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Editor says small number of women heading newspapers is scandalous

UEL students graduation

It’s a scandal that only three women currently helm British national newspapers, The Independent on Sunday editor Lisa Markwell has told University of East London journalism students.

“Women are 50 per cent of the population. They should be 50 per cent of politicians. They should be 50 per cent of informers, in broadcast media and print media. They should be 50 per cent of boardrooms, at least,” she said. “By the time I shuffle off I’d like there to be a hell of a lot more women.”

Ms Markwell urged UEL students to help “make it happen.” She made her comments during a recent discussion at the University that drew a packed audience.

Old-fashioned ideas about women still pervade the news industry, according to Ms Markwell. She said she still gets audible gasps when she tells people her husband was a full-time father for several years while Ms Markwell supported the family financially as a journalist and editor.

“Why is this extraordinary? I don’t get it. Please be part of the generation that changes that,” she said.

Ms Markwell also recounted how these stereotypes pervaded a conversation she had with a fellow editor shortly after taking over The Independent on Sunday. The other editor, after being introduced to Ms Markwell at an industry dinner, was floored to discover Ms Markwell was in charge of “the whole” The Independent on Sunday rather than a smaller section of the newspaper.

“He said, ‘the whole newspaper?!’ I said, ‘Yeah. How about that? The whole newspaper’… Just this sort of dinosaur,” Ms Markwell said, shaking her head.

Women are a force editorially and commercially, and a newsroom that doesn’t acknowledge this does so at its own peril, Ms Markwell said.

Ms Markwell noted that journalism has changed enormously since she left school at 16, became a secretary and starting working her way up the professional ladder. Ms Markwell has been editor of The Independent on Sunday for two years.

“The routes into journalism are very, very varied” she said. “There is more competition and more opportunities to study specific parts of the craft but there isn’t any one way in. You build your own route in what you chose to do and the contacts you make.”

It’s more of a hassle today to get your foot in the door, but once you do and if you’re good, you’ll stick around, she said.

Ms Markwell predicted that journalism in the post-Leveson era will recall the more “traditional” methods used by good reporters in previous decades. The Leveson Inquiry was set up after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal to look at press ethics and practices.

Many reporters have lost sight of habits such as conducting meticulous research, double sourcing, taking good notes and keeping a record of everything, she said.

Ms Markwell’s other tips for young journalists: cultivate an expertise, especially foreign languages; build your contact list; use social media; figure out when and when not to call a newsroom (for Ms Markwell, the best time to check in is mid-to-late afternoon); and understand that freelancing is a tough gig.

Notes to Editors

The University of East London (UEL) is a global learning community with students from over 120 countries world-wide. Our vision is to achieve recognition, both nationally and internationally, as a successful and inclusive regional university proud of its diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focus on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, especially through our research and scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry.