Top female journalists have celebrated dominating headlines with agenda-setting investigations in the first half of 2018 and highlighted the importance of diversity in newsrooms.
Last month’s Private Eye Paul Foot Awards for campaigning and investigative journalism provided a showcase of some of the biggest stories in the UK news media so far this year, many penned by women journalists.
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The Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman (pictured top left) took the prize for her reporting into the Windrush scandal, which led to a public apology from Prime Minister Theresa May and the resignation of former Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Also among those nominated was the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr (pictured top right) for her investigation into alleged Facebook data harvesting by UK firm Cambridge Analytica (for which she won the Orwell Prize for Journalism).
The FT’s Madison Marriage (pictured bottom right) was shortlisted for her undercover report on the Presidents Club dinner as well as Buzzfeed UK’s investigations team, led by Heidi Blake, for revealing suspicious deaths on British soil linked to Russia.
“It is something to celebrate,” Cadwalladr tells Press Gazette. “The women are bringing it.”
Last year the Paul Foot Award was won by another female journalist, Emma Youle, for her work on the hidden homeless in the London Borough of Hackney. The shortlist then had been 43 per cent women.
By contrast, this year it was made up of 67 per cent women.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Maeve McClenaghan (pictured bottom left)- who won Best New Podcast at the British Podcast Awards in May for The Tip Off – says that although women have been “slogging away” for decades, it is “heartening this year to see so much of that recognised, be it in getting column inches in front pages or in award shortlists”.
But the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman is more hesitant to celebrate.
She tells Press Gazette: “I think it’s a really belated phenomenon. I think in a way it’s almost a bit sad that we’re celebrating it because really it should have been something that happened really a long time ago.
“I’ve been working as a journalist for 20 years and I’ve been to a lot of awards ceremonies and for years it’s been really stark that there’s been this very male-dominated winners’ league and that probably just reflects how newsrooms have been.”
She adds: “I think it’s important that women are promoted in newsrooms and that investigative roles in newspapers aren’t seen as a male preserve. I think perhaps five years ago even, ten years ago certainly, that perhaps was the case a bit and I’m delighted that that’s changing.”
Research by networking group Women in Journalism last year found that progress in the number of national newspaper front page bylines for women had been “slow or non-existent” since 2012, growing from 23 per cent to 25 per cent in June to July 2017.
The group said this could be due to national papers having “almost entirely male” backbenches who decide where stories are placed and how they are presented, while business, politics and sports sections are “still overwhelmingly dominated” by men.
Freelance journalist Donna Ferguson, a Women in Journalism committee member, tells Press Gazette it is important to celebrate women getting top scoops to help combat the “real perception that the newsroom is a really difficult place for women and is a really macho place”.
“I think it just gives you a feeling of optimism and hope and joy that things perhaps are becoming more equal, that women are getting these opportunities,” she adds.
“That’s a really good thing to celebrate because they’re role models for the next generation, hopefully we’re just going to have more and more women doing these jobs and writing these stories.”
Cadwalladr has worked with an all-female team at the Observer throughout her Cambridge Analytica reporting, describing it as a “very supportive, almost family-like environment”.
“It’s not your traditional macho competitive newsroom,” she adds.
Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower who spent a year speaking to Cadwalladr before going on the record, has repeatedly praised the team.
He tweeted earlier this month: “This story happened because women took the lead.
“The lead journalist Carole Cadwalladr is a woman. The UK Information Commissioner is a woman. The lead team at the Guardian are women. My lawyer Tamsin Allen is a woman. A lot of tech bros ignored this until women showed us it mattered.”
However, after publication of their stories many woman journalists, including Cadwalladr, continue to face abuse and trolling targeting their gender.
In November, the Leave.EU campaign – one of the subjects of the Observer investigation – photoshopped Cadwalladr’s face into a clip from the film Airplane of a “hysterical” woman being told to calm down and repeatedly slapped and then shared it on Twitter.
Cadwalladr has also been called “the Guardian’s resident Brexit bunny boiler” by former Breitbart editor Raheem Kassam, and a “sad cat lady” by Arron Banks, co-founder of Leave.EU and a prominent Brexiteer.
“It’s just nasty and it’s ugly and it seeks to discredit me and being female is definitely part of that, what they use to try and hit the journalism,” Cadwalladr says, adding that the story was “very exposing” to report.
“The reason that I kick back against [attacks], is that they do work and they do have an impact, and part of the struggle that I had last year in terms of this story being taken seriously was because those sorts of attacks worked.”
The FT’s Madison Marriage also experienced gendered trolling in the aftermath of her undercover investigation into the Presidents Club dinner, including comments like “what a silly woman” and “what a stupid girl”.
But, she adds: “If a man had written this story I think they would have received abuse and trolling as well.
“It pissed off a lot of people – it also pleased a lot of people, but I think whenever you’re writing controversial stories you’re always going to have people who are angered by that and I think that’s irrespective of gender.”
Ferguson says there is also more to be done to improve overall diversity in newsrooms, adding: “There’s not enough ethnic diversity still among top female journalists and that’s a huge challenge.”
Cadwalladr also speaks of the importance of diversity, describing it as “an amazing thing for getting different types of stories”.
She adds: “I thought that, for example with Madison Marriage’s story, the more traditional male public school FT reporters I just don’t think would have seen or covered that story so brilliantly. It’s just a different angle on that city culture.
“It’s just really exciting to see such diverse pieces of journalism and I hope it knocks down the barrier to entry.”
Before going undercover at the Presidents Club dinner, Marriage noticed male journalists had previously written a number of tongue-in-cheek articles referencing the macho culture of the event.
“To them it was all a bit of a laugh with no formal comment on the fact this was a male only dinner which they clearly knew from their reporting,” she tells Press Gazette.
“So I think maybe it did need a woman to learn about this event and think: ‘Hang on, there’s something not quite right here’.
“That said, when I explained the story to my investigations editor Paul [Murphy], who’s male, he immediately saw the public interest and thought that this was something that was definitely worth pursuing.
“I think it’s always healthy to have a balance, you need men and women doing investigative reporting and if you lack either gender then you will miss stories.”
McClenaghan agrees – she says: “It’s about having a range of voices and a range of experiences out there so that we’re all coming at stories differently and we’re all hearing about different things that you wouldn’t get if we were all one big homogenous entity.”