History was made when Deputy Editor, Di Thomas became the first female editor of The Border Mail in its 109 year history.
Her development as a journalist has been along quite traditional lines coming up through the ranks and working within the print medium.
At a publication like The Border Mail there normally isn’t the luxury for a journalist to only have one role – more senior journalists will also sub as well as mentor younger journalists as they make their way up the ladder, or before they are lured away to the seemingly more glamorous medium of television.
It is right that note was made that Thomas is the first female editor, because despite the number of women working in journalism, the number in senior roles in newsrooms doesn’t reflect the world as we know it.
The newsroom, and in particular the print newsroom, has been primarily a male domain and the news that we have been reading over the last almost 210 years in this country has largely been determined by the men of the press: those who run it and those who inhabit the senior positions.
Writing in the Australian Journalism Review, about the 2005 study of the ‘The visibility of female journalists at major Australian and New Zealand newspapers: the good news and the bad news.’ study co-author Catherine Strong said that although women made up 50 per cent of the Australian population and 51 per cent of the New Zealand population, when it came to by lines – the inclusion of the name of the journalist who has written the article – the percentages dropped, and quite dramatically when it came to articles about politics and sport.
The study also noted that many women often didn’t stay in journalism because of the time it could take to move through the ranks and the odd hours they might be required to work.
These findings reinforced those of an earlier study that found many female journalism graduates left the industry and headed into communications work, which “traditionally pay more, provide greater support mentorship and are often more respectful of employees.”
More than a hundred years ago, despite journalism being seen as a profession for women with ‘loose morals’, there were many women journalists, and most of them wrote for the social or women’s pages, although E A Bennett in his 1898 instructional, Journalism for Women, decried this situation: “Despite a current impression to the contrary, implicit in nearly every printed utterance on the subject, there should not be any essential functional disparity between the journalist male and the journalist female.”
During the World War 2 the situation changed; women took over positions that traditionally had been held by men, but when the war was over the status quo resumed.
In 2008, Barbara Lemon in her article for the Australian Women’s Archive project, The Women’s Pages- Australian Women Journalists since 1850, noted that “Nowadays the treatment a reporter lends to a story is determined largely according to temperament rather than gender.”
But is this the case? Anecdotally in newsrooms across all media, female journalists are still covering the ‘softer’ rounds of arts, education and health while male journalists provide the majority of the political commentary – although there are exceptions including Michelle Grattan and Annabel Crabb.
The future of the regional daily newspaper may be uncertain, but for now it is an important nurturing environment for young journalists of both genders.
If this environment is more inclusive a greater number of women will be aspire to senior positions, gain them and readers will be offered a more authentic world view.