Women and journalism

Nearly all of my journalism professors in college were men. They had worked at papers such as The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, and they had won Pulitzer Prizes. I still carry with me the skills they taught about interviews and ethics and inquisitiveness. They talked about moving from city to city to seize opportunities and about working long hours and even wearing disguises to uncover a big story.

I remember only two women on the faculty, and neither had received the position of professor. Neither had fancy credentials, but both were respected. When I started my master’s degree, I became a teaching assistant for one of those women. Five other journalism graduate students, all women, also worked as her assistants. Often, when we gathered, she would talk to us about managing a family life and a journalism career, about the need for give and take with a spouse. I didn’t think a lot about our discussions at the time, but looking back, I can see that she imparted more wisdom than the Pulitzer winners.

I don’t know whether the male professors thought that the topic of work-family balance was beneath them or whether they just didn’t think about it. I would guess the latter. They had spouses who had accommodated their careers. Some of them hadn’t had children or they had had children later in life. About 70 percent of the students in my classes were women. This issue affects both genders, obviously, but women disproportionately disrupt their careers because of spouses and children.

Shortly before I finished grad school, I met with one of my favorite professors to talk about my future. He had taken a big interest in my career and told me about the hopes that the other professors had for me. When he learned that I was engaged, he jumped back in his chair. “Don’t get married,” he said mournfully. This was a man with a wife and kids and a seemingly happy family life.

Now, maybe he was saying that because I was young. But I think he was saying it because it’s very difficult to work your way up the journalism ladder when you have a spouse and potential children to consider. The hours can be long, the schedule erratic, the pay too little to justify cross-country moves.

Many of the women I know who have been very successful in journalism don’t have kids. Others have climbed the ladder before having kids. And a lot have veered onto other career paths. When I search for those women who were in grad school with me, they aren’t in journalism. They are teaching or doing public relations or staying home with their kids.

I’m looking at other paths now, hoping that I can find a job that is both satisfying and sane. It’s not lost on me that women working in science and medicine and law could have written this same essay. What a shame that the best advice we can offer ambitious women is “Don’t get married.”

And in case I have given the wrong impression, I will still consider journalism jobs (Hi, ProPublica. Hire me!) Someone has to show those female journalism students how to do this.

Talking to children about the news

While we ate dinner on Sept. 11, I mentioned to Eleanor that it was an important day for our country.

“I know,” she said. “It’s the day the planes flew into buildings.”

I asked her how she knew, and she said that her teacher had talked about it that day. I wanted to give her teacher a high-five, though I also wondered how other parents would feel about that talk. I know some parents who completely shield their children from the news. I also know a lot of parents who are journalists and have conversations with their 5-year-olds about ISIS.

My openness to having serous discussions with Eleanor is largely shaped by two things. First, she knows that she has a sister who died, so preserving her innocence has never really been an option. Second, I want my children to be interested in the world and passionate about helping to solve problems. I’ve noticed that when I read interviews with leaders, they often cite childhood dinners as a source of inspiration. They became interested in tackling a particular problem because they heard their parents talk about it.

Also, at some point my children will have to learn about the world. It seems easier to wade in rather than pushing them into the deep end when I deem them mature enough. And when would that be? Even I don’t feel old enough to handle the Syrian refugee crisis.

Lately, Eleanor has voiced anger about the number of people who drive their children to school in the morning instead of walking. She is worried about coral reefs. So we’ve talked about electric cars, city planning, and the need for people to arrive at their jobs on time.

Last night, we tackled the presidential race. We asked her a few questions — about taxes, immigration, and the environment — to try to discern which political party she would fall into. We talked about how politics can be a source of friction amongst families and friends. She was interested in seeing a woman get elected (I’m sure that was completely her own idea. No outside influence there at all.). She asked me the names of the female candidates, and I told her. She said that she wanted Carly Fiorina to win. I asked her why.

“Because that’s a really cool name,” she said.

Yes, we are delving deep here.

Off to school

Henry began preschool this morning. We went to school last week to meet his teachers and to fill out all sorts of forms. I remembered again how much I love preschool. The teachers gave us the daily classroom schedule, which looks something like this: arrival, play at table, snack, music, lunch, play outside, go home. I think we can all get behind those plans.

The forms left me doubting my abilities as a mother because I couldn’t answer seemingly basic questions about my child. “Is your child more loud or quiet?” He’s usually quiet, but when he decides to speak, he is very loud. “Is your child more inquisitive or thoughtful?” Well, he gets into every sort of trouble, but I also know that the gears are grinding in that toddler brain. “Does your child know how to walk in a group without holding someone’s hand?” Yes. He could do that. Couldn’t he?

I got my answer at drop-off. Henry is at a different preschool than Eleanor attended because her old school only takes children older than 2. This new school is bigger, and so we were parking at the end of a much larger parking lot. Henry gamely carried his backpack, which was laden with two water bottles that Greg had helpfully(!) filled at home (Not helpful, Greg.). I carried my purse, Henry’s lunch box, and a bag with his emergency allergy medications. Plus, I held Henry’s hand.

As we neared the sidewalk up to the school, Henry started to drag his feet. I picked him up, but it was extra awkward to carry him while he was still wearing his backpack. He tried to dive away from my body, so I set him down. He took off his backpack and pointed at the pocket on its front. I crouched beside him to try to understand what he wanted, but I don’t speak toddler. He continued to point and began to shriek. I took the backpack from him and walked toward the school.

“Come on, Henry,” I called in my most encouraging voice. He was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing dozens of parents and well-behaved children to dodge him. “Look at all of the friends going into school,” I said. My voice was becoming squeaky with my effort to keep everything happy and pleasant.

Henry began to fake cry and then laid down on the sidewalk. We were approaching full-blown tantrum. Other parents threw pitying looks my way as their children bounced past. I had been prepared for the classroom meltdown but not this. I put his backpack over my shoulder and then picked him up. I hauled him toward the school, knocking a child in the head with the dangling lunch box as I went through the door, and dumped Henry into the arms of his teacher. It was a moment of desperation, not ceremony.

So, the only photos we have are those that Greg took before we left for school. They are a good snapshot of Henry’s personality. I hope those teachers can steer this very determined little creature in a positive direction.


He would not give up the stroller.


Daddy took away the stroller.


Yeah, he will not be deterred from his mission.