Working in news and current affairs can be slightly obsessive. You constantly think that somewhere in the world there is a breaking story that you are missing or an investigation that you should be undertaking.
In my paranoia of missing the next big story I have been known to surreptitiously check the news on my iphone at dinner when I think no one is looking. My four favourite iphone apps for doing this are: the BBC (of course), Al Jazeera (it’s good to get a different international perspective), The Economist (for its concise analysis) and the
Times (it is the most widely read newspaper in the world). New York
It was actually while checking the news on my iphone Guardian app over a recent meal that I learnt about one of the biggest diversity stories of the year: The New York Times has just appointed Jill Abramson, its first female executive editor in its 160 year history.
With Helen Boaden (Director of BBC News) at the helm of the largest broadcast news organisation in the world and now another woman appointed the head of the world’s most read online newspaper, this is a great achievement in increasing diversity.
As I read the article about Jill Abramson’s appointment, her extraordinary background and the massive challenges she will face, a little story at the end of the piece caught my eye.
Anne Marie Lipinski was the first female editor of another major American newspaper – The Chicago Tribune. During her 7 years as editor there, she set up the “Large Ladies” dinner – a place where influential women in the world of newspapers could meet once a year and share their experiences. She describes it as “a small, but very hearty group”. During a chat with Helen Boaden, I remember her mentioning that years ago she too helped set up a group where woman in BBC news could meet informally.
As far as I am aware, neither of these two groups were overtly campaigning or had any specific goals and aims. Their purpose was simply to allow people – who were working in environments where they were massively outnumbered – to meet and not feel so alone. The feeling that you are not alone is vital if you are going to achieve in life and have any sense of perspective. The women didn’t just meet to do short term networking to land their next jobs – they met to nourish their souls. In the end, of course, as Helen, Anne Marie and Jill can testify, it clearly did help some of them at least to achieve a wonderful career as well.
I often write blog posts for sites like the TVCollective and they clearly help forge that sense of community online between non-white people working in TV, and that’s great – it’s crucial. But I believe there is no substitute for creating that sense of community in the real, non-virtual world. You can make stronger bonds over a glass of wine than over a hundred emails.
So if we are going to replicate the recent successes of female news editors and want to see the first black Head of BBC News or the first non-white editor of any of my favorite iphone news outlets, maybe I’d better put the iphone down and just sit down for dinner with my black colleagues in news…