The Future: What women in the business of journalism hope for the next generation

Part three of Women in Journalism 2022

Welcome to our third and final installment of Women in Journalism, our Women’s History Month series celebrating women leading the way in the fields of business, development, and sustainability in the news industry. 

This issue is focused on The Future. We’re sharing insights on what the 10 women we’ve interviewed hope for the next generation of women in journalism and the steps they’re taking to make these aspirations into reality. 

I’m Hayley Slusser, The Lenfest Institute’s Communications Associate. My colleagues, Kyra Miller, Mabedi Sennanyana, Samiya Green, and I have been working on this month-long project to celebrate women in journalism, lift up their achievements, and share their advice and hopes for future generations. 

Make sure you check out the previous installments, The Beginning and The Path. While this is the final installment, we’ll be sharing the full interviews from each woman in Solution Set through the end of the month. If you haven’t already, click here to subscribe.

Here are the women we interviewed for this project:

The answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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

Gillian White, Senior VP of Programming and Revenue, Capital B: I got to a point where there are people, especially women of color, who, if they hadn’t had a raise in a really long time, word got around that Gillian is really knowledgeable about thinking through how you might go about [asking for a raise], or how you are comparably compensated versus other people, and how to have those conversations. A lot of times it wasn’t even helping people with the hard facts or the ask, it was just helping women have the confidence and understand how to have the conversation because they were so trained to not [ask] and to just work really hard, and if you worked really hard, somebody would notice your effort and give you that promotion and give you that raise. Sometimes the truth is you have to bring those things up, and then people look at your record and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, you are really awesome. We do want to keep you, let me rectify this situation.” A lot of times that has been the way in which I’ve been able to mentor and help younger women. 

Anna Nirmala, Vice President, Portfolio Success, American Journalism Project:  I have a couple mentees that are under me, some within the space, some outside of it. But I’m thinking of the two women in particular, both are women of color. That’s what gives me life — to see that there are other people that are wanting to grow and develop in this space. I dream of the day where I am looking around the room and there are so many people that are coming from different backgrounds and experiences, coming from other sectors, or people of color, women of color, versus still often being one of the only people in the room that that has these sorts of experiences or even working in these certain ways. 

As the product of mentorship — I have several mentors, some old, some new, working in different ways — I think that is the biggest and most important aspect of life, being able to receive guidance and counsel from others. I constantly am looking for opportunities to give back and to also learn from mentees. I don’t think it’s just a one-way approach, but how can I facilitate them being able to grow and learn and continue to find the success that they’re looking for in this space? I get deep joy out of being able to find those types of people and work with them and I dream of the day when there’s just a lot more women of color working on business problems in the sector.

Kiran Nazish, Journalist & Founder, Coalition for Women in Journalism: The mentorship program that I designed for the Coalition is very unique, I don’t think anyone else does that. When I was trying to understand how to do the mentorship program, how to make it effective … we found that oftentimes they were not effective, they were not lasting. Unless mentorship really targeted mental health and consistency, it was not going to be effective. That is why at the minimum, the mentorship program that I designed is essentially a long-term mentorship program that connects a mentor and a mentee … it’s a relationship where both parties are gaining from each other. It’s more of a relationship that’s beyond being just a journalism mentor and mentee relationship. It’s something that [helps] mentors and mentees connect on a human level, on a personal level. That allows them to build a relationship that is more realistic, more lasting. 

Mandy Jenkins, Head of Product, Factal: I feel like the mentor or mentee relationship for me on both sides has always been happy accidents. Usually I meet somebody, whether it’s on a call or a conference or something like that, and this person’s really smart and I really liked being around them. I have followed to say, “Hey, can I just get on a Zoom call with you sometime? I would just love to learn more about you and learn from your experiences.” It’s very weird and kind of embarrassing to send those emails but at the same time, you have to start somewhere. I encourage that in any younger person or new person in the industry. Chatting is not a waste of your time, especially if you’re working remotely. The same thing would happen if you bumped into each other in the kitchen or at the water cooler. We don’t get to do that when we’re working remotely. We have to be more intentional.

Amanda Zamora, Co-Founder & Publisher, The 19th: The most common is probably just speaking to journalism students — these are my favorite speaking events to do, in all honesty. This is the generation that’s going to be creating new story forms, new business models, new ways of building trust and relationships with audiences without all of the baggage of legacy media. Any chance I am able to engage with students I take. Emma Carew Grovum is also a total inspiration on this front, and with her encouragement, I started holding office hours for free “LinkedIn makeovers” shortly after the pandemic started. It’s been a great way to meet journalists I might not have the opportunity to otherwise, and something I’m hoping to do more of as the firehose of startup mode settles down a bit more. 

In what ways do you think business changes can lead to cultural changes within the industry? How do you see yourself taking advantage of these changes to create a more equitable environment for women in journalism? 

Kyra Kyles, CEO, YR Media: It’s interesting to see when people ask about returning to the office, that women, particularly women of color, are less eager to do that because that reinforces some of the inequities that they’ve been experiencing. What business leaders can really be zeroing in on is how we come back, and instead of getting back to so-called “normal” –– how can we get back to something better? How can we improve the experience? How can we be more flexible? How can we be more cognizant of where a hierarchy doesn’t make sense? How can we revisit the structures that we think are just commonplace? 

Jessica Sweeney, Development Director, The Salt Lake Tribune: The biggest thing, especially for us being a nonprofit, is that we’re not beholden to one one individual or one group that we have to make money for. We’re just there for the journalism. I don’t write, but the newsroom can approach their stories in a way that is more thoughtful. Not that they weren’t ever being thoughtful, but there’s not a bottom line staring down at them and they can be proud of writing things for the community because they’re funded by the community. And I think the business side of things for women, it’s the same thing. Because you’re funded by the community, you want to represent the community, which would be more women and more diversity. [That means] bringing in more people in the fold, giving more people an opportunity because you’re trying to provide voices for more people.

DeAnna Tisdale Johnson, Publisher and Editor in Chief, The Jackson Advocate: We’ve always had that kind of model [where] we’ve almost run like a nonprofit, even though we’re for-profit. I think we’re almost like a family, we understand that people have lives. We understand that people have other things that they do outside of the newspaper, and so we try to support those things and we try to cultivate those things. We want people to gain skills that will, in effect, help us. We’ve never been a rigid type of company. We’ve always understood that for the company to grow, people have to grow, and that is the ecosystem that we have. The community is a big part of what we do.

Anna Nirmala, Vice President, Portfolio Success, American Journalism Project: [If] you look at an organization like The 19th for example, in terms of a national news organization, out of the gate, they really were prioritizing a lot of the things that many in the sector are still struggling to do. Of course, they had resources and they launched with a good amount of funding, but I do credit their senior leadership team [for] planning and operating with intention. I think that’s been an example for a lot of others to say, “Okay, what does it mean to have a good benefits package? What does it mean to operate with a mindset of abundance and thinking innovative ways to drive solutions?” I think we’re seeing that happen, and I think organizations are rising up [and] really leaning into doing and thinking and working differently.

I think we would be remiss to not mention that whether it’s in community or ethnic media, there have been examples of organizations that perhaps were prioritizing some of these things, like leaning into audience engagement, that perhaps mainstream media wasn’t noticing as much and giving credit to and that preceded the audience products emergence. Community and ethnic media had been engaging with their audiences since day one over decades and decades, so I do want to make sure to note that a lot of these good things have existed outside of the mainstream conversation.

Mary Walter-Brown, CEO & Founder, News Revenue Hub: Just like any work environment, the culture really has an impact on how things are done. What are the workflows? Who has access to what? Who’s doing what? We found that some of the top performers have shared these common traits, and one of them is a culture where people feel empowered to help bring about change, or help come up with new solutions or experiments. It’s when people in low to mid-level positions are empowered to come up with a solution or lead an experiment, or are given the opportunity to try out a different role, or to be a bridge, or play a bridge role in a news organization. With every new engagement with every newsroom we really tried to get the CEOs, the publishers and the editors in chief to understand that this industry is changing so much, and the newsrooms who are able to succeed are the ones who are nimble enough to be able to change with it quickly and embrace new ideas. 

Secondly, culture to make the work that we’re doing more freely accessible, and representative of the communities that these newsrooms serve. A lot of that is making sure that it’s available to communities of color, making sure that the newsroom itself is more representative of its community, and making sure that everyone has a voice in what’s covered, and then how that information is delivered back out into the communities that they aim to serve. 

Sandra Clark, CEO, StoryCorps: Business always requires us to think about what’s the need of the customer, the consumer, the audience, the community. Always keeping their eyes on the prize in that regard — who are we there to serve and what kind of person does it take for us to actually do this? I think that’s where a lot of businesses actually struggle. It’s easy to say let’s be innovative, [but] innovative for what purpose? It’s easy to say let’s keep everything the same because it’s working. The pandemic has brought that to very much to bear — the assumption that let’s go back to where we were, as though everything was working perfectly. Then we’re going to lose the opportunity to reimagine if that is what we’re trying to get back to. Having the voice of many, and in certainly a diverse group, at the table, is incredibly important. 

Amanda Zamora, Co-Founder & Publisher, The 19th: The rise of nonprofit news organizations is creating more opportunities for smaller publishers to serve niche audiences without the same growth pressures that come with for-profit models. Investment from foundations and philanthropic institutions is particularly critical in the local news space, where we see a direct connection between a community’s level of civic engagement and the health of local news organizations. That said, there needs to be more resourcing in newsrooms for the kind of professional development, benefits and operational support that our teams need to feel supported in their work — particularly [for] women and folks from marginalized communities. When newsrooms are struggling to stave off layoffs and cutbacks, these are often the first things to get cut from budgets. But they’re also important for the long term sustainability of our news organizations.    

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

Kyra Kyles, CEO, YR Media: I would like the space to look like America. You can’t claim to be doing coverage of a community and nobody in your newsroom or in your organization represents that community. My hope is that women of color, and women in general, will be not only welcomed into these organizations but will advance within the organizations, get paid equitably, and receive experiences they need to professionally develop and create their own organizations if they want. That’s also opening doors for others. You’re creating not only a better workplace, but you’re also creating a better feeling of solidarity. I just want to say there’s room for everybody. We need to move over to make that room if it’s not there right now. I want to see women leaders really stepping into it and getting the same opportunities, or even more than their counterparts who have been receiving these opportunities this whole time, and sometimes without even working very hard to secure them.

Jessica Sweeney, Development Director, The Salt Lake Tribune: The news is so important for our country, for our culture, and our communities, so I hope that there are more people who feel that way. There [will be] more opportunities for people in development and in newsrooms to get hired and do this work because it’s really important. That was why I was drawn to the newspaper from political fundraising, because I felt like I could really make a difference in my community because we can cover the issues that needed to be covered.

DeAnna Tisdale Johnson, Publisher & Editor in Chief, The Jackson Advocate: That is one thing that I want us to avoid as women, as Black women: the conundrum of power over purpose. For us to work together, to build something sustainable, to build something great, but not let power get in the way. That is my hope. Being able to work with women and Black women becoming journalists and becoming leaders in journalism is that we understand that purpose. It should be at the forefront of everything. 

Gillian White, Senior VP of Programming and Revenue, Capital B: My hope is that women entering the workforce writ large can just focus on their work. You asked earlier what the cost is of being a woman in this job and in the workplace. I think in general, it’s that a lot of times we can’t just focus on the work, and especially women of color. There’s so many other things that we have to manage. There’s so many other questions that we have to ask. There’s so many other political things that we have to navigate that it’s like, what would it be like if I could just if I could just report, if I didn’t have to worry about my tone when I disagree with an editor, or if I didn’t have to wonder if race was a part of me not getting that promotion, but somebody else who seemingly doesn’t have the same qualifications managed to get it. What would it be like to not use all of that psychic energy to do these other things, to do all this other work? A lot of us have spent a ton of time and a ton of energy helping companies try to overcome all of the bias and all of the inequity while living in it, while having suffered from it. That is work that we are trying to do so that other women do not have to go through it. My hope in journalism — in any job, really — is that women would be able to just show up, do their work, be judged on it in the same way that men are, and not have to do all this extra political, emotional BS. 

Kiran Nazish, Journalist & Founding Director, Coalition for Women in Journalism: My one true hope is that all women, Black, Asian, Latina, and white women, all women from all backgrounds should have equal opportunities … What equity and equality does is that it gives you [the chance] to bloom the way you are going to bloom, to be at the best of your potential, to have happy challenges, not challenges that sort of remove you from the equation, but that bring you into the equation.

Mandy Jenkins, Head of Product, Factal: I really want more people to be involved in journalism, whether that’s working for newsrooms or just being a part of the news process, including people who don’t want to be journalists, or even in technology, thinking about the audience participation side of things. As citizens, people should want to be involved in the news because they are the ones who are out there living that life, wherever they are. And then it’s kind of a constant feedback loop. I think those are the best businesses that operate that way. Those are the best relationships on the personal side too – the ones where you might go months between talking to each other but you’re still there, you still have that connection point.

Mary Walter-Brown, CEO & Founder, News Revenue Hub: The space has become a lot more moldable. I think it was very structured in this old world network when I came on board. It took me a lot longer to navigate a career path through it because I wasn’t interested in the traditional role in a newsroom. That’s why I left it. It was stagnating and boring, and too formulaic for me. Now there’s a whole myriad of different ways that you can come straight out of college and make an impact. You can start your own newsroom, you can be a content creator, you can try to change legacy from within. There’s every different medium, from podcasting, to print, to digital. The trajectory has been expedited exponentially in today’s landscape of media. There are so many more doors to go through. The challenge is really, just as I said in the beginning, positioning yourself so you get a taste of everything so you can find what you really fall in love with.

Sandra Clark, CEO, StoryCorps: I hope for the next generation of women to [not just] have opportunity, but embrace opportunity. I think as women our life cycles are different than men. I often say that our windows open and close at different times in our lives. There are times when the window is wide open, there are times when we feel it shutting, and then there are times when it is shut right for us. We should think about prying open windows a little bit more for ourselves. Oftentimes we are not handed anything and so we should just put ourselves out there to have confidence. 

Most people move into positions without having all the knowledge and without necessarily feeling 100% confident. That’s a tougher space for us to embrace, but I say embrace it, because what we’ll find is actually we have many more skills than we knew we had — and not just skills in terms of academia. I’m talking skills in terms of really having eyes on all sides of our head, of having a certain kind of emotional intelligence, of having had a history of already managing multiple things. 

That’s it for our Women in Journalism series! We hope you enjoyed learning about these outstanding women business leaders as much as we did. Thank you to the 10 women who shared their stories for this project.

We’ll wrap up Women’s History Month next week by publishing the full interviews we had with each woman profiled here.

See you then!

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