More women in the media are helping women’s stories be heard

Forget the tired stereotype of the gray-haired hack in his trench coat and trilby hat, the British press has taken on a more feminine look.

That transformation will be underlined on Thursday at the British Library News Festival, an event celebrating 500 years of news in this country. Of the 35 presenters and panelists, 22 are women, including national tabloid editors, investigative reporters and sportswriters.

The schedule is a bold statement from the organizer, Newsworks, a body representing Britain’s leading news publishers. “We have deliberately outlined the goal of the Festival of News to ensure that around 60 per cent of the people on stage are women,” says Newsworks CEO Jo Allan. “That wasn’t a case of having to look for them, it’s because there are more publishers now.”

Festival host Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News will kick off by questioning an all-female panel of editors, Victoria Newton (The Sun), Alison Phillips (The Mirror) and Charlotte Ross (London Evening Standard). “We’re glad we’ve gotten to this point where there are so many female editors, but we don’t take anything for granted,” Phillips tells me.

Apart from that trio, the British press counts Roula Khalaf (editor of the Financial Times), Katharine Viner (The Guardian), Emma Tucker (Sunday Times) and Gemma Aldridge (Sunday Mirror and Sunday People). In total, 53 percent of journalists are women, according to research by the National Council for the Training of Journalists. Women make up a growing proportion of news readers, 51.4 percent according to industry body PAMCo.

This change is influencing the way newspapers tell stories, Phillips believes. “Look at how much coverage there has been on menopause in the last three years, I think a lot of it is about women being heard,” she says, noting that the historic scandals around British maternity hospitals might have received more press attention with better gender balance in newsrooms.

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Coverage of the Ukraine war has focused more on “empathetic” reporting of victims “rather than guns and bombs,” says Phillips, which is in contrast to the media’s general armchair approach to past conflicts. She detects a new sensibility in recounting the cost-of-living crisis, although she acknowledges that “men are more involved in domestic life than perhaps male journalists were 30 years ago.”

Having more women at the top improves cross-industry collaboration. Phillips regularly calls Newton and other publishers. “Between The Mirror and The Sun there was a real antagonism: they were the enemy,” she recalls. “I still wish I had a better story than theirs…but good relationships have benefits and I think women can do it.”

That spirit of cooperation will help an industry that is less powerful than it once was and must pool resources to force fairer treatment from the tech giants that have taken its advertising.

Newsrooms have come a long way since the days of pioneering female figures like dying aunt Marjorie Proops and editor Eve Pollard, founder of the Women in Journalism advocacy network. However, they are still able to cover some women in the public eye with a grudge, such as the late Caroline Flack and Meghan Markle.

Those and other high-profile women also suffered from social media trolls, a scourge Ofcom highlighted last week when it reported that women were disproportionately affected by hateful content online and felt less safe to voice their opinions. . Phillips says that “people trying to silence women” online is a “really big problem” for women journalists.

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Still, the progress is undeniable. Deborah Turness, chief executive of ITN, will become the BBC’s executive director of news and current affairs this year. She is the most senior figure in British television news and a major voice in the industry.

He worries that the government’s broadcasting white paper and plans to privatize Channel 4 could undermine the future of public service news. “A private/international owner with its own in-house production arm could undermine the independence of news for UK audiences and have undue influence on the news agenda,” he tells me.

As chief executive of ITN, she argues that Channel 4 News should be supplied by “a designated UK news provider under the Communications Act”, as is the case with ITV, with funding “to ensure the quality of production of news”.

As The Festival of News exposes the state of British journalism after half a millennium, examining issues including misinformation and power accountability, we could use stronger female CEOs to defend the news industry.

In the national press, despite the new plethora of editors, there are no female owners or female CEOs, except for Rebekah Brooks at News UK, and she answers to Rupert Murdoch.