Women in Journalism: Q&A with Kristen Hare

Some of the most innovative projects currently building the future of local news have been started and led by women, and for Kristen Hare, that’s incredibly exciting.

“There are a lot of women who are really stepping out and into the unknown and they are doing so without the kind of funding that white men get. They are building connections and community,” she said.

Kristen Hare

Hare covers the business and people of local news at The Poynter Institute the editor of Locally, which is a project chronicling the power and perils of local journalism during the pandemic.

Hare has been at Poynter since 2013, and also writes feature obituaries for The Tampa Bay Times.

I spoke with Hare as part of Women in Journalism, a project published in Solution Set to shine a light on the successes and struggles of women working in news, lift up their stories and achievements, and share their words of wisdom to guide young women in the space toward finding their own success.

Here is a condensed and lightly edited version of my conversation with Hare:

Why did you choose to pursue a career in journalism?

I don’t think I had a choice about whether or not to become a journalist. I just always was. I have the typical story of trying to start my own newspaper. It was in the 4th grade or the 6th grade, I’m not sure when. I won a reflections writing contest for a short story when I was 10, in the 4th grade, and I remember thinking as sort of the awkward nerdy kid, “Oh! There is a thing I’m good at. I should do more of this,”and I just really loved writing.

I didn’t do journalism again until high school but then took J101 the first chance that I got. I was the youngest person in the class. By my senior year I got to be the editor of my high school paper.

My dad said to me at one point, “If you’re going to be a writer, you should be a journalist at least so you can get paid.” Which, looking back, is hilarious!

I was lucky enough to have a top journalism school in my backyard, the University of Missouri, which was 3 hours from home. I had to go to a state school, and luckily it was not far. I got to go there and study journalism with some of the best.

Do you have any role models or mentors in the journalism field or in general that you look up to?

I have almost only worked with women who have helped me get by. I have been really lucky in my career. Starting with a journalism professor at the University of Missouri who I had for my capstone class. Her name is Mary Kay Blakely. She took me seriously. For people who work in features, it’s sometimes hard to get taken seriously. People view it as fluff, and not the connective tissues of journalism.

I was in the Peace Corps after college. I took two years as a high school teacher in Guyana, in South America. I came back to an amazing job at the St. Joseph News-Press in Missouri and got to work with an amazing woman, Jessica DeHaven.

There were three women that were really pivotal for me being able to be a journalist and a mother. They are Colleen Kenney, who I don’t think is in journalism anymore. She was a journalist in Nebraska. Then Cindy Lange-Kubick, who was also a journalist in Nebraska. And then a woman who I worked with later named Linda Lockhart who is a journalist in St. Louis.

Early in my career, I was at the Nieman Narrative Conference with Cindy and Colleen sharing a hotel room. They were both amazing writers and reporters who were moms, and at the time I was spending hours and weeks and days on stories and going out in the middle of the night to cover things and spending weekends on assignments. I didn’t understand how to do that and have a family. They promised me that I could and that journalism is not modeling. You get better with age. Have a family, enjoy them, and you can dip back into what you want, when you want. It kept me in journalism and allowed me to do different kinds of jobs that would meet the needs of my family without feeling like I had to give up completely.

Now my kids are 13 and 10 and I feel like I’m doing some of the most significant work of my career. I was there for the stuff that mattered for them too.

Linda was a role model for me also in my second job at the St. Louis Beacon. She was a pioneer in her newsroom as a woman who managed working and had babies. I had my second daughter when I was at the Beacon. At that point, Linda’s kids were grown. So, having women far enough ahead of you on the path to see that you can do it was helpful. She was doing this remarkable engagement work through the Public Insight Network that I never even thought about or saw before. So those women were really pioneers for me. 

What advice would you give to your younger self when you were just starting out in journalism?

I would tell myself that other people’s ideas of success aren’t going to be yours. The goal isn’t necessarily to make it to The New York Times, or on television, or to become a famous journalist. The goal is to love a place, to cover it in a way that serves that place, and to build a life there that you can enjoy when you’re not working.

And so the pinnacle isn’t where you work, but it’s the work that you do and the people that you work with.

How do you feel women are represented in your area of reporting?  How do you think the business challenges facing the news industry have impacted the representation of women in your field?

I am one of a few women who cover the media. Most people covering the media, at least most that are well-known, are white guys. There are more white women than there are women of color and men of color. It is a perpetual cycle – we are drawn to the things that are like us. I think it hurts coverage of the media when we don’t have people who look like different communities and it just reflects the problems of newsrooms everywhere – that they are too white and too male.

One of the things I’m really excited about is that some of the best and brightest examples of hope for our future are coming, right now, from women in local journalism. Elizabeth Green at Chalkbeat and the American Journalism Project, Sarah Alvarez and Candice Fortman at Outlier, and Mitra Kalita are examples.

There are a lot of women who are really stepping out and into the unknown and they are doing so without the kind of funding that white men get. They are building connections and community.

There are so many women who are doing this work right now. There are also a lot of women at the community journalism level who are publishers and are really deeply connected to their communities.

They aren’t the type of people you are going to see on talk shows on Sunday morning. But they are the people who are out there doing the work. 

Do you feel like you need to make sacrifices in your personal life to compete with male coworkers? 

I don’t feel like I have to make sacrifices in order to keep up with men. I am a better reporter because of the body that I live in and my experiences in the world, and hopefully more empathetic to try and understand the experiences of people who don’t look like me. I think they have to keep up with me. If we have learned anything in this pandemic, it’s that mothers are fucking awesome and are doing all of the things at once and that is not easy. This is nothing new. The ability of women to have great careers and be good partners and support their families or raise children, or not – all of those things make us better journalists.

I think the only thing I have had to let go of is worrying about what other people think of me and my work. I don’t worry about the hours I work, although I work all of the hours that I need to, because I know my work is good enough. Maybe I’ve been lucky to work with people who make me believe that. I certainly will put all of the hours into my work that I need to in order to do a project right. But at the end of the day, I think a lot of us work in a field where your work is the proof of what you are doing. My work is still connected to stories that I feel confidence in and that are worthwhile. 

Are there ways that being a woman has been advantageous or helpful to your journalism?

I think the key to the way that I work actually came from being a Peace Corps volunteer. Living in a place where I didn’t look like everyone else, I had to work really hard to build bridges to understand my studies and their parents, my neighbors in the village, and the community around me.

I did marry a boy from my village. My husband is Guyanese, and so we’ve been together for 20 years, and that work continues.

I feel like at 22 I got this very intensive two-year lesson in listening and finding out what people need and then working with them to do that. So, that work early on has shaped everything about how I work as a reporter. It is all based in empathy and humility.I just have questions, I never have any assumptions.

As you start your work that way, I think that whether you are a man or a woman you are going to come from a place of authenticity with your work.

What point in your career was the most difficult for you (either an age, certain role, or specific instance) and how did it affect the way you think about the journalism field now and where it’s going?

That’s a great question. The point that I felt like was the hardest was after my son was born. We moved to another city to be close to my family. I didn’t have a job, I was freelancing at the time. My husband had a job and my mom was right down the street, and I remember I had won some national awards the year before. And again, back to my younger self, the pinnacle is never where you think it is.

I had gotten some job offers out of those awards and was on maternity leave and was in a place where it felt like I was moving in the direction It was supposed to, but I had this baby. This baby who I really wanted to be with. I remember, it was awards season and I didn’t have anything to turn in. I was doing journalism but it was stuff that was paying the bills, nothing to put in a scrapbook.

We had bought our first house and I was sitting on the front step crying. My husband came out and said, “What’s wrong?” I told him how I was feeling and he just said, “Okay, listen, we will bring my mom from Guyana, or we’ll have your mom help, or we’ll hire a full-time nanny. Go back to work full time. I want you to do that if that’s what you want.” And then I realized that is not what I wanted to do. I really wanted to be here right now.

But it was hard at the time because it felt like my career was passing me by. Very shortly after that, I started freelancing for the St. Louis Beacon and found these editors who taught me how to report in ways I had never done before. I got to cover race and immigration, and basically demographics and communities and the kind of stuff that my work was really rooted in.

My career wasn’t passing me by. It was just waiting for me to take a different lane. But at the time, that was a hard thing to watch. 

Something I’ve done at Poynter now for about 5 or 6 years, is a course called Work-Life Chemistry. The concept is that work-life balance is bullshit because your work is your life. You don’t have to choose. Most of us work really hard to have careers that we are really proud of. We shouldn’t feel like we have to be separate from that.

I think a lot of those early experiences helped me shape that more holistic view of how I want all of the things to work together like a chemistry formula and not like a false equivalence.

Do you mentor other women? What’s your approach to mentorship? 

I get to have several really significant ways of having relationships with women. I wouldn’t consider them to be formal mentorship. That is probably just more the way I work. It is, hopefully, organic.

One of those ways is coaching through the Poynter Women’s Leadership Academy which, frankly, I’m pretty sure I get more out of it than they do cause they are just really amazing.

The Work-Life Chemistry work is probably the place that has the biggest impact on the most people and I hope is the most significant. I’m hoping on ways to expand upon that once I get an extra 24 hours in a day.

I have relationships with some of my younger coworkers. I try to be a lowkey leader. I also try to be a lowkey mentor. It’s less like, “We are going to do a monthly check-in,” but more like, “Hey, you should speak up in this meeting. Do you want a little coaching on what to say?” — including mentorship on coaching and writing. I think the place that I see I have the most value is just to punch up when I can. If I have to be the person to step up and say when there are problems with a story, or questioning on a larger level some issues that women in local media are facing. Those are also places that I hope that I can be, when appropriate, a shield.

I think formalized mentorship is great, I am always on the lookout for people who have great potential and just need a little nudge. What doors can I open? What encouragement can I give? It’s more of a lowkey experience which also means that it is more doable for me too. 

What do you hope for the next generation of young women entering the journalism field? What are your hopes for them? What would you like that space to be like? 

I hope young women entering journalism can see themselves at every level and every generation, that they see examples of parents and people who have chosen not to have children, that they see examples of managers and people who have chosen to do the thing still and not lead the thing, and that journalism does a better job at representing women, but particularly representing women of color and looking like the communities that we serve. I hope that they feel safe to speak up and that the men around them do better and make it even better for them. Nothing will work if the men around them aren’t also making it better.

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