It was a celebration but it was also a call to action. That was how the driving force behind the Women in Media mentoring initiative and journalist, Tracey Spicer, described the launch to the hundred-odd guests who gathered last night to mark the occasion. It was met with applause and set the tone for an inspiring and intelligent discussion. The aim of the program, pairing young journalists with stalwarts including Kate McClymont, Marina Go, Spicer and Angela Mollard, is to foster solidarity, support and encouragement within and between female journalists.
If there was any doubt about the veracity and value in such a program, Caroline Jones, the patron of WIM and trailblazing female journalist, dispelled it. Sentence by sentence, anecdote by anecdote, she articulated why mentoring matters so much. She remarked, with genuine emotion, at the joy in seeing a room so full of female journalists partly because when she started out there were so few.
She spoke openly and honestly about her life and career. About reaching a point where she wasn’t content to settle down; there was something more she wanted to pursue. It spelt the end of her marriage but the beginning of her career in journalism. She recalled the phone call from the ABC in Sydney asking her to join the national news program, This Day Tonight. “It was like getting a call from God”, she said, having been working in the regional Canberra office. She hopped in her car and couldn’t get there fast enough.
From there she established herself as an astute reporter and grew accustomed to being the lone women in any room. She said she wasn’t viewed as a threat by her male colleagues rather “I think they saw me almost as a pet”, she said. But she was talented and that was noticed and rewarded.
Jones joined Four Corners as the first female reporter and later became its first female host. It was the 1960s and that particular promotion garnered this headline in a Melbourne newspaper: ‘Girl to host Four Corners.’ She explained a disastrous media interview she did because of her new appointment and said she could have done with a mentor then. Her interview resulted in a feature article proclaiming, among other things, that “she smelt feminine” and was “a lot of lady”.
With characteristic modesty Jones said her career has been something of a “dream run”. But she also said that she could have done with some help. For one thing, as her career unfolded she couldn’t see any role models for combining her job with a partner and a family. She has some sadness about having not had children and she greatly admires those women who do combine both.
She spoke of self-doubt that plagued her at times and said the first time she read about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ it was a major light-bulb moment. She spoke of not being confident in negotiating for more money and not knowing how to network.
She said simply by providing encouragement and kindness a mentor would have been an invaluable resource, for her. Looking at what Caroline Jones has achieved in her career without a mentor, imagine what is possible with one?
The room continued to buzz as Tracey Spicer, Vicki Laurie from the Women in Media organisation in Western Australia and ABC reporter Phillipa MacDonald explained from their own experiences how and why mentoring and support among female journalists matters.
Caroline Jones said at the outset that the WIM mentoring initiative isn’t anti-men; rather the intention is to help level the playing field. At the moment media is not a level playing field, not even close. If you have any doubt about the boys club that continues to control the media this reporting from New Matilda is mandatory reading.
Last night the room buzzed. Aspiring young journalists mingled with established journalists, like Caroline Jones, who inspired other women’s entire media careers. Journalists from television to digital to radio to newspapers were in attendance. The room was filled with some of our finest journalists and those who facilitate it — from Jenna Price to Wendy Bacon to Margo Kingston to Catherine Fox to Kate McClymont to Amanda Meade — it was standing room only.
And we assembled with a common goal: to build a girls club to rival the boys club in media. To cut across the male-dominated culture that pervades. To advocate for fair and equal remuneration. To encourage and support the progression and advancement of female journalists. To ensure women lead and remain visible in the news agenda.
Last night was a call to action and not simply because the MEAA is facilitating a mentoring program to achieve these objectives. Last night marked the beginning of an important conversation about how this common goal can be achieved. The goodwill and energy to ensure that happens was palpable. The onus is now on every single person who was in attendance – and those who weren’t but wanted to be – to keep this conversation going. Here’s to the girls club.