The WAN-IFRA Digital Media Africa conference, held on July 6-7, 2021, offered Women in News the opportunity to showcase to a wider audience the work it does. While a major highlight of the awards for the organisation was the release of research that provided insight into the scale of sexual harassment in African media organisations, we also had a panel on a topic close to our hearts: empowering future media leaders.
The WIN Future Leaders Initiative was informed by mapping that showed how difficult it is to retain women in leadership positions in media organisations. While idealism and passion for journalism abound, is the media industry as welcoming as it should be to young women?
Our session explored the expectations of these journalists and how a mindset change may be needed to equip them with the right skills to unlock their way to a seat at the table. After all, how can media organisations cultivate women leaders if they cannot retain them on staff?
For Lozaria Lungu, a Zambian freelance journalist who has gone through WIN training, her journey in journalism has been one of learning through mentorship.
“I got into the newsroom aged 16 because I loved writing. When I got in, I found phonemomenal women who inspired me to be like them. I have remained relevant, even as a freelancer, because of the mentorship and inspiration I have found from media leaders in university, the newsroom and organisations like WIN. I have been taught to work hard, build a strong network and take advantage of opportunities when they arise,” she said during the panel discussion on empowering future leaders.
Here’s what else we learned from our panellists.
Vincent Kahiya: WIN Steering Committee Member and COO, VPCG
1. Hiring and training women journalists requires deliberate planning: In the late 90s in the Zimbabwean newsroom I worked in, we had just one woman on staff, and she was a typesetter not a journalist. Five years later, we got the first woman journalist joining us. For us to develop to where we eventually ended up in 2017 when I left mainstream media, we had to put in place a deliberate plan to hire women. Back then, there was no plan to empower female journalists, and the importance of diversity in newsrooms was not seen; it was a boys’ club. Today, the media organisations that are challenging this narrative are the ones that are coming up with a plan to hire women, integrate them into the newsroom, empower them and ensure they are not just there to make up the numbers. They have to keep an eye on them to know what becomes of them and their careers.
2. Whatever your job is, do it well. Many young journalists spend four to five years in the newsroom without specialising in anything. While it is important to learn a little bit of everything when you are young, you must find your area of specialisation at some point. Being a specialist helps you develop faster and grow a richer network. Those who have knuckled down and spent time to become better at what they do tend to progress faster.
3. Read. What you don’t know doesn’t exist. If you know very little, then your output will be poor as it will be based on the information you have, not what readers expect from you. The mediocrity we see in newsrooms comes from journalists failing to take their time to read up on their areas of specialisation. Take short courses and commit to being a better-rounded journalist.
4. Come to the newsroom to do journalism. Before you walk into any newsroom in whatever capacity, know what you want to do. Claim your space. Don’t allow yourself be pushed into a ‘pink ghetto’ because of your gender. And you claim your space through your output.
Toyosi Ogunseye: Head of BBC West Africa
1. Put in the work. There are no free passes in the newsroom. Irrespective of your gender and no matter what beat you cover, work hard. The beautiful thing about the newsroom is no one stops you from covering other beats – no editor will turn down a good story.
2. Find your tribe. Competence is not always enough, so pick a tribe that will help you get ahead. Align yourself with the progressives, the ones who are positive and upbeat, those doing great work and being recognised for fantastic journalism. Associate yourself with the people coming up with the exclusives and who know the sources to speak to for lead stories. The tribe you pick can make or ruin your career; they will influence your outlook towards your career and employer. Identify the people who will motivate you and push you forward.
3. Get along with your bosses. Be best of friends with your editor, no matter how high up the food chain they are. Make an effort to get along with him or her, and ask for help where you need it. Your boss is going to be in rooms where you are not, where opportunities are being presented or where nominations are being discussed. This is not to say you should bootlick. You want to be known for getting the work done without complaining, for rising to the challenge.
4. Don’t be afraid to take up new challenges. Make your presence in the newsroom known, and leave a positive impact. Go into meetings, be present and give ideas. Do your research and think before you speak – don’t leave people wondering what you meant. Never be afraid to speak up. And when you come across a good story, even if it is not in your beat, tell it. You never know what will come of it.
5. Your development is your responsibility. Your line manager has a responsibility to support your growth, but look for opportunities for yourself. Join as many developmental groups as possible where you will be alerted to opportunities for fellowships or to address audiences. Subscribe to newsletters. And when you see a chance to boost your career, apply for it. Take charge of your own development. And it’s like a rule – once you get an opportunity, the next one lines up, and before you know it, you’re meeting fantastic journalists, writing better stories and having your work exposed to a bigger audience.
Article image from hrexecutive.com