Spotlight On | Suyin Haynes, gal-dem Editor-in-Chief
"Our reporting, commentary and opinions may be provocative and boundary pushing, but will always be grounded in fact."
Suyin Haynes is a journalist and Editor-in-Chief of gal-dem, an award-winning media company committed to sharing the perspectives of people of colour from marginalised genders.
In this Spotlight On piece, Suyin shares the path that led her to the helm of one of the UK’s most exciting growing news brands, her perspective on the structural issues affecting the inclusivity of the journalism industry, as well as gal-dem’s plans for the future and commitment to collaborative journalism.
You are currently editor-in-chief of gal-dem. But how did you initially find your way into the world of journalism?
My first entry into the world of journalism was actually with gal-dem, back in 2015! I saw some posts on Facebook about this really cool collective who had started up to champion underrepresented voices and they were looking for a sub-editor. I thought, I could help with that! I learned so much in that voluntary role and so much from how we created the first print edition. It was this experience that gave me the confidence to apply for an internship at TIME magazine, which was then a gateway to so many other opportunities.
Our reporting, commentary and opinions may be provocative and boundary pushing, but will always be grounded in fact.
You previously worked for TIME, both in Hong Kong and in London. What did you learn from your time at the title and writing for a global audience?
I learned so much, but a key takeaway for me was the importance and responsibility of having such a platform and both the potential and challenges that can bring. TIME has a huge reputation and is known globally, and so that responsibility doesn't come lightly. One of my mentors there emphasised reporting, reporting and more reporting as absolutely crucial to the journalistic mission, and that taught me a great deal, about letting the story guide you and not the other way around.
International reporting has for so long been dominated by often white, often male 'foreign correspondents', parachuting into scenarios unknown to them and telling stories based on assumptions and stereotypes, and without sensitivity or care. Those latter qualities are always front of mind for me, and I learnt this from some amazing journalists working hard to change this type of storytelling.
You have written stories relating to the complex issues facing marginalised communities throughout your career, from looking at cultural appropriation in contemporary fashion to transgender rights. Was there a specific moment when you realised that journalism focused on giving voice to the experience of marginalised communities was what you wanted to do?
I wouldn't say there was a specific moment, but these types of stories have always interested and influenced me. I don't quite agree with that phrasing of "giving voice", and I wouldn't say that's what I do or have ever wanted to do. Everyone has a voice.
The issue is that not everyone is listened to or has the opportunity to speak for themselves with autonomy and a sense of empowerment. That's what I've held close throughout my career, and that's what we're looking to change about the UK media industry, collectively, here at gal-dem.
How do you feel the industry as a whole is doing when it comes to representing the interests of marginalised groups?
Certainly better than it was seven years ago when I first entered it, but there's still so much work to do. I think gal-dem has had a foundational role to play here. It was where I got my first byline and where many people of colour from marginalised genders who are now full time, professional journalists, also had the same experience.
Mainstream organisations need to take more responsibility.
I also think it's really important to recognise the contribution and work that outlets and individuals before us have had, like The Voice, as well as those making that change alongside us through new independent media, such as Black Ballad, Aurelia, oestrogeneration and more. But there are still massive issues that the industry faces that independent organisations can't change alone.
Look at the recent reports that have shown there's a culture of exclusion of women of colour from top jobs in newsrooms in the UK and beyond, and how writers' earnings have plummeted to just £7k a year. These are massive structural issues that mainstream organisations need to take more responsibility for changing.
Having worked as an editor for gal-dem since 2015, you have been a part of its journey for the majority of its existence. How do you look back on the publication’s progression over those seven years and how have you made your mark on the publication during your time as Editor-in-Chief so far?
So much has changed in those seven years. We became a company in 2019, and launched our membership model in 2020, which were two huge steps for us. Before working here, watching from afar, I was amazed to see that what was a dream and a passion project between a group of friends could actually become a business with salaried staff, funnelling money back into the hands of journalists and creatives of colour.
I see it as my role now to help ensure the business is as sustainable and as true to our ethics and values as it can be while we continue to grow. The work here is so collaborative. The seven editorial staff on my team are truly ambitious, talented, driven and creative, and I see it as my role to help make their ideas happen. A hallmark of the last year, and something I'm really keen to do more of going forwards, is collaborative work as I believe there's strength in numbers and shared knowledge and resources.
I see it as my role now to help ensure the business is as sustainable and as true to our ethics and values as it can be while we continue to grow.
We've collaborated with VICE on a series about abuse in the music industry, with Unearthed on a multimedia storytelling project about climate migration in Kenya, and with Liberty Investigates on an investigation about the deaths of infant asylum seekers in Home Office accommodation. I'm really proud of these projects and of the impact they have had.
As a publication, gal-dem says it will always seek the truth and apply journalistic rigour. Why is this important to you as a news brand and how do you ensure you do this?
Over the years, gal-dem has built up a significant amount of trust with our audience, and that's something we never take for granted. To seek the truth and apply journalistic rigour are crucial to building this trust. Our reporting, commentary and opinions may be provocative and boundary pushing, but will always be grounded in fact. Being regulated by Impress is an important part of this too. I think it's important for our readers to know that we do have that level of professionalism, and accountability is also a key part of being an independent publisher.
What does the future hold for gal-dem?
To continue building a sustainable business. We want to reach 6,000 members to support the work we do - to help us grow, evolve, and fulfil the ambitions we have. This is a huge focus for us going into 2023, and we need more people to join us on this mission of challenging Britain's media landscape. Join us!
Suyin Haynes is Editor-in-Chief at gal-dem, an award-winning publication dedicated to sharing the perspectives of people of colour from marginalised genders. Prior to this, she was a Senior Reporter with TIME, based in London and Hong Kong.