How Vileine started a journalism programme to tackle Dutch media's diversity problem

The popular Dutch digital women’s magazine set up a seven-month academy to teach aspiring female journalists new skills and help them tackle underrepresented topics

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In a nutshell

A seven-month training programme for aspiring female journalists, resulting in guaranteed placements at established Dutch news organisations, with the goal of increasing the representation of women in media.

Background

  • Vileine is an online women’s magazine that was founded in 2015 by journalist and media entrepreneur Hadjar Benmiloud. It was described at the time as "the most interesting innovation in the field of journalism in The Netherlands since De Correspondent”. The name ‘Vileine’ derives from the Greek word ‘philia’, which means love and friendship.
  • Working with over 150 volunteers, it began publishing three times a day on the topics of health, work and sex, and sought to recognise the interconnected nature of its audience’s age, socio-economic background and sexuality.
  • It quickly became the largest feminist platform in The Netherlands and Belgium, attracting a community of 25 to 35-year-old women, and reaching on average 100,000 unique visitors a month and one million page views a month at its peak.
  • Revenue came from events, sponsored content with selected partners, and a partnership with Blendle but it was not sufficient to keep Vileine publishing.
  • In early 2018, Vileine stopped producing content and pivoted to Vileine Academy, a seven-month training programme for aspiring female journalists. The programme consisted of weekly masterclasses and work placements in established news organisations.

How did they do it?

  • From its inception, Vileine was a talent pool for Dutch media. 31 of its volunteers working outside of journalism ended up being hired by national publications (including its art director), while 38 who were already working in media in some form increased their profile by writing for other publications or being invited on TV shows or panel discussions.
  • However, Hadjar noticed that the writers were hired to write about their identity, often in the opinion or personal experience section, which she felt was tokenistic. She wanted women to be hired for core roles in news organisations.
  • Erik van Bruggen, founder of BKB Campaigning Bureau and former head of campaigns for the Dutch Labour party, suggested that she should start a school to expand Vileine’s mission and directly impact the diversity of Dutch media.
  • Hadjar researched the needs of Dutch and Belgian news organisations, speaking to over 30 managing editors and editors-in-chief including Stijn Bronszwaer (managing editor at NRC), Ronald Ockhuysen and Kamilla Leupen (editor-in-chief and managing editor of Amsterdam daily, Parool) and Phillippe Remarque (journalism director of De Persgroep). They were receptive to the idea of the Vileine Academy and two news organisations, Trouw and De Volkskrant, signed up for a year-long pilot at a cost of €6,000 per student.
  • In February 2019, applications were opened to apply for the academy by submitting a CV, list of skills and passions and an underrepresented topic that applicants wanted to investigate during the course of the academy.
  • Hadjar used the Vileine network of volunteers to spread the word and also proactively contacted suitable candidates on LinkedIn. She sourced over 100 suitable students. A shortlist of 30 was then provided to Trouw and De Volkskrant and each organisation picked two people. One of the selected applicants provided her own funding (€1,500) to join the academy part-time.
  • Since April, alongside their placement, students have completed seven modules, each with four or five masterclasses, on topics such as Turkish affairs, European politics and computer science. Each week, guest speakers are arranged for the students – these have included Lotfi el Hamidi (columnist and part-time editor at NRC), Rasit Elibol (prizewinning travel reporter and investigative data-journalist for Groene Amsterdammer) and Christiaan Triebert (visual investigations at The New York Times).
  • As part of the programme, Hadjar also creates monthly learning goals for the students and has weekly coaching sessions with them to ensure they are on track.
  • Towards the end of the academy, Hadjar provides an evaluation for the host news organisation based on feedback from the students and her reflections on the process. Suggestions have included being mindful of inclusive language in the newsroom and the best ways to connect the students to mentors.

What did they learn?

  • Pitching the idea of the academy to editors of national news organisations proved difficult on several fronts: it was difficult to find time for them to meet, some did not see it as a priority and others did not have the budget. Also the scope of the programme changed a lot during the course of the conversations with Trouw and De Volkskrant because each of them had different priorities. It was important for Hadjar to be flexible.
  • Although the programme has yet to finish, four out of five students in the academy have been offered full-time paid roles in the news organisations where they are doing their placements. This was one of the KPIs of the academy.
  • Some changes were also needed during the academy to ensure the modules and masterclasses were of most use to the students. For example, interviewing was brought forward and the placement was extended to four months.
  • The academy has attracted enough interest that a second edition will start in February 2020, with applications opening in December 2019. If that goes well, there are plans to digitise the modules and masterclasses so anyone can complete them online.

In their own words

Hadjar Benmiloud, founder, Vileine Academy

"You can’t hire writers of a certain background to write solely about their identity. If you’re from an underrepresented background, you’re going to see blind spots but it shouldn’t be their only job. It’s the job of the whole newsroom, and particularly the leadership.”

How would you improve it?
"I would have stopped publishing sooner. Even though we were very successful in refreshing the Dutch media landscape, it was all paid for by the ones who were least able to carry the costs and weren't profiting off of it at all. "

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