I became a journalist for one reason: There are stories I want to read that have yet to be written.
Journalism has had a particular allure to me since I started jotting down questions and notes to myself in glitter milk pens in the ’90s. I kept ballet slipper-adorned sticky notes and scrap printer paper in a shoebox at the foot of my lofted bed, just beside a small porcelain boot in which I collected gold toothfairy dust. That box contained everything I believed in—the power of the written word and the toothfairy.
I’ve been writing to myself every single night since I was a child, so much so that I’ve never even entertained the thought of pursuing a career outside of prose. I have too many questions about the world around me, so I write to taste life twice—once in the moment and again retroactively. Writing expounds my own opinions, offers clarity, divulges answers and summons even more questions. Journaling, for me, has become akin to feeding an unabated addiction.
But it’s not easy to be both a journalist and a woman. According to the Status of Women in the Media 2015 Report by the Women’s Media Center, only about 38 percent of reporters and writers in newsroom are women. Likewise, 38 percent of the news agenda (bylines, on-camera appearances and producer credits) is generated by women. Women make up just over 41 percent of copy editors and television news employees, and 26 percent of Sunday morning news guests and news staff photographers. Under five percent of columns cite three of more women as sources.
In fact, female bylines make up just 35 percent of US politics, 36 percent of world politics and science, 33 percent of crime and justice, 38 percent of business, economics and technology and 42 percent of culture stories.
The lack of female journalists and sources in both legacy media outlets and modern curators creates an absence of the female voice on key issues in national dialogue. This deficiency is detrimental to the health of our democracy, as women are proven fiscally responsible, key contributing members of societies’ successes globally. It also perpetuates the objectification, sexualization and gendered stereotyping of 54 percent of media consumers in the US—women who, themselves, become reinforcers as they begin to believe what they watch and read.
Despite the odds that most female journalists will be relegated to covering topics of style and beauty, I’m a fulltime associate editor for, ironically, a men’s magazine, MadeMan.com, where I am actually able to exercise some measure of autonomy editorially, production-wise and in regard to the verticals that I choose to cover, like politics and travel. But it’s by no statistical misnomer that I’m in this position.
While there’s certainly a glass ceiling to be shattered in a gendered and systematically flawed job market, women must start chiseling away at the opportunities they want for themselves, even if society isn’t necessarily ready to hand them over.
Here are my three biggest tips for becoming a journalist in a male-dominated industry:
Realize what you like to do. Do it. Then do it better. Then find someone to pay you to do it more.
If you want to shatter a glass ceiling, you’ve gotta first build a damn good launch pad. I’ve been doing the work long before it was ever “work.” I started writing when no one wanted to pay me for it, because it’s a hobby and because it betters my craft professionally. I’ve only recently started making any kind of income off my blog, HerReport.org, which I’ve been doing for almost four years. I never did it for money and I believe it’s for that reason alone that I make money doing it. And, with that experience and more, I was able to make a full time career out of writing.
If you want to be a writer, you need to start writing for anyone, for anything.
But, before you sit down to write, stand up to live.
Henry Thoreau famously said this. In a world short-circuited by 24/7 consumer demands, journalism is all-too-often evasive. Journalists are sparsely able to travel to sources, instead predisposing readers to information about people with whom they’ve never engaged and places to which they’ve never been. Be the journalist who, quite literally, goes the extra mile, and don’t wait for someone to send you. For me, it’s easy. My curiosity feeds an impetus to travel and my travels whet an abiding curiosity. I have an affinity for impulsive solo travel, so I’ve visited nearly 30 countries and counting across five continents. I’ve been able to start writing because I’ve been inspired.
It doesn’t have to be the travel aspect that ignites your creativity; it only has to be something, anything about which you are so insatiably passionate that you’re happy to go the extra mile to experience it first-hand, and eager to come back to write it all down.
Never fall in love with your words.
This is quite possibly the biggest (and most challenging) piece of advice I’ve ever received. But, like Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” The thing is, a readiness to accept constructive criticism is obliged of every journalist. You’ll have editors who will obliterate your work and you’ll have editors who will improve your work, but you will never have editors who won’t change your work in some capacity. Keeping an open mind and actively trying to better yourself is key. Likewise, you’ll have readers who will offer their two cents, or, if you happen to find yourself as the only woman working for a men’s magazine, you might have readers who’ll offer some hate speech. Maybe you learn from something a reader has commented; maybe you’re hurt by an irrelevant insult a reader has made. Regardless, find motivation in either scenario to keep on writing.
Always remember why you write—to learn. Learn from your editors and your readers alike.
Are you interested in a career in journalism? Leave your comments below and be sure to check out Her Report.