Joanne Mallon talks to Workingmums.co.uk about her group Media Women UK, which was set up to support women in media.
A recent report by the Guardian catalogued the dearth of female bylines on the front pages of newspapers and sexist stereotypes on the inside pages. Some 78% of bylines on the front pages of nine national newspapers studied over a month were written by men, the research found.
Women also tend to be absent from many of the articles inside, particularly in the form of experts on any given subject. A new website – thewomensroom.org.uk – has been set up precisely to counter this and to provide media-friendly female experts to the press. But why is there a lack of female bylines and female experts in the media? Is it simple prejudice because only certain stories are deemed “hard news”? It is because of the type of areas women journalists tend to cover – traditionally things like health and education? Perhaps.
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Or is it because there aren’t too many senior women in the office because when female journalists have children, many tend to go freelance in order to balance work and family life better and are therefore absent from regular editorial meetings where they can pitch their stories for the front page?
Coach and journalist Joanne Mallon agrees that many women journalists become freelances after having children, particularly if they have a second child and particularly in television, which is less flexible than print or online media and has a long hours culture.
“When you are a freelance and work from home you have more flexibility and there is no community time or cost. The downside is that the work is very insecure, you may be out of sight out of mind and you are constantly hunting for the next job,” she states.
She started the group Media Women UK in 2005 as a Yahoo group to bring women journalists together to talk about the issues they face. “There was nothing around like it at the time. There were a few online groups for journalists,” she says, “but nothing bringing together journalists, people in PR and other media areas. The groups there were could be quite abrasive and not very welcoming to new people and they were very male-dominated.”
She wanted to create a different ethos. The group was mainly for people working from home by themselves who often “lacked a sense of community” at a time before Twitter. In fact, she says the group is quieter now as many conversations have migrated to Twitter. Joanne says that when you are working from home it becomes very important to show your face from time to time and to go out and meet clients so they don’t forget about you and know what you are doing.
One of the big issues that comes up in the group is payment – what the going rate is and which companies are bad at paying quickly. Media Women UK allows women to swap information about payment and provides moral support if people are finding it tough. “Most freelances have at least one period when things go very quiet,” says Joanne.
When she coaches working mums in the media, she suggests steering away from the parenting press. “It’s an oversaturated market and there are not enough outlets and it doesn’t pay well,” she says. It’s worth embracing social media, however, since the traditional freelance just selling articles is no longer typical.
Networking is important so women are aware of different opportunities, she adds. “People tend to think networking is about talking to people who might employ them, but you can learn a lot from someone working in your field and things can work more indirectly,” says Joanne.
Keeping in touch with your peer group can also prove useful as some will get promoted and might be able to give you work.
Joanne, who has coached people at a very high level in the media industry, says a lot of women who have been in a staff job face a big culture shift moving to freelancing from home. They might need advice on how to organise their day, how to pitch better and how to get better clients. “It can be a total shock that they send out pitches to 10 editors and hear nothing. If you are used to a busy newsroom and instantaneous feedback it can be soul-destroying,” she says.
She says that often the pitches are very good – it is just that editors are too busy to respond and their budgets have been cut back or they only use a regular pool of freelances. She suggests chasing up an email pitch, but says she is surprised by many freelances’ reluctance to use the phone.
Another big issue for women freelances is the tendency to overstretch themselves. They might, she says, have a baby at home and be freelancing around them. “They sometimes don’t appreciated that it takes a lot of energy to look after a child. It’s a big culture shift for new mums if they are confined to certain hours of work due to childcare,” she says.
She adds that most freelance working mums have at some point had to “shut the door on whatever armageddon is going on so they can do a professional call”. “The early years are the most difficult because you are having to make that culture shift and you are tired, but you get through it and find resources you did not think you had,” she says.
“You get better at multitasking because you have to. It forces you to dig deep. It can be hard to see that you cannot do it all by yourself. That’s where the group comes into its own as there are people there who have been through it and can help with tips on how you come out on the other side.”