As the 24-year-old deputy editor of gal-dem, Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff is making her mark, to say the least.
This week the Peckham resident was named in XCityPlus’ 10 Women Under 30 Changing the Face of Journalism.
The space she’s carved for burgeoning writers and young women of colour is expanding by the day.
Gal-dem, the zine she co-founded, is an independent online magazine that was set up in reaction to what she describes as microaggressions in newsrooms.
She recalled journalists touching her hair at news desks in passing.
Later, she recalls an editor running around a national newsroom shouting that they needed to cover the case of Alice Gross because she was “white, pretty, and middle class.”
When asked about how she got her start in journalism, she said: “Initially I thought that journalism wasn’t for me because I was a shy woman of colour and came from a background in which people don’t usually flourish in the media.”
Her first week at The Guardian started out a bit differently however. “I was petrified, I didn’t get anything published, and didn’t speak to many people.”
Today her portfolio is impressive. She has interviewed popstars like Jamelia, written about Serena Williams’ black excellence for The Guardian, and investigated drug cultures for Vice.
But she puts her career boost down to creation of gal-dem.
The blog started out as a platform for women of colour to pitch and develop ideas on their own terms. Liv Little started it by effectively cold-calling other women of colour and seeing if they too felt the same. They did.
Cuff said none of them knew each other. She said: “We met on email and didn’t know what it would become. It wasn’t really something until suddenly it was.”
The response to gal-dem has been positive.
In fact, Joseph Harker, an editor at The Guardian who runs the Positive Action Scheme got in touch with Charlie to tell her how many applicants had listed gal-dem as experience on their C.Vs.
“I’m so pleased to say we’ve had some small impact in reshaping the media landscape for women of colour.”
The cynic in me then asked her how she’d like to see the industry diversify beyond a few placements at The Guardian.
“Firstly, they need to be widespread.
“But beyond that they need to be there for the right reasons. I remember speaking on a panel and a journalist at the Daily Mail said that any people of colour applying should get their application bumped to the front of the line.
“I felt a bit sick hearing that given the kind of content they produce. Irrespective of whose producing it.
“I think we need to bin the idea that journalists are simply reflecting as opposed to actively influencing behaviour. Frankly, it’s bulls**t.
“The left-wing journalists at these publications need to look at themselves and recognise what they’re writing has tangible effects.”
She added that class too was a huge barrier to producing a healthy media landscape.
“We need to be having conversations about class in journalism as well.
Obviously, most people of colour come from working class backgrounds, but we should be able to have those conversations at the same time, and it’s entirely possible.”
Charlie’s work can be seen in her monthly column at i.