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Still The Daily Male – by Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Still The Daily Male – by Jennifer Peterson-Ward

The ultimate success is to find your own voice.
Geraldine Doogue, speaking at Women in Media’s first event for 2011.

Women journalists have come a long way since the days of Betty Friedan and Marguerite Higgins, but after all is said and done, journalism still appears to be a man’s world.

Despite the increasing success of women in journalism, international studies show that women comprise 33-38 per cent of newsmakers (that is, reporters and sub-editors) around the world, but hold just 0.1-0.9 per cent of the decision-making roles. Likewise, though Australian female students now heavily outnumber males in communications and media courses, and have done for the best part of a decade, women in the industry remain clustered in the lower-paid, low-status reporting roles.

While it is often a hard and frustrating way of life, there is quite a lot to be said by and about the women who choose to live it. One example is Geraldine Doogue, one of the nation’s most admired female journalists and broadcasters.

From the coverage of the Gulf War to the exploration of modern spirituality, she has sought to capture the challenges and opportunities facing Australians for more than 30 years, but few would be aware of the inherent struggle accompanying her success as a woman in the male-dominated media world.

Geraldine Doogue spoke to an assembly of more than 100 female journalists, public affairs professionals and communications specialists gathered at the ABC studios in East Perth on March 30 for Women in Media’s first event for 2011.

In discussion with former ABC journalist Miriam Borthwick, Doogue spoke candidly about her experiences as a woman in the media world. She focused on the ongoing struggle for equal treatment in the newsroom, while addressing topics ranging from parenthood to international assignments and occupational stability.

Reminiscing about her early years as a cadet journalist with The West Australian, Doogue reflected on the gender inequality that left decision-making in the newsrooms mostly to men. “When I first entered The West newsroom it was very patriarchal,” she said. “You had to learn to cop it, and not just cop it – be gracious about it. It was very much that you played by the men’s rules.”

{pagebreak}But while young female journalists, like herself, often paid for it in the sly winks, missed assignments and overall disrespect they received from certain members of the journalistic brotherhood, Doogue acknowledged the strong women journalists who were her positive role models and mentors. She said a “strong female elite” in the newsrooms inspired her to be civic-minded, socially-responsible and politically engaged in all aspects of her work.

“Katherine Martin, Jan Jackson, Diana Warnock, Betty Sim … they were powerfully important in my sense of what was possible.” Another example was Alex Harris: “There was no doubt in any woman’s mind she was top of the tree,” she said.

Doogue also touched upon one of the biggest issues faced by women embarking on career paths in the media industry – the dilemma of career versus motherhood.

“It’s a juggling act and, like all juggling acts, getting it right isn’t easy,” she said. “However, I believe it is in our best interest to make it work; if we look like we are failing then what message are we sending to young women?”

Speaking frankly with audience members during a Q&A, Doogue encouraged women to “test their power” when seeking increased opportunities, such as improved pay and parental rights. And she encouraged them to think laterally about how they go about it.

“You can come in via the side door; never think you have to come in through the front door,” she said, recounting a story when, many years into her career, a television executive told her that she could not ever hope to succeed against her male colleagues in news and current affairs.

“I was so offended and I thought, ‘how dare he say that to me?’. But then I looked at him and thought ‘this man is on my side, so I’d better listen even though it’s really offending my pride’.” After taking a few days to mull over his comments, Doogue came back with a proposition: “I want to report on the conversations I have with all the intelligent women I know who are having babies and so on. I want to do social affairs journalism.”

Thus the successful ABC Radio National program Life Matters was born.

The moral of Doogue’s story? “You just have to run your own career. Follow your own imagination. Propose a solution instead of a problem then at least you can’t offend. You might be rebuffed, but what do you lose by giving it a chance?”
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While acknowledging the gains women have made in the media, Doogue said the struggle to achieve parity was sure to plague the profession for “a few good years to come”, and she emphasised the important role WIM was playing in giving women a voice in the media, exemplifying the models of leadership required for the 21st century while working to endow these leadership qualities in the next generation of young journalists.

“Young female journalists are expected to run their own career these days – they are asked to file for a lot of different media and they are hardly given a moment to rest and reflect on what is going on around them,” she said.

“It’s very easy to feel quite lonely and disenchanted, so I really think they – likewise for women working in other areas of the media – need to nurture each other and seek solace in sharing their experiences.

“That’s why networks, like WIM, are so important in providing a safe place to connect, share and support each other and to build a community.”

Doogue said she hopes to see a future filled with young female journalists of a particular stature – the young woman whose self-worth is found in the devotion she brings to her job, and who sees covering news and current affairs as a kind of privilege. She also thrives on its ultimate challenge of communicating the often incomprehensible – from war crimes to human rights abuses – to a jaded audience that by now has seen it all.

Following Doogue’s discussion, the fervent conversation amongst attendees suggested that few would hazard a guess at precisely how gender disparities will play out in the media landscape of the future, but one thing is for sure: these WA women were reassured they will not be going it alone.


WIM thanks the MEAA, Lamonts and Red Tiki for their generous sponsorship and Deborah Leavitt, Marty Roth and the ABC for their generous support and the use of the ABC Studios. Thanks also to Lamonts Winery and Secrets Shh, for the gifts won by women on the night.