Welcome to the third and final installment of Women in Journalism, our celebration of Women’s History Month. I’m Kyra Miller, The Lenfest Institute’s advancement associate.
This issue is focused on The Future. This week, we’re learning about the lessons this group of women have learned over the course of their careers, their approaches to mentorship, and their hopes for the next generation of women in journalism.
Last week we heard from this group of ten amazing women about how they feel women are represented in the journalism industry, struggles they have faced competing with male counterparts, as well as the opportunities that being a woman in journalism have opened up for them. Our first issue focused on how they got into journalism and their early careers.
All of these women bring something so unique to their work, each from different personal and professional backgrounds – yet the shared experience of being a woman in journalism ties all their stories together.
Here are the ten incredible women we interviewed for this project:
- Akoto Ofori-Atta, Co-founder and Executive Editor at Capital B
- Chabeli Carrazana, Economy Reporter at The 19th*
- Cierra Hinton, Executive Director-Publisher at Scalawag
- Danese Kenon, Director of Video & Photography at The Philadelphia Inquirer
- Errin Haines, Editor at Large at The 19th*
- S.Mitra Kalita, CEO and Co-founder at URL Media and Publisher at Epicenter NYC
- Kristen Hare, Editor of Locally at Poynter
- Rebekah Monson, Co-founder and COO at WhereBy.Us
- Robyn Tomlin, Editor at News & Observer/Herald-Sun | Southeast Regional Editor at McClatchy
- Snigdha Sur, Founder & CEO at The Juggernaut
1. 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?
ERRIN HAINES, Editor at Large, The 19th*: There was a point in my career where I was at a professional crossroads. I was questioning whether I was good as I thought I was. I was the same journalist I had always been, but I was being made to feel like I wasn’t as good as I actually was or that my journalism instincts were off. As a woman in this industry, when your confidence is shaken you have to claw your way back from that. If you make the mistake of internalizing that and believing what some people say about you, it is very difficult to recover from.
The good news is that I did make it past that period. I am thriving and things have never been better for me in my career. But that is the dirty secret of people who are successful in this business for women and women of color. At some point you are going to hit a wall. It is what you do and what happens after you hit that wall that determines everything else.
CIERRA HINTON, Executive Director-Publisher, Scalawag: In journalism, the hardest time was the end of 2018 through the beginning of 2020. That is when I was really beginning to understand what it means to be a publisher and all of the things that go into running a newsroom, but also all of the ways that our organization was falling short and what that meant for our newsroom. It wasn’t even about our ability to grow, but our ability to survive.
I can recall many times where we asked ourselves, “Are we going to make payroll? Are we going to be able to pay our writers?” We did every time, but it was hard and stressful. I was ashamed. I didn’t want to talk to many people about it. I was carrying all of this shame, stress, and guilt. It made me resentful. I’m now on the other side of that and am able to understand that none of that was a reflection on my leadership. As the leader, I had to make the decision that that was not the place my team was going to stay. I had to figure out what to change and do to move us away from this reality.
AKOTO OFORI-ATTA, Co-founder and Executive Editor, Capital B: I have the most fun in journalism when I’m working in diverse newsrooms and when I am working with people from different backgrounds. When I’m not in that space, that is when it is the absolute most challenging.
When I think about moments where I was not in a diverse newsroom, I think about how that experience is compounded all across the industry. One thing I learned from that experience is that things don’t get suddenly undone when you hire someone of color. There are tons of things that happen in majority white newsrooms that get codified and they congeal over time. You have to start to undo that.
S.MITRA KALITA, CEO and Co-founder, URL Media and Publisher, Epicenter NYC: I would say there have been many moments. The death of George Floyd really made me rethink objectivity and how we take police reporting at such face value. But I also thought of that a few years ago with the death of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown. Every now and then, there’s something where you think, are we really here again? You can get very demoralized but you need to get back up and think about what can be done. That is the role of the journalist. I always say if you eschew idealism, this isn’t the job for you. We are so much about this belief in news and information as a way to share power, so you have to believe in that power and its ability to change things.
DANESE KENON, Director of Video & Photography, The Philadelphia Inquirer: I think the hardest part of my career is still happening. It’s the transition between being a journalist on the street and being in the office, fighting for digital journalism. It’s difficult. You have to really pace yourself because when you’re in an industry like this, you want things to happen quickly and that’s just not possible. So, you make little changes that turn into big changes and being patient can be very difficult, especially when you’re passionate about something. I loved being on the street. I loved talking to people as they told their stories. I loved engaging in that way and I do miss that, but I think the work that I’m doing now is important because visual journalists, photojournalists, and videographers need somebody to advocate for them in their work. I know where they stand because I’ve done some of the things that they’ve done. The industry is changing rapidly, but the foundation is the same, so I think my experience in the street has made it not easy but helps me to understand their position and it helps me to advocate for their work and their stance better.
2. Do you mentor other women? What’s your approach to mentorship?
REBEKAH MONSON, Co-founder and COO, WhereBy.Us: I do have several mentees; some of them are in media, some of them are in technology, and some crossover. I also host open office hours on a weekly basis for people from underrepresented backgrounds in media and technology. People come for a little advice, then we chit chat, and maybe I can make some introductions for them.
I do that work for a number of reasons. One, because I aspire to be a person who lifts other people up who are smart and may not understand how to play the game or how to open doors for themselves. And a lot of the folks that I end up talking with who are earlier in their careers, they’re seeing entirely different stuff than I am at this phase in my career. It’s an opportunity for me to learn what they’re struggling with, what they’re thinking about, and to help them with career development and personal growth.
It’s the most rewarding work I do and for me it’s a cornerstone of my professional practice. I can’t imagine my life without great mentors and I can’t imagine my life without also putting that energy in the universe for other people as well.
DANESE KENON, Director of Video & Photography, The Philadelphia Inquirer: I do and sometimes it just happens naturally. I was a student in the National Association of Black Journalists, and that’s how I came up because there were no women photographers. I didn’t even know Black women were in the photojournalism field until I met my mentor now. But they do exist. It’s like seeing a unicorn in the wild. I was like, “Oh my God, there’s another Black woman photographer.”
So, I came up in that environment and then I was taught to give back. I’ve had women behind me, say “Danese, how do I do this?” It’s a natural occurrence and it’s a give and take with mentorship.
SNIGDHA SUR, Founder & CEO, The Juggernaut: I’ve grappled with the term mentorship because for me, I found that sometimes mentorship implies that somebody has more experience or tenure than you. But during Covid, I’ve really learned that people forget how powerful their peer network is. So, I would say, I really have leaned into that peer network of my fellow female founders, my fellow non-female founders, and my fellow nonbinary founders who might be at different stages than me, or might be a very similar stage with the same problems. It’s been really nice to be able to run ideas by them and understand what’s going on.
I have Fridays earmarked as pay-it-forward days. I really try in every single field where I think I have a sphere of influence to figure out how I can encourage or improve numbers.
ROBYN TOMLIN, President & Editor at News & Observer/Herald-Sun | Southeast Regional Editor at McClatchy: Yeah, I have a really wonderful privilege of having a lot of mentoring relationships. Most of those are women with whom I connected with through various work opportunities, whether it’s in places where I’ve worked, where we’ve had mentorship programs, or I’ve met women through different networking opportunities.
The best mentorships actually have not been assigned mentors. They are people dealing with a challenge and there’s a recognition that you have also worked through that challenge at some point, and so there’s a shared opportunity and opportunity for sharing that is natural. My main approach to mentorship is really just to be a good listener to try to be a good support system.
Most of the people that I’ve mentored have the answers to the questions that they’re struggling with already. They just need that validation and support and encouragement. And sometimes they need someone to ask clarifying questions that help guide their process as they’re developing or learning in a particular area.
KRISTEN HARE, Editor, Locally at Poynter: 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.
I have relationships with some of my younger coworkers. I try to be a lowkey leader. I also try to be a low-key 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.
3. 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?
CHABELI CARRAZANA, Economy Reporter, The 19th*: Well, I hope they have something to come into. There is a really big question about how we move forward. I’m excited about the nonprofit model in journalism because I do think in some ways that is the path forward.
What I hope for is that we open up more opportunities for people to bring their lived experiences to the job. When I was in other jobs, I didn’t think about the gender or the race that I was covering, which was really missing a really big part of the story.
I also hope that some of this bias and some of these hurdles that women are coming up against in the field, which is not specific to journalism, start to diminish a little bit. I think that there are some different standards that we sought and a lot of that is internalized and cultural. Without policies to support women and people of all gender backgrounds, it’s really difficult to see how we could reach a different conclusion than where we are now, where there are still a lot of disparities for women in journalism. There are also a lot of women who feel discouraged by the industry and end up leaving. It does feel like we are making a little progress on that, so I hope that continues.
SNIGDHA SUR, Founder & CEO, The Juggernaut: Oh, I’m so excited for them because journalism has changed so much in just the past 15 years. I think of it as, in life, what are the things that will always change and other things that will never change? What will never change is the human desire to belong and the human desire for a good story. And what will constantly change is the media through which we consume it, whether it’s Twitter or YouTube or TikTok or Facebook.
So, my advice is to never forget to chase a great story — you’ll know a great story when you hear it; it has tension in it and questions that you want to answer — and then just get really smart on the different media you get excited by. Go test out TikTok or Twitter or Instagram. Find an experiment, because that’s really going to be the future — experimenting across formats. But remember, a great story is always a great story. That’s kind of how I think about the future.
ERRIN HAINES, Editor at Large, The 19th*: Domination. I want them kicking ass. I’m serious! Women’s representation across industries is not where it needs to be, but obviously I am especially concerned about my industry.
When you own your story, you seize your power. The more women that own the story, the more different the stories are. We are already seeing it. Our newsroom is already doing it. I want to see more women in the White House briefing room, on the campaign trail, and more women being respected as authorities on our democracy. We already are, we’re just not given the platform and the opportunity to showcase that in the same way that white men are. When that starts happening is when I will know we are getting to equity.
And, of course, the equal pay is one thousand percent part of that. I want women to get paid what they deserve and what they have earned. We shouldn’t still be thinking about this. This should be a thing and those women should be looking back and us and thinking “Man, there was a time where we weren’t getting paid the same as men? That sounds crazy!”
I can’t wait until that day.
CIERRA HINTON, Executive Director-Publisher at Scalawag: I hope that the people who have the power and money begin to invest in them and give them space to actually dream and imagine. How do we give women the space to think if you’re constantly having to fundraise or worry about getting revenue in the door? It doesn’t give you much time to be imaginative. I feel like if we actually had the space to imagine, dream, and vision, we would get much better, more dynamic, more expansive, more inclusive visions of the future for this industry.
S.MITRA KALITA, CEO and Co-founder at URL Media and Publisher at Epicenter NYC: I really hope that we could get to a place where women’s excellence is kind of almost taken for granted as opposed to women having to be twice as good to prove themselves. I hope that we get to a place of seeing potential and excellence as opposed to focusing on “She’s great, but…” It’s such a simple mindset, but it really could be revolutionary in what it means for the advancement of talent.
That’s all for our Women in Journalism series! I hope these interviews left you feeling inspired, invigorated, and hopeful for the future. Thank you, again, to the ten incredible women who took the time to talk with us this month.