Words of Wisdom from a Woman on the Front Line of Journalism in London

Julia Rampen has written Diss a piece on being a woman in journalism. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. She shares her insight into the industry, giving a snippet of what it’s like to be a woman working in what is so often perceived as a male dominated world. 

I went to a university which didn’t give women degrees until 1948, and where it was still common to be told to “write like a man” and that “women’s brains are different” (this was 2008). So when I started in journalism, it was actually quite inspiring to encounter female editors, who really didn’t give a shit what other people thought about them. 

I got my first job during my Masters. I was already interested in writing about finance, because of the turmoil I’d witnessed as a student, so I thought I’d try to do some work experience at an investment magazine. Two weeks later, I got a job offer for a new magazine (now sadly defunct) under the loveliest editor I could have asked for. He continues to this day to run the annual mince pie tasting competition. I worked at this publishing house for the good part of three years, and was gratified to discover I actually found the technical side of financial journalism easy enough and enjoyed the challenge of hunting down a good news story too.

One little-known fact about financial journalism is it’s actually much less stuffy than other genres and there are lots of opportunities for women. Roughly half of the editors I knew were female. As for my male colleagues, they always encouraged me onwards and upwards. I have a particular gratitude to one editor who taught me something I would never have learnt on any course – how to negotiate a salary. 

The opposite was true of the world we wrote about. I heard stories about trade fairs where brokers would drop their business card in a lucky dip and the winner got a lap dance, right there, in the middle of the exhibition centre. I myself went to a trade fair where there were numerous “sexy Santas” wandering around for no apparent reason linked to mortgages. Before the crash, it was common for networking events to involve prostitutes and strippers, but by the time I wrote about the industry, it had a very big financial hangover.

Even when the men in the industry were perfectly decent human beings, I had to learn to be at ease in a room where my gender made up perhaps 10 per cent of the dinner guests. Not only that, but they mostly came from a very different generation, background, and part of the country from me. It could be mentally exhausting, but I’m very glad I had that experience. Once the initial challenge is over, it is hugely empowering to realise you can have a conversation with (almost) anyone and everyone. 

After trade journalism, I was lucky enough to get a job at The Mirror, setting up a new online consumer finance section. Once again, I was pleased to discover a workplace where there were some women with chutzpah, not least my wonderful and unstoppable line manager. Of course, tabloids aren’t exactly known for their political correctness, and our readers had little enthusiasm for reading about the pay gap, but I became very loyal to The Mirror for the way it took up the cause of single mums, the tampon tax and other issues affecting women. 

While I was at The Mirror I once again benefited from the encouragement of male colleagues too, especially those on the politics team, who were happy for me to crash their desk and gain some reporting experience. It was this that helped me get the job I have now, as the editor of The New Statesman’s politics blog.

Along the way, I’ve learnt some lessons about being a woman in journalism. Here they are:

1. Be careful what you drink

My first three jobs involved a lot of boozy networking sessions with endless free wine, and I heard some scare stories about reporters who found themselves in a vulnerable state. Have a clear idea of how much you want to drink when you arrive. And it should never be as much as the person you’re speaking too – after all, when they start blabbing stories you want to be able to remember them.

2. Find the interesting story in everyone

There’s no point pretending to be a middle-aged man who loves football when you’re a twenty-something girl, but you can always ask questions. If you’re trying to connect with a contact, just ask them about their life. Find something you can both laugh about. 

3. Everyone has their style

One of the best journalists I knew in the trade press told me he pretended to be really stupid, and that’s how he got all his stories. I got mine by acting really calm, and listening incredibly hard. You have a good news reporter in you, but you need to find it.

4. Don’t get pigeon-holed

There is a view that you get women in consumer journalism, lifestyle, celebrity etc. There is absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be women writing about politics and finance. Both these things affect women, and increasingly involve women.

5. Get involved in women’s issues on your beat

One of my editors set up a group for women in mortgages, and asked me to be the note taker. Through doing that, I had at least five industry VIPs I could say hello to at networking events (suddenly I realised how easy it must be for men). 

6. Negotiate your pay

It’s not always easy to negotiate your pay, and I have on occasion been very flexible to take a job I wanted, but I do know the tried and tested way to get a pay rise in journalism and it is this. Get another concrete job offer, and then tell your editor you’re thinking of leaving. Money appears from nowhere! Of course, if you do that, you have to be ready to leave if necessary…

7. DON’T get embarrassed

You need a tough skin if you’re a journalist. Women are brought up to be sensitive to other people’s needs, but this is where you are liberated from all of that. Interrupt important people, ask VIPs tough questions, pick up the phone and make the call you’ve been dreading. And get used to having your work criticised – it’s the best way to improve.

words by Julia Rampen

@JuliaRampenMM

http://www.newstatesman.com/

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