Panel discusses women’s role in digital age of journalism

Digital reporter Kate Webb at Metro daily news. - Photo courtesy by Jeff Hodson

Digital reporter Kate Webb at Metro daily news. – Photo courtesy by Jeff Hodson

A group of Vancouver’s leading news media journalists gathered on April 20 at the Women in Digital Media panel to discuss women’s role in the evolution of the media and the future of on-line journalism.

Creator and moderator Sacha DeVoretz says she had to work to sell the idea to the sponsor, SFU’s New Media Journalism program.

“Initially SFU questioned whether people would be interested in these issues,” she says.

But after a meeting with program director Peter Walton, they decided it was the right time to get the conversation started.

Sacha Devoretz. - Photo courtesy of Sacha DeVoretz

Sacha Devoretz. – Photo courtesy of Sacha DeVoretz

Women in the media

Gone are the days when women were a significant minority in the media confined to ‘women’s pages’ and writing up stories. DeVoretz says there is now an even balance of men and women in North American newsrooms.

This balance is confirmed by Kate Webb, a 28-year-old digital reporter for Metro daily news. Webb asked around her newsroom and found a general consensus that there are just as many women as men working in the field. While the numbers may appear even, both Webb and DeVoretz question if this balance has reached the higher, decision-making positions in editing and publishing.

At the opposite end of the hierarchy at the undergraduate level, Webb and her colleagues have noted that university journalism classes are now female dominated. This is verified by Walton who says that 70% of his students are women, and the same goes for his instructors.

The common challenge

As more and more women become involved in the media, DeVoretz hopes discussions like Women in Digital Journalism will explore the issue of how to make a reasonable income from the profession. As an independent journalist, she says the financial struggles range from the fight to get the rare salary positions, to simply having expenses like travel covered.

Webb relates to this challenge, saying that the staff jobs are well paid but they go to the more experienced writers further along in their careers. Webb says her first journalism teacher at school warned her class that no one gets into it for the money. “I realized I wasn’t going to be rich, but I didn’t realize I would be poor,” Webb laughs.

A changing industry

Walton says that finding jobs in this quickly changing industry is a challenge for both men and women. He hopes his program at SFU will help train people for these changes.

Those already in the workforce, like Webb and DeVoretz, have simply had to adapt. Webb says she started out solely as a writer when she got her big break at another newspaper. At that time the roles at her workplace were clearly defined, with the trade union even precluding journalists from taking photos. But now she says the lines are blurring, and nearly all journalists are expected to take photos, shoot video and go digital with the top social media platforms.

DeVoretz sees this digital trend continuing into the future. She says many journalists are making websites in their own names with examples of their work in order to further develop their careers. Social media clout can also play a role in securing a desired position. DeVoretz says that if a journalist can approach a publication with a story and be able to cite a large number of personal followers on key social media sites, it guarantees advertising for the publication and makes the story more saleable.

“Journalists will become brands. People will know names and build followings,” she says.

In the meantime, DeVoretz says she will continue to encourage dialogue around these issues, inspired by the work of her female colleagues and their ongoing passion for journalism, despite its challenges.