State Press Play: Kristin Gilger expands on inspiration for 'There's No Crying in Newsrooms'

An interview with the Cronkite dean about women in journalism and comments on gender diversity in newsrooms

After the open panel of co-authors Kristin Gilger and Julia Wallace, podcaster Benita Mrkalj interviews senior associate Dean Gilger about the emphasis of the co-authored book: There's No Crying in Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned About What it Takes to Lead, and a personal take on how society has progressed with its diversity in newsrooms, with advice for aspiring journalists. 


Benita Mrkalj:  The book There's No Crying in Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned About What it Takes to Lead, written by Kristin Gilger and Julia Wallace, details the amazing progression of journalism coming into a new digital era and the history of gender and civil rights within the newsrooms. 

Conducting interviews with many other women who have been involved in this field and how their experiences shape them into who they are today, the book itself becomes a lesson to many aspiring journalists and illustrates the growth of the media over the years and just how far change has brought us. Today we have answering these questions is Senior Associate Dean of the Cronkite School, Kristin Gilger. 

Benita Mrkalj: What initially inspired you to want to work in the field of journalism?

Kristin Gilger: Like many journalists I got the bug in high school. It just seems to be true of a lot of people. So I worked on the student newspaper and yearbook in high school, and then when I went to college I said I'm majoring in journalism, and I just went that way and stuck with it. 

What I liked about it was, I love to write. I'm nosy and curious and liked to talk to people. I liked the way that journalism takes you into worlds and takes you to places that you would never go otherwise. I mean I've watched you know a cow be slaughtered. I have been in floods and hurricanes and things that you would mostly avoid but have been fascinating. I mean I've lived all over the country. And I also am part of the post-Watergate generation, I was inspired by the power that journalists have to change the world. 

Benita Mrkalj: Were there any times during your studies or during your actual profession that you felt pressured into the belief that this field wasn't right for you anymore or you just didn't want to continue? 

Kristin Gilger: I think everybody has doubts at some point, but I just remember that when I was starting in journalism, women were still being pushed to certain occupations. I remember I actually thought about becoming a business journalist because it bothered me that it was all guys in the business department and I thought I really don't want to be a business journalist.

I was offered a couple of jobs and features, including as a features editor at a major paper. And I said no, I don't want to be pigeon-holed into soft news. I want to be where the action is. Even though features is great and I probably would have liked it. But it was the principle of the thing, and practically no women in sports and there were very relatively few women in management. 

I was interested in the news side and I was interested in moving up into management and there was a lot of discouragement along the way on the management side, although not nearly as much from the generation that preceded me. 

The doors were starting to open, and when I first started out it was like, "yeah we have room for one female editor." It was still not all that common in news to have female editors but the door was cracked open —  you at least had one or two. And so I was interested in being one of those one or two. 

Benita Mrkalj: You've mentioned now that with the lack of female representation within this field, how would you say that as a society we've progressed in the case of having women being in newsrooms or in this field in general? 

Kristin Gilger:  We really thought a lot of it had to just do with numbers. There could be enough women at the table then the whole organization would change. That's not quite true. I mean there was progress as a result of that, we did those things. But newsroom cultures didn't change as much as you might have expected. I think in part because in order to succeed within a newsroom, no matter what your gender is, you're adopting certain values and behaviors and those tend to be sort of macho. 

But, also, as Julia put it, we were fighting a ground war. And we were making progress on the ground but we really didn't stop and consider the importance of things like H.R. policies and reporting mechanisms for our harassment, how supported women felt in the newsroom, pay, promotions, the policies and procedures that go along with all of those things. And so we didn't look at it at the sort of institutional level. 

And now I think we're at the point where there are enough women in newsrooms that we can proceed to the institutional war. Women are still the minority in newsrooms of all kinds. When it comes to management they are even more in the minority. But there are still a remarkably few number of women at the top of at least major news organizations.

And it's hard to do any kind of census of everybody. So what we did is we looked at the Top 25/Top 50 news organizations, the networks, National Public Radio, the major news organizations and looking at those, the number of women in top leadership roles has actually dropped. 

We were doing better 10 or 15 years ago than we are now just in terms of numbers. 

There are a number of reasons for it, but I think clearly one of the reasons for it is that in the 80s and 90s when news organizations were doing well, there was at least a lot of talk about diversity, more focus on diversity, more hiring. 

And I think now with so many news organizations focused on the financial side, we just have to focus on surviving here. That diversity has taken second stage. I think that's part of it. I also think that we thought the problems had been solved even though they really haven't. 

Benita Mrkalj: Are there any methods that you could recommend for future journalists or current journalists in this situation where they just don't feel they've been getting the treatment they deserve? 

Kristin Gilger: I find that young men particularly, the younger men, are very like, "OK, cool how can I help?" But they don't know how to help. 

One of the things that I suggest is that, they speak up. And they're not speaking up for you but at least to call attention like, "Hey wait a minute." Or to say, "You know, Janet said something very similar to that five minutes ago and that was a really good idea," or to say, "Wait a minute let Janet speak." But guys are not always comfortable doing this either. 

And the other thing that I think that guys can do, is if they notice something, maybe they're not going to call it out to the person who caused that interaction, but maybe they can say something to the woman because a lot of this has to do with validation. 

You start thinking, "Am I just crazy? Did this really happen? Do they, no, maybe I'm just being overly sensitive here. Was that sexism?" 

You start second guessing yourself, so that erodes your confidence. If the guy sees something and comes to you and says, "I saw that. How are you doing? Anything I can do to help?" Even that validation that you're not crazy that something just happened is so important. 

One of the things I just thought was so interesting, the women we interviewed, is that so many of them expressed lack of confidence. And these are top level women. I mean they've run multi-million dollar news organizations in some cases. They're successful by any measure. And yet almost all of them expressed doubt like, "Well, maybe I wasn't the best person for the job." "Yeah I got fired but they like the other guy better." They had doubt.

The critical issue is that you don't let the doubt paralyze you, because to be a leader you have to be able to act. And when you act, when you must act as a leader, rarely do you have 100% of the information that you need, or rarely are you 100% confident about what the action is that you're taking. Most men would not let that bother them. 

Benita Mrkalj: For The State Press, I'm Benita Mrkalj.


 Reach the reporter at @bmrkalj@asu.edu and on Twitter @BenitaMrkalj.

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