Kay Burley, Carla Buzasi, Anne McElvoy, Lisa Markwell & Sarah Sands – Meet the Queens of the Newsroom

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(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.’

Confidence
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.

Children
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.

Work-Life Balance
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

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Sun Editor David Dinsmore on Page Three, Phone Hacking and Hillsborough

David Dinsmore during interview with John Pienaar

Photo: Angela Shine   By Angela Shine

David Dinsmore, now five months into his editorship of The Sun newspaper, was speaking at a Breakfast Forum hosted by The London Press Club at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.  In interview with John Pienaar, Chief Political Correspondent on Radio 5 Live, he spoke about the newspaper’s past and future.

Mr Dinsmore, ex Director of Operations at News International, looked sharp and focused as the session began. He answered questions on ex Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell and the police at Downing Street and spoke about his ‘pain every day’ for arrested and mistreated journalists abroad as well answering questions on a diverse range of news topics.

When asked whether he was considering moving away from Page Three, Mr. Dinsmore replied ‘I make the paper for the readers, I don’t make it for the No More Page Three Campaign, I don’t make it for the Twitterati, I don’t make it for readers of the Guardian.’  He talked about the various polls and investigations done with focus groups and continued ‘the word that came back loud and clear was ‘do not touch it.’ He also said that women offered strong support for the feature adding; ‘they feel it is intrinsic to the brand and also they don’t want to be told, by someone else, what should be in their paper.’ And finally ‘Frankly, I have now parked the issue and we move on.’

‘I make the paper for the readers, I don’t make it for the No More Page Three Campaign, I don’t make it for the Twitterati, I don’t make it for readers of the Guardian.’ He talked about the various polls and investigations done with focus groups and continued ‘the word that came back loud and clear was ‘do not touch it.’

Discussing changes to the layout of the paper, he talked about making the paper more lively and vibrant by including single column stories of interest and changing set sections to different pages. He later commented ‘It is not set in stone that there must be a pair of breasts on page three every day in The Sun.’

Phone Hacking

I asked Mr. Dinsmore if he thought phone hacking should be allowed, and if so, in what circumstances would he use it for journalism? He replied ‘No, I don’t think it should. It’s illegal, apart from anything else.

As he took questions from the floor, I asked Mr. Dinsmore if he thought phone hacking should be allowed, and if so, in what circumstances would he use it for journalism? He replied ‘No, I don’t think it should. It’s illegal, apart from anything else. Are there circumstances? I just can’t see any circumstances in the UK where anyone would ever, in their right mind, hack a phone again. No matter what the story is, because of what has come from all of this. Now it could be that if this hadn’t happened, you could possibly make an argument that something was in such public interest that you could do, but I think you’d have to be to be in leave of your senses to go and do that.’

When questioned on Hillsborough, he spoke about the ‘special challenges’ involved and commented ‘there is no doubt there were mistakes made in the past’ adding ‘Everybody had the same story, we just had the wrong headline on it.’  Mr. Dinsmore also said ‘I don’t expect to start selling papers again in Liverpool.’

When asked whether the paper has lost its Mojo, he replied ‘I’ve been here five months; we changed the name of The Sun to The SON when Prince George was born; that kinda went round the world, it was something that was different and exciting and a great snapshot of that moment in time.’ Adding ‘I don’t think it has lost its Mojo, what has changed is the media landscape.’ Acknowledging those changes as he compares the newspaper market four years ago,  he adds ‘We have to kinda recalibrate where we are today because I don’t think the Sun will sell 4m print newspapers today, but I don’t see there’s any reason why we can’t have 4m subscribers in the future.’

Researching the internet, you will find the clean lines of the News UK website combining The Times, The Sun and The Sunday Times. The website is already casting its metaphoric net with iPad versions of themselves, print and paper costs free. Of course the Sun is offering a tempting ‘Appy days’ Get the paper on your iPad – Free Download. Click on a small, interactive icon, strategically placed next to a mini front page of each paper and the news is at your fingertips, literally.

His eyes firmly on making The Sun a paid for multi platform readership; he appears to be in morph mode to meet the ever-changing needs of his readers. With the lure of so much available free web content, only time will tell if he will reel the falling Sun readership figures back in via on-line subscriptions.

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