It was interesting to read that little has changed since my days as a journalist on a daily tabloid newspaper.
When Melbourne University student Sasha Burden published her piece about her ‘shocking’ experience as an intern at The Herald Sun I was personally alarmed by my lack of surprise. Instead the piece took me right back to the newsroom of Sydney’s The Daily Mirror 25 years ago.
The Daily Mirror newsroom of the mid-eighties was a time when a young female journalist could be known to endure eight-hour days under a billow of smoke laced with alcohol while seated between a couple of whiskey-soaked police reporters who chain-smoked at their desk.
There was also the weekly humiliation of a deputy editor who screamed at female journalists every Friday in his fishbowl office for sport. So often I would be told that my article was “shit” and that I was a “f$#king useless journo”, only to see my story published unchanged in that day’s paper. The sub-editors felt sorry for me and tipped me off to the fact that it was done for show and sometimes money, as journos stood around placing bets on how many of the young female journalists, mostly cadets, could be made to cry. I sat there and thought about how I would eventually escape that culture so I was able to tune out during the rant.
One of the more disturbing activities I was told to do was pose for photos with a sub-editor from sport. Someone had written a story about a picnic trend to mark the beginning of Spring so my colleague and I were sent out to a park with a photographer and a basket of smallgoods. The photo that was published was of the sports sub feeding me a large salami. That photo was the source of amusement in the newsroom for some time. There may even have been back- slapping if I recall correctly.
For all of the sexist stuff that went on, I used to be grateful that I hadn’t been sexually harassed – and that’s not a claim that all women in that newsroom back then could make.
I haven’t been scarred by the experience but I often tell stories of what it was like back then to the wide-eyed horror of my friends, none of whom are journalists. Maybe the corporate world is different. Surely the corporate world is different.
Clearly the tabloid newsroom culture is less than ideal but it’s important that a story like Sasha’s be told so that women of her generation can make the right career decision. Organisational culture doesn’t change overnight – or even very much in a quarter of a century it seems. The downside for those organisations with “blokey” cultures is that they risk missing out on half of the best talent in the country as women will surely give them a wide berth when choosing an employer. The best of the best still get to choose.
Do you agree that Sasha Burden was right to expose the culture of the organisation at which she was an intern? Let us know in the comments below.