Victoria Newton (above) editor of The Sun speaking at Newsrewired in May 2023Credit: Credit: Mousetrap Media/Mark Hakansson
Can you really blame women for not wanting to stick around or enter the news industry? 2023 has had its fair share of low moments for women in news.
Misogyny went mainstream when actor Laurence Fox made sexist remarks about journalist Ava Evans on GB News and show host Dan Wotton failed to challenge him.
Women journalists continue to face torrents of abuse both on- and offline. New data reveals a quarter of UK women journalists have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence in connection to their work. Three quarters have faced threats to their safety and a fifth considered leaving the industry altogether.
As pro-male social norms harden, women journalists are often attacked as a result of their writing. Sophia Smith Galer, a journalist well-known for her work on TikTok, told us recently how her reporting on Andrew Tate led to his followers "coming for her".
This is just a snapshot of the reality for women journalists: many do not feel safe inside or outside of the newsroom.
Sexual misconduct at work is a concern not just for the talent leaving the industry, but also for those coming in. We spoke with two budding journalists about how they were affected by #MeToo stories in the media. Both still wanted to pursue a career in journalism, but three worrying themes emerged.
Sexual abuse and harassment is an ever-present concern that is difficult to talk about, not just within newsrooms. Women are also reluctant to rock the boat because it is so hard to break into journalism.
There is also a genuine fear that blowing the whistle would lead to them gaining a reputation for being a troublemaker or an HR problem.
Strength in numbers
The good news is more women than ever are rising to the top news desk jobs: 40 per cent of national UK newspapers are now edited by women. But this comes with new challenges.
The Sun's editor-in-chief Victoria Newton spoke at our last Newsrewired conference about wanting to support her women colleagues better and to make better editorial judgments at the male-centric newspaper - like a headline for the Matt Hancock scoop in 2021 that did not resort to "puns and sex jokes".
Elsewhere, Rozina Breen - a former BBC senior leader for more than a decade - took up the post of CEO and editor-in-chief of the non-profit The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Being a woman of colour from a working-class family, Breen told us on our podcast that taking on the role came with 'compounded otherness'. Being a news leader means you can be seen as separate from the team, with the added pressure of bearing the expectations of all senior women and women of colour.
- Join us: Hear Rozina Breen speak at our next Newsrewired conference on 15 November at Reuters HQ. See the agenda and book your ticket now
'Lifting as you climb' is a mantra Breen takes seriously, meaning to take women up the career ladder with her. That is also practised by Catherine Salmon, who this year became the first woman editor in the history of The Herald, a 239-year-old newspaper in Scotland, bringing three new, award-winning women columnists in with her.
"I wouldn't have the job if not for covid," she says on our podcast. Hybrid working has become the norm and that has benefitted women - as well as men - enormously.
"I have seen hugely talented women journalists and desk heads having to step aside because there wasn’t flexibility. That is changing; I have felt and seen the change. In some ways, I am the change."
Mother-of-three Salmon says she is "flying the flag for worn-out mothers" and accepts that her appointment is also a big deal for young women with aspirations to reach the top.
Burnout setting in
Diversity matters because it raises new perspectives, questions and objections. However, diversity alone will not fix the issue, says Luba Kassova, an independent audience strategy consultant, and the author of the report From Outrage to Opportunity: the Missing Perspectives of Women in News.
Her research finds that even when women reach positions of leadership they continue to face sidelining, she tells us on our podcast. This could include being informed about decisions after the fact or dismissing stories that matter to them.
Gender-focused topics - sexual violence, reproductive health, gender equality, discrimination - are often seen as "soft" and "solved" in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. They also account for a tiny fraction (0.02 per cent) of global news coverage, despite some high-profile examples of these topics rising to the top of the news agenda during the pandemic.
Usually, it is women pushing for these stories - and better standards of reporting on them - time and again, leading to them getting seriously burnt out when change is not happening.
The same is true for those leading diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, which are usually left to women - and women of colour - to head up. It can be a lonely and exhausting experience.
"You’re asking the disadvantaged person to resolve the problem of their own under-representation at great cost to their own careers because DEI initiatives have been shown to impede on people’s opportunity to be promoted in the news. So that’s another unfairness," explains Kassova.
Men as part of the solution
Where do we go from here? A familiar refrain comes from Kassova: "We are exceptionally good in journalism at holding others to account, but are less ready to do so when it comes to ourselves."
That is not to say that allies are ineffective. News organisations just need influential people from over-represented demographics - usually white men - to be champions for change, as well. That means being made accountable for diversity and representation efforts, standards of reporting and conditions in the workplace.
I had no idea women weren’t involved in the future of journalism! Didn’t get the memo https://t.co/ifYjq655l9— Sophia Smith Galer FRSA (@sophiasgaler) October 3, 2023
Safety policies are also necessary, which factor in the specific ways women are targetted and abused online and offline, and the link between these types of abuse. Flexible working, childcare and equal pay policies all lead to better retention of women at all levels of the workplace.
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