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Posts Tagged ‘Sunday Times’

A few weeks ago I met a delegation of Swedish journalists on a visit to Dublin. Fresh from a visit to the Irish Times offices, they remarked on the fact that there seemed to be very few women in the newsroom. They pointed out that in Sweden, men and women are so evenly distributed across the workplace that equality is something that’s hardly even discussed any more. It’s taken for granted. Inequality is a historical curiosity, or something to be noticed in other countries.

I’d been thinking about this, off and on, when I first heard that Easter Sunday would see the publication of a biography of Rachel Beer. Beer (born in 1858) was the first woman editor of a national newspaper in Britain; actually, she edited two papers at the same time – both The Sunday Times and The Observer.

As a young woman, Beer deliberately delayed marrying, because she didn’t want to land up with someone who was interested only in her fortune (her family, the Sassoons, had amassed quite a pile through the opium and cotton trades) or in squashing her independence. She ended up marrying (for love) financier Frederick Beer, who inherited the Observer from his father. (Why has no-one ever written a will leaving me even, say, a local freesheet?) He’d converted from Judaism to Christianity, which caused Rachel’s mother, and other members of her staunchly Jewish family, to refuse to see her.

At any rate, Frederick installed his wife as editor of the Observer in 1891. It wasn’t just a rich woman’s hobby – there was no fooling about on the fringes of her husband’s work for Rachel Beer – but a real job. She wrote news copy and editorials, and sniffed out stories even though as a woman she was unable to gain access to the spaces where news stories developed: the House of Commons and the exclusive city clubs where gossipy politicians, tycoons and male editors sculled madeira and snorted snuff. One of her great scoops was persuading Count Esterhazy to admit to the forgery of the letters which had led to Captain Dreyfus’s conviction and life imprisonment for treason – ultimately Dreyfus was released and Esterhazy was court martialled.

In 1894 she bought the Sunday Times and edited it simultaneously with the Observer, but by 1896, Frederick had become seriously ill with tuberculosis, and by 1903 he was dead. His death devastated Rachel, and her family reported her behaviour as being increasingly erratic. They had her sectioned (always so convenient), the newspapers were sold, and she lived in care for the rest of her life.

No woman was to edit a Fleet Street newspaper for eighty years after Rachel Beer. It’s about time we took our hats off to her. This biography, First Lady of Fleet Street The Life, Fortune and Tragedy of Rachel Beer by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, was published on 24th April.

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I love men. From the time I was a little girl – in a co-educational Catholic school in New York – I learned the boys were the ones who presented me with the REAL competition on the soccer pitch, in the football card trading stakes, in political and current affairs discussions and later, in the workplace. I have always worked in male-dominated fields (Wall Street and business journalism) and enjoyed good support from (most of) my overwhelmingly male bosses.

Dating – and moving up the business ladder – was a different story altogether. Many American men don’t want a girl with a brain (no matter how tiny) and ambition. Some Irish guys still physically shrink away from me when I’m friendly, assuming I’m making a pass at them. (I’m not. I’m married to a great guy.) Others finds the bolshie Yank an amusing distraction.  To some men, a woman with strong opinions and the willingness to voice them is, well, incredibly distasteful.

They believe in the “Women know your limits” school of thought parodied here by the brilliant Harry Enfield on the BBC:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS37SNYjg8w 

A UK Independent article this week, pointed out by RTE broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan on Twitter @MiriamOCal, also decries the “noise” created by women on television. It claims the new “boss-class” of women makes men feel bad. The author, Amol Rajan, claims many women on tv are bossy, bullying, preachy and patronising. Read it here and weep:

Too much interference on our televisions
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/too-much-interference-on-our-televisions-2012099.html

There’s also a myth, taken as fact, in Irish broadcasting that women’s voices are grating/ irritating to the listener. I have not been able to find any research that backs this up. The research I did find says women’s voices are more musical and complex. So, why is Irish journalism such a male-dominated profession?

Una Mullally wrote an interesting piece on the gender imbalance in radio in the Sunday Tribune in May 2010 and found that ” Eighty percent of RTé Radio One’s regular programmes are male-led and 80% of 2fm’s programmes are male-led. Newstalk has 10 weekday programmes, none of which are presented solely by women, although Claire Byrne co-presents Breakfast. The weekend schedule is a little more female friendly, with three of the 11 programmes presented by women. Overall, 84% of content is presented by men. On its weekday shows, Today FM has just one daily female presenter, Alison Curtis. The station has 16 weekend shows and just three are presented by women. Overall, 90% of its programmes are presented by men. Over on 4FM, just one of that station’s 25 programmes is presented by a woman.” Article here: http://www.tribune.ie/magazine/article/2010/may/02/final-edition-radio-gaga-where-are-all-the-women-o/)

In the print media, the draining away of women from the business and (some) news desks is shocking. It wasn’t always this way. The Irish Times and Sunday Times business desks were fairly equal gender-wise when I worked on the desks (1996-2006).  At the moment, the Sunday Business Post seems to buck the trend with a higher ratio of female to male by-lines in the paper.   

Why has this happened? Are women less skilled as “hard news” journalists or do they opt out of journalism to have children? Or, as Carrie Bradshaw might say… “Could the real reason women’s voices are not more widely heard in the media be because women should not have opinions?”

What do you think? @margareteward

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