(left to right – Kay Burley, Carla Buzasi, Anne McElvoy, Lisa Markwell, Sarah Sands)
The Press in a Dress – Photo: Angela Shine
When Sarah Sands, Carla Buzasi and Lisa Markwell hold court in their news domains; you can bet everyone listens. These three names sit within the heart of news in the United Kingdom and beyond. However, if the names don’t ring a celebrity bell, that’s because they’re are not supposed to; these are the women BEHIND the news. The embodiment of true ‘girl power,’ respectively they represent the Editor of the London Evening Standard, Editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK, Editor of the Independent on Sunday plus long serving Sky News Journalist and Presenter Kay Burley. The evening was chaired by ex-Deputy Editor of the Spectator and Presenter Anne McElvoy.
Front page news when you consider that just 20 years ago (Huffington Post excused) you might have expected that same panel to comprise of a line of less attractive, harrumphing, weather beaten hard news men; remnants of a bygone Fleet Street era.
Sponsored by Skoda, The London Press Club’s ‘Women in Media’ Forum was held at Stationer’s Hall, a magnificent 17th century setting near St Pauls. In candid fashion, having worked their way through an industry laden with clichéd references to gender, the panel spoke about female depiction in media, female journalism, confidence, men, boobs, blogging and work-life balance.
On the subject of women in the media, Sarah Sands said ‘There are no physical barriers to being a woman in media, no heavy lifting’. It isn’t long before the subject of being taken seriously rears its head and Carla Buzasi comments ‘How can you go from writing about lipstick to writing about politics? I believe you can.’
They discuss the tendency of papers to get women to write about ‘women’s issues.’ Kay Burley said ‘Someone said they want news presenters to be men who look like they’ve survived a war…F*** off, I’ve survived wars.’ We laugh, but it’s a statement that echoes many women’s concerns. Carla Buzasi quotes the statistic that ‘Last year only 22% of newspaper front pages featured a woman’s byline’. While Lisa Markwell comments ‘Gender equality in the media has a long way to go.’
The audience debate women’s self-worth asking if women play down their abilities and achievements. Kay Burley responds that women lack confidence, they need to be more confident to get where they want in their careers. ‘Of course you can interview the Prime Minister, the only thing stopping you is yourself.’ She offers.
The audience asks about pregnancy and how raising a family can affect careers. They wonder how long those mums on the panel took for maternity leave. Anne McElvoy jokes that she practically gave birth under her desk. Lisa Markwell comments ‘My husband took 5 years off to bring up the children so I could work, I highly recommend it’ she took 4 months off. I have such respect for her honesty. These superwomen in charge of whirling media machines battle human issues like the rest of us…who knew?
Kay Burley comments ‘When I was pregnant, I was told by a senior official that I wasn’t of use any more’. She admits things have changed over the ensuing years. ‘Things are changing in all walks of life, not just the media’ she adds.
Carla Buzasi recalled a valued male employee who asked to leave early to attend a parents evening, he was surprised when she immediately said ‘of course.’ She said she believes in work-life balance. At 33, with no children, she believes that you shouldn’t have to work 24/7 to prove you deserve the job. It’s an uplifting thought. In an interview in April 2013 on HuffPost Women, when asked what ‘having it all’ means to her, she replied ‘I don’t tend to think so much as ‘having it all’, as having lots that makes me happy. Does that sound selfish? Maybe being happy and having those around me feel happy, too.’
Boobs and Media portrayal
The discussion naturally flows to women in the workplace and after a mixture of fun anecdotes about some hair-raisingly sexist remarks; I seize my chance and throw a question out there relating to the phenomenal response to my recent article about Page 3 and The Sun Newspaper. I refer to the Sun Editor David Dinsmore’s forum, where he spoke about his newspaper’s strong female support for Page 3, I ask ’Do you think Page 3 sends out the wrong message for women to be taken seriously?’ The panel takes this subject seriously. Kay Burley responds first, looking at the issue from a commercial angle, ‘It must be working as its selling papers’ and ‘If t**s didn’t sell, they wouldn’t be in the paper.’ Lisa Markwell has something different to say on the matter ‘Well I certainly don’t want to open my paper in the morning and see a pair of breasts looking at me.’
It is Sarah Sands who comments that Page 3 is starting to get old and the question is directed at Carla Buzasi who says ‘It surprises me the amount of Page 3 passivity about those women on those pages.’ She also mentions the No more page 3 campaign. Adding to this the fact that she wrote her own article called ‘Stop writing about my body’ published on HuffPost Women, which talks about how much is written about women’s bodies. An excerpt reads ‘What with the endless articles devoted to Kate’s boobs, the revelation that the ‘average’ woman spends 17 years of her life on a diet….’ You see where she’s going, it’s refreshingly sincere.
Professional and Proud
These women make huge decisions on a daily basis, they decide what is important in the public interest; they gauge their audience’s tastes and then feed our appetite for news using distinctly different mediums. They lead the way in their media careers, often to the surprise of some of their male colleagues; who strangely never saw them coming.
Kay Burley spoke about being a parent to her 21 year son who was asked who his best friend was, he replied ‘My mum.’ she tells this story with immense pride. She certainly doesn’t look like she has a 21 year old son. Anne McElvoy asks her why she felt she needed to have her facelift. She replied ‘If I worked at Tesco, I would still have had a facelift. It’s not to do with being on TV. I just want to look the best that I can.’ She also said ‘I’m a good journalist because I ask the right questions, not because I’m easy on the eye.’
Having glimpsed their priorities through the forum, I am aware I have been at a very special viewing; a window into the balancing act they all seem such masters at. To achieve so high professionally is a great lifetime achievement, but to achieve personally at the same time is something most of us must surely aspire to.
Linked not only by gender, but by profession and grounded ethics, their solidarity for women in journalism is evident. Carla Buzasi reassuringly confirms that the door in media is now firmly open commenting ‘women who don’t help other women have a special place reserved in hell.’ The Queens of the newsroom – long may they reign.
To give your opinion by comment or vote and to read the Editor of The Sun, David Dinsmore’s view click here