Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?
Hi everyone, my name is Abbianca Makoni, an award-winning investigative reporter, editor, and founder of Awallprintss, a digital publication focused on telling the stories of diverse communities from around the globe.
Notably, that has included a three-part investigation into the rise of crystal meth in Zimbabwe by speaking to drug users, investigating why rehab centers are so expensive, and exposing corrupt authorities that fuel the crisis.
A few milestones include: An exclusive feature titled: As Green-Cards Are Denied in South Africa, One Man Has Built a Lucrative Underground Enterprise with Forged Visas.
Outside of hard news, we also have more unique essays such as ‘The Man Who Buried Bodies for Free During India’s Lockdown as Graveyard Workers Were Overwhelmed and Inside the Life of An Asian Influencer: Zoey Phoon On Diversity Quotas And ‘Trendy’ Inclusivity.
As well as our recent feature story published yesterday titled: “Gangs, Drugs, Covid-19: The Ex-Underworld Fixer Turned Church Leader” In this piece, we spoke to a man based in Burney, Lancaster about his journey from a top gang leader to now helping almost 1,000 people a week with food parcels and counseling.
The launch of the publication was inspired by my independent documentary, GXNG Girls, a look into the coercion of women and girls into UK gangs published last year. The response from the film, from both media professionals and young people was overwhelming and many of them encouraged me to launch something that focused on telling such stories.
I can’t talk about Awallprintss without talking about Safeeyah Kazi, our entertainment and culture editor who spearheads all lifestyle, culture, and entertainment content.
But before running Awallprintss, also known as AWP, I spent more than 3 years working at the Evening Standard.
I guess I don’t have to give the ES an introduction because everyone in the UK should know about it haha. But it’s one of London’s most read newspaper and digital site previously edited by Emily Sheffield, former Vogue editor, and George Osborne, the politician.
My work while at the Standard included an investigation into the hidden child victims of lockdown and an investigation into the effects of period poverty on street children living in Zimbabwe.
I have taken ‘deep dives’ exploring southeast Asia’s notorious Hydra gang and reported on the issue of the illegal wildlife trade in Africa.
And of course, the one thing a lot of people know me for is my exclusive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on structural racism in the UK.
Unlike the 89 percent of journalists working in the British news industry, I did not go to university to become a journalist. I took part in a joint apprenticeship with PA Media and the Evening Standard in 2018 which subsidized a 17-week NCTJ course.
At the moment, I’m running my publication alongside a role at a tech media house called POCIT. I’m the senior content executive there which means I have to know exactly what’s happening in the tech space so we can get daily content out there to our readers.
We have about 20,000 people who read our site and our newsletter so it’s important we’re constantly updating them on breaking news and important interviews.
What does your typical day look like?
7am: I get up and plan our Awallprintss’ vision for the week, what investigations or features are we working on, are any of the writers needing guidance with any stories, has anyone requested a one to one meeting, and I check how far we are with any exclusives we’ve commissioned etc.
8:30: I work from home permanently now, so I’ll go downstairs and get my breakfast ready. I’ll close my tabs that focus on Awallprintss and I’ll start browsing around and read up on all things tech.
9am: By this time I’m focused and ready to tackle the day and get content flowing for POCIT. We tend to interview some big tech stars like Arlan Hamilton, so I’ll make sure to double check I don’t have any interviews planned for that day and if I don’t, I’ll start researching the next best person to feature.
12.30: Lunch time, I’d be lying if I said I go for a run or a walk during my break. This is something I want to do in 2022 but during my lunch you can usually find me sat on my bed watching a movie.
1.30pm – 6pm: I’ll spend it interviewing people, checking the story submissions from other writers, creating graphics for our social media so our social media person can publish it, and working on any break news posts that relate to minority communities.
7pm: This is when I typically have dinner.
8pm: Back to all things Awallprintss. This might be scheduling stories that writers have written, liaising with my editing team on what stories they are set to commission and checking our Google analytics to see how our readers are interacting with our site.
We asked Abbianca what made her choose this career/industry?
If I’m honest journalism or media never seemed like a career that was for me. I was actually determined to be a radiographer like my mother. This was mainly because I was inspired by her work-ethic and partly because radiography, nursing and anything healthcare related were the main career prospects I was exposed to.
But when I was 15 years old, I started a print magazine. It was a platform for young people to express their views on the key issues that were affecting us at the time, from violence to mental health. But it was also a place where we could promote the amazing things young people from my community and other minority groups were achieving. Funnily enough, the now Bafta-winning actor Michael Ward appeared in my first issue!
It wasn’t until after my first year of sixth form when I lost a friend to knife crime that I started to take journalism seriously. After his death I started reading, watching, and listening to the news more – I wanted to see how reporters were covering knife crime and the issues affecting different communities. When I realised how bad the diversity was in UK newsrooms, that made me want to get into it.
My head of sixth form helped me by letting me have a few days off school for work experience and after contacting lots of journalists across the UK some (including Megha Mohan from the BBC, who still advises me) were nice enough to invite me to their newsrooms and mentor me for a short period.
After various unpaid work experience placements and workshops, I applied for the Evening Standard’s apprenticeship scheme. I took along all three issues of my own magazine as I wanted to show them the development of the brand. Luckily, I got the job!
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
I think some people felt I was overly ambitious or that I was getting too big for my boots when I expressed some of my ideas.
Another challenge I experienced was often being the only Black person in the room. I still experience it till this day when I go to some industry events.
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
I don’t think I’ve necessarily overcome the anxiety I feel when I’m one of just a few minorities in a space. It’s still very awkward.
But I’d say that I’m no longer concerned whether people think my ideas are too big or not. That’s mainly thanks to my faith, my friends and my partner who continuously shower me with support.
I’m a big believer in being unapologetically ambitious.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
At Awallprintss I’d say it’s supporting young diverse journalists to be on the forefront of the news agenda. We have a team of 11 junior writers who are unique in their own ways as well as a pool of freelancers dotted across the globe in India, Zimbabwe, Uganda, the UK and Nigeria.
For example, AWP published a story last month called ‘How Tinder helped me after my pre-lockdown divorce with my wife’. It is firstly a good example of how it wants to appeal to the younger demographic of Gen Z and millennials. But the perceptive reader will also notice the byline simply reads “anonymous user”.
This story is told by a man based in a Zimbabwean village who wanted to share his personal experience with other young men in similar situations. Normally, a reporter would simply interview the source and write up the story. Instead, I wanted to help him craft his own personal essay.
To do that, I enlisted the help of my two part-time contributors; showbiz editor Safeeyah Kazi, who previously worked and freelanced for the likes of Daily Express, Evening Standard and YouGov; and foreign affairs editor Nyasha Chingono, who freelances for the Guardian, CNN, News Hawks, and others.
They spoke with the man about the story on the phone, let him do the first draft, sent back corrections, and then he had the last say on the published version. All in all, it took about four drafts to get the final version out. But in the end, they got an authentic story that few other publications would have considered.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
My faith (I’m a Christian) and my family. We aren’t well off at all – seeing how hard my mum has had to work all her life pushes me to work harder and to never give up no matter the challenge.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
Very rarely do you see women in the media as editor and chiefs of investigative publications – especially women of colour. It’s great that we can be the representation that young girls aspiring to be in the media sector can see.
What is your biggest achievement in life?
Doing what I said I’d do and not giving up no matter the hurdles along the way.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
Surround yourself with true friends – they’ll make the journey to the top more fun, and they’ll always be there during the hard times.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Yes – I experienced a not-so-great incident while I was chasing a crime story and the man I was speaking to came at me and tried to kiss me.
I don’t believe if I was a male reporter, he would have done this
Outside your work, what are your favorite hobbies and pastimes?
Reading, watching action and psychological thriller movies, and cooking!
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
If they can do it – why can’t I?
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
It’s now or never.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
If I can say two I’d say my mum – it’s a cliche answer but it’s true – she’s an incredibly strong hardworking woman.
The next person would be Morgan Debaun, the CEO and editor of Blavity, a US-based media company centred on Black culture and news.
The news site has grown into a digital ecosystem with a monthly reach of over 100 million people and over 100 corporate partners per year.
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
I can’t speak for all industries but I think more can be done in the media industry to get more women in very senior positions – not just in lifestyle or culture journalism but investigations, politics, and crime.
I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a crime editor who is a woman – most of the ones I know personally or know of are men.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you’ll always be right – be willing to listen and learn to your team and be quick to adapt.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
The journey ahead is so sweet! Keep going.