By Simone Flueckiger and Neha Gupta
In a conversation with Toyosi Ogunseye, the BBC’s Head of West Africa, three laureates of the WIN Editorial Leadership Awards, Nyein Nyein Naing, Editor-in-Chief of 7Day Media in Myanmar, Samia Nakhoul, Middle East Editor of Thomson Reuters in Lebanon, and Edyth Kambalame, Editor of Malawi’s The Nation on Sunday, discussed talent, diversity, and the urgent need to create a safe work environment for women journalists.
Below is an edited version of their conversation, which took place during WAN-IFRA’s Virtual World News Media Congress.
What are the specific or personal goals that guide your newsroom vision?
Nyein Nyein Naing: In my long journey as a journalist, more often than not there is some institution ready to sue media houses and journalists. My personal goal in this case is to then keep relentlessly working for press freedom in Myanmar.
Edyth Kambalame: We can all agree that women, especially in Africa, are portrayed very negatively – often as victims – even when we have numerous successful women out there whose stories need to be reflected truthfully. I want to see a more gender equal world. We would ideally want to reach a stage where media institutions themselves start promoting women by putting in place friendly policies that make it a conducive environment for women to thrive in. If women keep leaving the media industry because of unfriendly regulations, there will not be enough of us rising to leadership roles.
Samia Nakhoul: When I started working at Reuters, I was among the first three women journalists in the Middle East to have joined that newsroom. After assuming my role as a bureau chief, my objective has been to look for young, talented women in the region, especially in troubled places such as Libya and Yemen. I want to pave an easier path for them to flourish and lead the industry, compared to how it was when we started working.
How can we as media managers, owners and entrepreneurs retain young talent in our newsrooms?
Nyein Nyein Naing: We have to aid every woman journalist’s learning, right from the time they join as trainees. We must give them enough opportunities to explore the knowledge sphere that will help shape their personal branding.
Edyth Kambalame: Young journalists are looking to grow, and there’s an urgent need to mentor them and help them learn new skills so that they have multiple avenues to explore. We must allow young journalists to be creative, bring in new ideas, and be unique so that your organisation can connect with younger audiences; there should be no space for rigidity.
You also want them to feel valued, create career paths for them so they can see their potential progression up the leadership ladder and feel motivated.
Samia Nakhoul: Career development includes keeping the young employees happy, excited, motivated, engaged and having an ever evolving conversation. They need to feel they are growing. Offering bonuses, promotions, award nominations, and asking them to cover big assignments are important incentives to make your employee feel appreciated and valued.
We need to come out of the mindset that a bureau chief needs 14 years of experience behind them. If they are good, they must be given the opportunity to lead. We need to shake off these rigid structures and practices, and try to match their pace.
What skills are currently needed in the newsrooms?
Edyth Kambalame: Multimedia is key at this point in time because the future of journalism and the world is digital. You also need to keep upgrading your skills; things are ever evolving even in journalism. You want to build scientific knowledge to be able to interpret data.
Samia Nakhoul: Building contacts is key. A journalist without contacts is not a journalist. You can be the best writer, but if you don’t have the source to get the story out, to know what’s happening, then you don’t have the information. Nobody is going to read your story. The skills that are becoming more pressing now are visual and digital experience.
How can women journalists move from merely talking about equal pay to taking concrete steps to achieve it?
Edyth Kambalame: Since top leadership roles are dominated by men, it can become a lonely place for the few women managers at the top to seek help. Mechanisms such as unions and associations must be put in place where people feel heard and have their issues addressed when they are aggrieved.
Samia Nakhoul: We’ve been fighting for equal pay all our lives. Like with diversity in newsrooms now, the call for equal pay has to come from the top. Why should we fight for something that is our fundamental right? It should be embedded as an objective for every news organisation.
Is sexual harassment, and not being acknowledged and heard, a reason why young women are leaving newsrooms?
Edyth Kambalame: Women find they have nowhere to turn to, when faced with sexual harassment. When you’re already dealing with newsrooms where there are fewer women and the support system is also limited, many women will find themselves with no alternative but to leave. To combat this, newsrooms must have sexual harassment policies in place.
Beyond content policies and guidelines, what can we as female leaders do to protect the young women in our newsrooms?
Samia Nakhoul: We can try to make our newsrooms transparent enough, so that young women don’t hesitate in reaching out for help. We can ensure that we send out timely reminders about trustworthy contact points for people to get in touch with if they have been sexually harassed. We have to reach a stage where there is no fear of talking, and to have a code of conduct to protect the victim while ensuring anonymity and prompt action.
How can newsrooms better accommodate women who also have to handle responsibilities towards their families?
Edyth Kambalame: Journalists are required to work long, odd hours. Our organisations can be more flexible in helping these women flourish at work, while being empathetic about their responsibilities at home.
Samia Nakhoul: COVID-19 has changed our work culture and made it more flexible. So, why can’t managers be more understanding in allowing young mothers to work from home as long as the quality of work is maintained and is delivered on time?
What advice would you give to young women who want to join this profession in these difficult times?
Samia Nakhoul: Be truthful, be rigorous, report without bias or favour.
Edyth Kambalame: Truthfulness and integrity are key attributes to become a successful journalist, but I also would advise them to work on building relationships, because journalism is really a relationship business. You need to invest in building and maintaining very strong relationships with mentors and even your colleagues and peers. Building networks will keep you and your stories going; you can’t generate story ideas without connections.