Monday, December 5, 2011
Women journalists flee newspaper careers
A lack of women leaders in New Zealand newspaper journalism is blamed on the “glass bubble”, not the “glass ceiling” in
a new study by Massey University.
The study of daily newspapers found that women journalists “loved” journalism, but did not stay in the industry very
long. Even the few women who became editors, tended to stay in the role for only three years.
Former journalist turned academic Dr Catherine Strong says it is not a glass ceiling women journalists face if they want
to move into mangement roles, but their own "glass bubble" created to protect them from the maledominated, aggressive
and confrontational newspaper environment.
“The glass bubble is what women surround themselves with to protect them from the harsh, negative, openly competitive
and aggressive nature of daily journalism. But this glass bubble is also the knowledge women have that they have the
skills and abilities to be able to go off and get a better job in another industry where they are valued and where there
is a better fit with their values.”
Dr Strong, who received her PhD last week, says the industry is a negative, brutal environment that drives women away.
The balance between male and female journalists in the news media has been researched for almost four decades, and there
is much research that shows female journalists lag well behind their male colleagues in jobs, pay, and seniority, she
“Studies have found that many young women enter newspaper journalism and that overall, there seems more women print
journalists than men. However, they are relegated to lower career levels, and are almost invisible at the editorial and
executive level. My research has been able to get to the bottom of why.”
Dr Strong’s research is believed to be the first in the first to analyse why there are so few women newspaper editors.
She conducted in-depth interviews with the nine women who moved in and out of editor positions in daily newspapers
between 2000 and 2009 to understand their experiences prior to and while in the senior jobs. She also interviewed senior
female journalists who had shunned the top roles to understand why, and male executives who were responsible for hiring
and promoting editors.
“Most became editor without any prior management or financial training, as well as without a career plan or many female
She notes that this is not a strictly female issue, and that there are men who are in the same situation and that the
harsh culture transcends national borders. “New Zealand is similar to other countries in supporting a daily newspaper
culture that presents ingrained barriers for women to climb the career ladder.”
Dr Strong says the very few women who stay, often by adapting to the confrontational environment, stay in editor roles
for less than three years. “When they get to positions of seniority, they enter the ‘collegial wilderness’ - they look
around and realise it is incredibly uncomfortable and they have no support networks to assist.”
She says the reasons women leave the profession is not because they “can’t handle” the reality of the newsroom, but
because the newsroom remains a negative environment. This is despite the recognition by newspaper management that more
women leadership is required.
“We need more women editors because we need another viewpoint. Newspapers are losing readers and the largest loss
internationally is of female readers. Management understands this, but they are doing little to keep women in the
Dr Strong’s recommendations as a result of her research include recognising managerial talent in young women and
grooming and training them for the top jobs in a planned way. “The old management style is for editors to go on gut
feeling, recognising qualities in young male journalists that they perhaps see in themselves or admire. There is a
reliance on tacit management and they groom these guys from very early on in a tacit way.”
This just reinforces and repeats the masculine newsroom culture, she says. However, she points out that one current
woman editor (the Dominion Post's Bernadette Courtney) has received prior leadership training and support, and this may
be the start of improvements.
Dr Strong is currently teaching converged media in the Middle East at an all-woman university in Dubai, United Arab
Emirates, where she combines teaching with her ongoing research into gender and the media. Prior to moving into teaching
and academia, she was a journalist at Radio New Zealand and at TVNZ, other regional television, and has also run her own
A print-quality image is available and interviews can be arranged with Dr Strong, although she is in Dubai at present.