TRAILBLAZER: Anne Alexander was the only Black female lobby journalist for 18 years but she believes times are changing
GMB's political produer and journalist of 25 years, Anne Alexander.
Anne Alexander thinks it took the 2020 killing of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement to finally prompt editors into striving for a more diverse-looking lobby.
“I was the first Black female journalist in the lobby and for 18 years I was the only one. In the last two years four young Black women have joined the lobby or press gallery.
“I think it actually took George Floyd dying for people to look around and think ‘hang on a minute; we should probably try and be more diverse’,” she says.
“I think there have been two or three senior people in newspapers who have made some brave decisions, and taken some calculated risks, by taking someone with a less traditional background and giving them a chance.”
The story of Alexander’s journey from a working class family in the West Midlands to Westminster is one of quiet determination. She doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer but she has inspired a generation of reporters who have worked alongside her, and acted as an unofficial mentor to many more.
She is passionate about race representation in the lobby as well making sure working class journalists reach the top of their field.
Her background is a typical Windrush story. She is one of five children born to Jamaican parents who came over to England to work in factories in the Black Country in the 1960s. Her mum and dad were keen on her attending school because they’d had to leave their own aged 13, but they never put pressure on her to achieve particular grades.
After university and a few years working full-time she got onto a paid-for journalism training course at the Wolverhampton Express & Star. Courses sponsored by newspapers are rare, which Alexander thinks is a huge problem for proper socio-economic diversity in newsrooms.
Stints as deputy political editor of the Express & Star and political editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post followed, before she moved into TV and for the last 12 years she’s been the well-known behind-the-scenes face in Westminster for Good Morning Britain (GMB), getting guests on the show, drawing up questions and briefing presenters.
She said her career has been a privilege and wants to be known for her hard work, journalism and for treating people fairly, rather than being the “Black journalist” – but she acknowledges she was in a unique position for almost two decades.
Incidents of racism, sexism, and a dismissive attitude from people in Parliament have been rare but have still featured in her career. A security guard for a committee hearing once told her the seat she was sitting on was only for journalists, she has been mistaken as a journalist’s secretary by a senior political party staffer, and a male MP once called her “surprisingly articulate”.
“For the most part being at Parliament has been absolutely fine but [racism] is there, and the same as it exists in general life. There can be subtle things and assumptions people make about you and your intelligence.”
While she wishes she’d questioned a few more things over the years, she says there is no doubt a new cohort of Black female political journalists will challenge things that need a shake-up.
“They’re so mature, confident and more willing to speak up than I ever was at that age,” she explains.
“This younger generation are so much more willing to challenge and to push. When I was growing up in the 70s and the 80s the way racism was handled was so different, now we’re so much more aware of the damage that racism will do. Now these younger women have a whole new approach and I’m so glad.”
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