in your career that your identity wasn’t worth anything. So I launched a podcast to test his theory. Four seasons later, the podcast has an international audience, we’ve interviewed Ian McKellen, had BBC broadcaster Evan Davis guest-hosting an episode on UK Black Pride, we’ve won ‘Moment Of The Year’ at the British Podcast Awards and have been nominated as a ‘force for good’ by the ARIAS. I began to understand that this editor’s hunch was wrong.
I used the revenue we made from advertising to set up a Community Interest Company that could continue this work. As a non-profit publisher, we use our funds to support emerging, underrepresented LGBTQIA+ creatives. We help them build a career so that they can work in the industry and change it while doing so. No one should be told their lives aren't worth telling a story about. We’re going to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen again.
> QueerAF is unique in the way that it seeks to support queer journalists and creatives to build their own media careers. How does your business model help to support your contributors?
We live in a saturated world of doom scrolling and constant media. Online, digital, mobile, it bombards us wherever we are. But it doesn’t reflect the LGBTQIA+ community. Our stories and our lives are forgotten or worse, misrepresented, by an industry that is fundamentally broken. I didn't understand it then, but newsrooms create awful experiences, like the ones that I faced, because they are locked into a system of short-term, revenue-led incentives. In the pursuit of clicks to serve advertisers, the diversity of those who write our stories has barely changed.
That’s why our fast-growing newsletter and independent platform are ad-free. It allows us to commission content because it counts, not because it creates clicks. We can build an audience that reflects that and, more importantly, invests in supporting emerging creatives who want to change the industry.
> Your podcast has been recognised at the ARIAS and has won in the British Podcast Awards ‘Moment Of The Year’ category. How important is innovation and a willingness to adapt to achieving success in the modern news landscape?
The number of times I’ve been told “we can’t do that because no one will read/click/listen to it” is absurd. There is a real reluctance to be innovative when advertisers drive so much of your thought process. They want safe reliable clicks. I’ve found that by working with the audience, instead of using them for clicks, you’re able to innovate and adapt.
I really believe that my most valuable editor is my audience.
I really believe that my most valuable editor is my audience. That way, when they pay for our otherwise free content, they tell us what they’d like to see their funds go towards. It’s not a direct contract, but it’s taken the editorial direction out of my hands and put it into the community, which is exactly what we set out to do.
> Can you think of a story you are most proud of, or that most epitomises what the title was set up to do?
One of our most popular pieces looked at the radicalness of presenting queer joy on TV in The Great Pottery Throwdown. Imagine, a happy LGBTQIA+ person! It was from our ‘Queer Gaze’ feature which is a scheme that commissions an underrepresented LGBTQIA+ voice each week - with a skills and sub-edit ‘retrospective’. It’s been described like ‘therapy, but for your writing’. Our contributors love that their commission comes with a chance to build their craft.
People...flock to joy and solutions-focused journalism.
We talk about media representation of LGBTQIA+ lives a lot, but this piece - like Netflix drama Heartstopper’s hit success - shows to me how much of an appetite there is for nuanced, reflective, and joyful queer representation. So much of the media is obsessed over polarised ‘us vs them’ narratives. But people at home are growing weary of clickbait, and they are exhausted by doom-scrolling for news. They flock to joy and solutions-focused journalism. We’re modelling the change, and stories like this show that it’s working.
> What opportunities and challenges do you see for improving the inclusivity and diversity of the industry in the next few years?
This is an exciting time for journalism, but only if we can harness and recognise what the audience needs: a return to the journalistic values which the Fourth Estate should champion. It’s overdue, wanted and, crucially, needed. There is rarely a silver bullet approach in anything - but each week when we talk about the queer content that’s gone down well with straight and LGBTQIA+ audiences, there is a recurring theme. They’ve been made by teams who have the lived experiences of what is being portrayed.
To improve LGBTQIA+ diversity, equity, and inclusion in the newsroom, it’s simple. Hire LGBTQIA+ people and let us tell our own stories.
To improve LGBTQIA+ diversity, equity, and inclusion in the newsroom, it’s simple. Hire LGBTQIA+ people and let us tell our own stories. And let us tell other stories too, our lived experiences provide valuable insights you simply can’t get without us. Only by hiring us will you understand us. And I don't mean the definitions and labels, but the nuances of our lives. That’s what you need if you want to represent us in your coverage.
> What does accountability mean to you in the context of journalism?
We don’t fear accountability, because we have confidence in what we publish. That’s why we became the first LGBTQIA+ publisher in the UK to be independently regulated. Our contract with our readers is that we will always do our best to uphold the highest standards, and where we get things wrong, we will make them right.
I think there are a lot of good intentions in all kinds of journalism. But in the rush to deliver during busy news cycles - the impact doesn’t match up. In that content soup, the broader context gets lost. Sure, it creates awareness, and that does serve a purpose. But the audience gets a raw deal. They are left unable to translate that information into action. We’re talking a slower approach, sharing why stories matter rather than rushing to say what happened. The audience deserves the full picture.
> What encouraged you to embrace approved regulation and to become an IMPRESS member?
The IMPRESS standards code protects the public from the worst instincts of the media. It prevents the press from directing hatred against a group of people on the basis of their gender, race, sexuality or transgender background. If this code were used across the industry, journalism in the UK would be starkly different. It would calm down the so-called ‘debates’ and ‘culture wars’ on identities and allow us to discuss more nuances.
Early on in journalism training, there is a fable you’re told, where a false newspaper report inspires a lynch mob to kill a man, who was later found to be innocent. Every time I see prejudiced stories about minorities, I think about that story. LGBTQIA+ hate crimes are up 210% in the last six years, to over 20,000 in 2020. It’s no coincidence this matches a rise in transphobic media headlines over the same time period. People are inspired and empowered by national press headlines that direct hatred against groups of people. That’s why the IMPRESS code matters to us. It creates a safer environment for LGBTQIA+ stories in the press, one that can prevent violent hate crimes and suicides caused by the cruel impact that current stories have on the fragility of LGBTQIA+ lives.
Jamie Wareham is an award-winning digital content producer, audience development lead, and journalist. Alongside founding QueerAF, he is currently a Forbes contributor and Interactions Manager for On Road Media. Jamie’s been listed in Forbes 30 Under 30, 2020, the UK Radio Academy‘s 30 Under 30, 2019, and four nominations for the British Podcast Awards. He is a regular speaker on industry panels and has been a judge for UK industry awards such as the British Podcast Awards, Audio Production Awards and the prestigious ARIAS. Every week he writes the free QueerAF newsletter to understand the LGBTQIA+ news and support queer creatives - sign up for free.