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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The news business is unfair to journalists with children

Many journalists think of their work as a calling. They live for breaking news, scoops, deadlines and remarkable stories. Early mornings and late nights are a small price to pay for getting people the information they need — or even shaping the news cycle.

But the profession doesn’t always feel compatible with having any other serious responsibilities or interests, much less kids who have hardcore deadlines of their own, including doctor’s appointments, daycare pickups and 7 p.m. bedtimes.

If you’re struggling with balancing journalism and parenthood, you’re not alone. Hundreds of your colleagues across the country are grappling with the same dilemma. That’s what Poynter learned after asking 390 journalists about whether their employers are family-friendly.

The survey was designed to gauge if and how journalists are accessing family-friendly policies like paid family leave, telecommuting and flex-scheduling. We also wanted to hear how workplace culture is shaping people’s experiences.

The results are both encouraging and disappointing. On the surface, many of the journalists who took the survey work for companies that offer key benefits and policies. Yet they’re also overwhelmingly worried about their career prospects after becoming parents and say they have few role models in management who demonstrate what it means to have a viable balance between work and caregiving responsibilities.

Their responses also indicate that journalists’ individual experiences are heavily reliant on whether their direct supervisor understands the challenges of being both a journalist and a parent.

If these findings confirm your worst fears, there’s still hope. Experts who study workplace policies say that pushing media companies to embrace work-life balance is an important business strategy for retention, loyalty and productivity. That approach is particularly essential for ensuring that newsrooms are as diverse as the audiences they serve: Female journalists won’t ever reach parity with their male colleagues if senior leadership refuses to acknowledge that journalists also have caregiving responsibilities, which still fall disproportionately to women.


Newsrooms need to envision and implement new ways of assigning and valuing work in order to give all employees — not just parents — the chance to have a fulfilling life off the job, said Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at New America and formerly a veteran reporter for The Washington Post.

“When we judge you by how much time you’re willing to put in, how many hours you work, how late you’re answering your emails,” she says, “what we’re really doing is reinforcing this culture that to be a good journalist you pretty much can’t have a life outside of journalism, and we all know that’s not true.”

Findings
Even if we know that’s not technically true, plenty of people who completed our survey feel the pressure to downplay their private life and caregiving responsibilities. When we asked participants why they delayed having children, the second-most popular answer after financial concerns was a lack of clarity about how to balance deadlines, hours and family life. People also worried that parenthood would affect their chances for a promotion.

As one survey respondent put it: “It's all about productivity and stories. [W]hat's happening in life is my own problem...just keep that copy rolling.”

The survey, which opened in November, received 390 responses to multiple-choice questions about workplace policies and workload. We also received hundreds of answers to three open-ended questions.

While the number of participants represents a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. journalists employed in the newspaper, radio, internet publishing and broadcasting industries, the responses help illustrate common concerns and experiences. Those who chose to share the name of their employer reported working at local papers and television stations, big regional dailies, national newspapers, major websites and network and cable television stations.

Here’s an overview of which policies and practices were — and weren’t — common amongst our respondents.

Parental leave: Two-thirds of employers offer some paid parental leave, but less than half of the respondents took the full time allotted. It wasn’t clear whether they went back to work earlier because they received only partial pay or felt they needed to return without taking full advantage of the policy. Either way, only 14 percent of private employers in the U.S. offer paid leave, so journalists may have access to better policies than the average worker.

(Source: Poynter)

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