Opinion

Gal-dem is closing but its legacy lifting up new voices in media will live on

The publication by and for women and non-binary people of colour was founded in 2015 by Liv Little.

person holding a gal-dem magazine cover titled 'the roaring twenties

gal-dem said all of its articles will remain live for one year. (Image: Michele Theil)

Gal-dem, a publication for and by women and non-binary people of colour, announced yesterday that it would be shutting down due to financial difficulties. It was a voice for those less heard in the overwhelmingly white, male British media, and its closure is a blow to everyone who supported its mission.

In a statement published to their website and shared on social media, the team wrote that “continuing to operate as a business is unfortunately no longer feasible”.

“The hard decision to close the business has come from difficulties we’ve faced in stabilising our position both financially and structurally,” it continued, citing the challenge of keeping the company afloat through the pandemic and economic downturn.

I was heartbroken to hear the news. I have loved and championed gal-dem as an amazing resource to read the incisive and important stories we need, and dreamed of one day working for them. As a woman of colour, it was one of the only places I felt was publishing the pieces I wanted to write and allowed me to explore stories that may not have been possible elsewhere. Gal-dem gave me my first commission in journalism nearly four years ago. It was unpaid but it was the first time I believed that I could be a journalist outside of the cosy and safe home of my student magazine. 

I’m not the only one who was able to break into journalism because of gal-dem. The news spread quickly throughout my freelance journalist group chats and on Twitter as people, and especially people of colour, began sharing their disappointment. Many journalists of colour, who have since gone on to write for the Guardian, the New York Times, PA, and more, wrote about how “sad” it was that a publication that heralded women and non-binary people of colour has had to close among an industry that is 87 per cent white, according to the NCTJ Diversity in Journalism report of 2022

Gal-dem was founded in 2015 by Liv Little, who said her goal was to share stories from “voices which are so often left out of the mainstream”. It started out as a volunteer-operation and later grew the organisation to a team of paid staff, with a small budget for freelancers. The publication made its mark by working on collaborations with Guardian Weekend and VICE, as well as publishing groundbreaking investigations about transphobia in the gender-based violence sector and interviewing the likes of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and I May Destroy You star Michaela Coel.

It offered women and non-binary people of colour a space to be able to write about issues close to their hearts, whether it was related to culture, politics, lifestyle, or personal experiences. It wasn’t the only independent publication out there, nor the only one focused on highlighting marginalised voices, but it was one of the few that felt like it could truly succeed. We were all rooting for it and for the people who worked there, who now face handling this loss as well as the loss of their income. 

It isn’t, by any means, the only publication to find operating during the current cost of living crisis a challenge, when people are cutting down on their spending and cancelling subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. Reach PLC, which owns a swathe of local and national newspapers with corresponding websites across the UK announced nearly 1,000 layoffs in January, while the commuter newspaper Metro faced cuts by its parent company DMGT too.

American-based Vox Media and Dotdash Meredith, both of which own major titles, also announced layoffs earlier this year, while broadcaster NPR gutted four of its major podcasts just last week. 

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Being a journalist on Twitter, often our preferred platform, isn’t as fun when it seems like everyone is getting laid off. Many bigger publications have been able to weather the storm so far, preventing any restructuring or redundancies, but with major companies like Reach, Vox Media, and NPR all struggling, what chance did a small independent media company like gal-dem have?

Even though many people loved gal-dem, which is clear from the outpouring of emotion  on Twitter, there simply wasn’t enough funding to sustain them.

Gal-dem sent a strong message to other media companies, that people of colour have voices that are dying to be heard and they should be in newsrooms. I hoped that the media landscape had started to listen but, when I wasn’t looking, gal-dem started to flounder. 

Publications like these make journalism, as a whole, better. It offered diverse insight into a variety of issues and gave people a perspective they may not be hearing from other forms of media. It is unfortunate that there are not enough voices of colour in newsrooms across the UK. That’s what gal-dem was hoping to fix.

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I worked for gal-dem a handful of times over the years, always going back to them when I felt like something I wanted to write maybe wouldn’t fit a “normal” publication. I saw several editors come and go, and was elated when they first began paying writers and then slowly started to increase their fee for freelancers, which meant gal-dem was also my first paid commission. 

I had so much love for this publication that supported me and every other person of colour who sometimes felt out of place in an overwhelmingly white media industry. They made me believe that I could handle whatever British media threw at me. I only wish they could have handled it too.

Gal-dem deserved to survive. I can only hope that someone will revive it in the future and make it the publication it could be.

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