Hilly Janes is an award winning journalist, former Assistant Editor of The Times, Features Editor of The Independent and Deputy Editor of Prospect magazine. She is the author of The Three Lives of Dylan Thomas, the only biography of the poet by a woman.
Jane: Hilly, we met through Twitter in your capacity as chair of the events committee for Women in Journalism. Can you tell us how you first became involved in WiJ?
Hilly: I joined WIJ when it launched in 1993. There was a bit of an uproar at the time over how few women were in senior positions in newspapers and on magazines, and in reaction to sexist comments in the press about female journalists, like the brilliant interviewer Ginny Dougary who was referred to as a ‘flame haired temptress’ for doing her job so well. Twenty three years on we are still campaigning, training and helping female journalists to make the most of their careers
WIJ is about to announce the winner of this year’s Georgina Henry award. What is it?
WIJ launched the Georgina Henry Award in 2014 for an innovative journalistic project or to help provide and fund an internship in London. It’s in memory of the late great Georgina Henry and this year’s winner will be revealed at the 2016 Press Awards in London on March 22.
George, as everyone knew her, was a trailblazer at the Guardian – deputy editor for many years and instrumental in setting up the Guardian’s very powerful online presence. She died of cancer aged 53 in 2014 and as she was a founder member of WIJ and a former chair, we wanted to do something in her memory. She was hugely supportive to female colleagues at the Guardian and the paper has a great track record of enabling women to work flexibly when they are raising children, for example working on a weekly section which is less pressurised than the daily paper or 24/7 online. Some go back to full time roles once their children are older. Hanging on to the talent like that benefits all women, whether they have children or not, and the Guardian has certainly led the field in promoting women to the most senior roles a we can see with its editor, the very talented Kath Viner.
Why do you think there is still a need for a separate women’s group for journalists in 2016?
Things have improved a lot with far more women in senior positions – The Times, Sunday Times, Telegraph and FT all have female deputy editors for example, but there is still an imbalance. Women outnumber men by far on journalism degrees, and they do very well at entry level and junior writing or editorial roles. But there’s a drop off after that especially in the ‘pipelines’ that lead to real decision-making jobs like running news teams. It’s often the usual story of women finding it hard to juggle parenthood with work, especially in a deadline-driven industry that now operates round the clock. And because revenue has declined so steeply as readers have migrated to free online content, but advertising revenue has not followed them, salaries have not kept pace with childcare costs.
As a senior editorial executive at The Independent and The Times I could afford a full-time nanny – my job would have been impossible without it, but I bet that’s harder now. And the property boom in London is pushing young families out into areas with family-unfriendly long and expensive commutes.
There’s been quite a lot of noise lately about the lack of women receiving media awards. Do you think this is because women are reluctant to enter, or maybe bias in the system, or the judging process being very male centric?
The fuss about the upcoming Press Awards is because only about 20 per cent of the shortlisted names are women. That’s worse than previous years, according to the Guardian, and the best proportion has only ever been less than a third. Thankfully the Georgina Henry award makes sure at least one woman will win. But the judges can only asses what’s submitted and this year only about 25 per cent of the submissions were from women. Some entries are for teams and it’s not always obvious what the gender split is on them, but in sports journalism and photography and the cartoon categories there were no female entries.
I don’t think you can blame the judging process. I was a judge this year and in both categories I was involved in, female judges outnumbered men or equalled them and there was no sense of the female contributions being taken less seriously. The Society of Editors aims for a 50:50 gender split among judges but it was only 30:70 this year and according to Bob Satchwell, its executive director, fewer women accepted the invitation to be judges. The society is largely a male run organisation though, and it does have a reputation as a bit of an old boys club. Only a third of its board members are women – but that partly reflects that historically fewer women have been editors or very senior executives, and have not been SoE members. But that is changing, both in print and online, and Bob says that they are working hard to identify more women to join the board. The society is also setting up a group to look into the lack of submissions by women, led by the formidably capable Sue Ryan, to see what can be what can be done about it.
What do you think could help?
Senior editorial management has a big say in which journalists or sections are entered so maybe they need to try harder to include more women in the submissions. We know for example from organisations like the 30 Per Cent Club that campaigns for more women at board level in UK companies, that women hesitate to put themselves forward – it’s the age old problem of not wanting to seem over ambitious or competitive. That’s something we try really hard to help members overcome at WIJ.
It’s hardly as if the talent isn’t there in newspapers. I don’t recall Suzanne Moore ever being on a Press Awards shortlist for her work at the Guardian for example – maybe the paper has never nominated her. And maybe women themselves need to make their desire to be entered clear. It’s no use being a good girl like Cinderella, working hard with your head down and thinking Prince Charming will come along and pick you. Why not be Princess Charming?
Another possible barrier to entry is the cost – journalists who want to enter on an individual basis can do so, but it costs about £50 so maybe the SoE could look at that.
Which female journalists do you most admire?
So many! As editors, anyone who has got to the top and stayed there while juggling the ups and downs of family life, and not always with a partner who has taken a back seat career wise, or become a stay at home Dad. Sarah Sands at The Evening Standard comes to mind. Foreign correspondents like Cristina Lamb, Lyse Doucet and the late Marie Colvin and Sue Lloyd-Roberts, who put their own lives at risk to cover oppression and the victims of conflict, deserve huge respect. Justine Picardie, now at Harper’s Bazaar, is both a brilliant editor and writer and that’s a rare accomplishment. And I admire Janice Turner, star feature writer at The Times. There’s a woman not afraid to stick her head over the parapet – and a very worthy former winner at the Press Awards.
Hilly, I’d like to ask a few questions about your career. Do you remember the very first job you had? What were you paid, and what did it teach you?
I got into journalism by doing subbing shifts on the features desk at The Times. I’d learned to edit copy and commission artwork at Oxford University Press. The newspaper was terrifying at first but I worked with some brilliant editors like Nick Brett and Richard Williams who took the time to teach me a lot (female editors were pretty thin on the ground and a bit scary). I learned about the importance of accuracy and how to do layouts, how good feature writing was put together and what fun it is writing headlines and captions. The sense of fun and teamwork was great too. I was very lucky to get such a solid grounding.
Was journalism something you always had a passion for?
Yes but my parents were very wary of my going into such an insecure profession. I started my own newspaper at university but It only lasted for three issues! I got there eventually though and luck played a big part. Mum and Dad were right about it being an insecure profession…
What are the best and worst things about being freelance?
The best is the freedom it has given me to pursue longer term projects like writing books, and the time it has enabled me to spend with my children and ailing parents – the most important people in our lives. I really miss the company of bright, sparky colleagues though, and the satisfaction of knowing you are going to produce something tangible every day, week or month. Getting used to working alone at home has taken ages. And the money is crap.
What advice would you give to any woman looking to follow in your footsteps?
I’m not sure anyone would want to follow in my footsteps but it would be never give up and try to be kind to people, especially younger ones who are trying to find their feet in a very tough business. What goes around comes around.
And finally, if you could have any alternative career, anything at all, what would you choose and why?
I’d love to have studied anthropology. To have an academic grounding in how to be nosy, instead of just being nosy, sounds right up my street.
You can find out more about Hilly’s biography of Dylan Thomas and buy it here. Follow her on Twitter here @HillyJanes and do read more about our joint collaboration here on the Women in Journalism web site.
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Posted on March 21st, 2016 by Jane