A little over three years ago, in April 2012, I received notification that I had a new follower on Twitter. The follower was identified as Kettle, a publication aimed for student writers who wanted to expand their craft and opportunities. As I was trying to expand my CV, I found the opportunity one I could not resist, so I emailed about writing for the site. I was accepted and became a contributor.
A few months later, I became their first political editor. At that time, the number of Kettle editors was limited, but the majority of them were men. Since then, much has changed, especially how the student body of universities is composed.
As the number of students seeking spots at university went up, so did the number of women wanting to pursue journalism, with data from UCAS indicating that more women are now studying journalism compared to men. This trend went against the culture of most of the modern journalism industry, still heavily male-dominated.
The trends also had an effect on student media. According to research from Epigram, the student newspaper at the University of Bristol, 64 per cent of student publications have either a female editor or co-editors where one is female.
In addition, the chairs of the administration of the Student Publication Association, which represent student publications in the UK and Ireland, in the last 2 years are women, Sophie Davis for the 2014-15 academic year, and Jem Collins for the 2015-16 academic year. (For the record, Kettle is a member of the SPA, and I also hold a personal membership with them.)
— Alex Veeneman (@alexvlf) June 15, 2015
‘The aim should be great content’
Indeed, our editorial team has more women than men. At this writing, we now have 28 editors, 23 of them are women, a reflection of the current trends in place.
This isn’t the first time I personally have worked in an environment where most of the editors are women. The same rule applied when I was working on my student newspaper at university. Indeed, many of my colleagues who I spoke to while researching this piece said they hadn’t noticed the gender ratio was in favour of women until they discovered it was the case later on.
Instead, their focus was on the journalism, and building the Kettle brand even further, in spite of the culture of sexism in the industry. Emily Murray, Kettle’s film editor, says it should be about the journalism, not gender.
“It is rare for a publication like Kettle, an outlet which appeals to both genders, to have a domination of women in its editorial team,” Murray said. “I think it is great that publications like Kettle are promoting women in journalism, however again the aim should be great content and great journalists, whether this is a team dominated by men or women. Of course sexism in the journalism industry is an unwanted fiend, but publications shouldn’t aim to just hire more women. They should be hiring good journalists, no matter what gender they are.”
Further, on the issue of sexism, Deputy Editor Kealie Mardell does not consider it a threat. Instead, Mardell says women can change that perception.
“I don’t want young female journalists to be put off by a perceived role of women within media and journalism, I want them to realise that they could be the ones that change those roles,” Mardell said. “If there are issues surrounding gender within the media industry then platforms that exist outside of that inequality are more important than ever. Being a part of Kettle allows those women to build a professional portfolio that they can use to prove their worth within the industry.”
A question of attitudes
Indeed, TV editor Alex Goode says, there is some hesitation among major newspaper editors on digital strategies.
“To be successful in journalism today, you have to wrap your head around all things digital,” Goode said. “Women are almost more willing to learn these things. Senior male editors in their 50s are reluctant, women are willing to embrace it. With the fact that Kettle is remote, women are equal. We all share the same voice and same ideas.”
Over the course of my career thus far, I have had the opportunity to work with many talented writers and editors, many of them women – women who will go far in the ever changing media industry. In my view (in spite of the rarity of me writing comment pieces), Kettle is championing women in journalism, and allowing a new perspective – taking on writers not just for their gender, but because they are good at what they do, and saying through actions that women should not be afraid to look at sexism in journalism in the eye, and proclaim, bullshit.
In the end, Mardell tells me, she hopes that other publications can follow suit, and Kettle can lead by example.
“Kettle is sending the message that there’s no excuse for women to not play a greater role within the media industry,” Mardell said. “Whether that’s student publications or on a greater scale, Kettle shows how successful a publication with a greater ratio of female editors can be. I would love to see this position and the opportunities Kettle provides more widely publicised with a focus on the issue of women in journalism, in order to encourage more female contributors and to encourage other student media and publications to follow suit.”
So while the industry itself continues to change, the number of talented women who want to enter the profession will increase. There are many talented women who enter the profession not for the money, but to make a difference for others around them.
One can only hope the industry will put that thought forward, before looking at the application field marked gender – for journalism’s sake.
What do you think? What is the future for women in journalism? What role should student media play? Have your say in the comments section below.