MEDIA WATCH

Storming the male bastions

George Bain February 22 1988
MEDIA WATCH

Storming the male bastions

George Bain February 22 1988

Storming the male bastions

MEDIA WATCH

By George Bain

In the first class in the first school of journalism in Canada—at the University of Western Ontario, 19451948—there were 27 students. Clark Davey, now publisher of the Montreal Gazette, who was one of the 27, remembers that five or six were women. Western now is a graduate school, but in the undergraduate programs of the six English-language degree-granting schools of journalism in Canada, the sexual complexion has changed mightily in 40 years.

At Carleton in Ottawa, now the biggest journalism school in the country, the undergraduate program enrolled 441 women in 1987 and 163 men. At Ryerson in Toronto, just under 58 per cent of current students—220 to 161—are women. Of 174 students at Concordia in Montreal, 111 are women. Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax has had more women students than men ever since its first full year in 1979. A sometime exception is the University of Regina where, ironically, the school of journalism, alone of the six, has a woman director, Rita Shelton Deverell. There, the proportions are about even.

Two great changes in Canadian journalism are reflected in these figures. One is that educational standards have been raised so that a degree—not necessarily, but most often, a journalism degree—has become almost a condition of employment. None of those schools existed before the Second World War. The other change is that the newsroom, once virtually a male preserve but for a women’s department that covered good works and social events, is being transformed with increasing rapidity. For example, the Edmonton Journal is one of several newspapers where the newsroom staff is about half-and-half, men and women.

However, what that also illustrates is that the wave passing through the schools of journalism still has not carried full force into the outside world. It hasn’t partly because retirement or death—or, worse, careers in public relations—have not reduced the previous male preponderance with equal speed to the rise in the number of female graduates. In addition, a new generation of newsroom managers was needed before an ingrained resistance began to weaken in a business that routinely called its practitioners newspapermen.

Women still have made little headway in management. A report to be

published by early April in the Ryerson Review of Journalism will show that in 110 daily newspapers in Canada only three women hold news executive jobs above the level of city editor. While the number undoubtedly is small, it is perhaps not that small. The Ryerson study uses an unrealistically narrow definition of the term “news executive.” For example, Shirley Sharzer, deputy managing editor at the Toronto Globe and Mail, is in charge of the news operation in any absence of Geoffrey Stevens, the managing editor, but her responsibility is for features and a weekly news analysis section. Those constitute a large part of the paper’s content and are simply news of a different sort, but she is not included in the three.

At the Edmonton Journal, Linda Hughes slips out of the category of “news executive” by having been pro-

The newsroom was once a men's preserve—except for a women's department that covered good works and social events

moted from assistant managing editor to editor. Similarly, at The Calgary Herald, Catherine Ford, associate editor in charge of the editorial page, is not counted, but Gillian Steward, as managing editor, is. And so is Gwen Smith as assistant managing editor at the Globe. Mary Deanne Shears at The Toronto Star, a former city editor—a key job in any metropolitan newspaper but particularly important at the Star— also falls outside the survey because her responsibility as an assistant managing editor is for training and recruitment. In addition, there are various women omitted who are in writing jobs equal in value to middle management—of whom Carol Goar, parliamentary columnist, Toronto Star, and Marjorie Nichols, Ottawa Citizen, are notable examples.

Where women journalists have come most surprisingly to the front is in business writing, a fact brought forcibly to notice with the launching of the bright new weekday Financial Post—and a war with the freshly burnished weekly Financial Times, and the “Report on Business,” the profitable tail that wags The Globe and Mail dog. When a news-

room person is appointed a director of a newspaper—something that distant memory says once occurred in Fleet Street, at the Daily Express, but has no known precedent in Canada—that qualifies as news. When it is a woman who is so elevated, the lighting of bonfires on headlands is warranted.

Diane Francis, columnist in the Financial Post and The Toronto Sun (now The Toronto Sun Publishing Corp. is principal owner of the Post), has been made a member of the Post’s “advisory board.” That is a body that differs from a board of directors mainly in not enjoying the questionable privilege of being jointly sued with the paper in the event of a libel action.

Not to appear condescending—heaven forbid—it is necessary to explain that what is surprising about all this is that at one time the financial department of newspapers, far more even than the supposed jockdom of the sports pages, was a male domain. In Central Canada, women as sports writers, although on women’s sports, had been known at least since the 1930s—Alexandrine Gibb at The Toronto Star, Phyllis Griffiths at The Telegram, Bobbie Rosenfeld at The Globe and Mail, Myrtle Cook at The Montreal Star. The monasticism of the business pages began to be breached seriously fewer than 15 years ago.

Only traces remain. Diane Francis, a one-woman news conglomerate who also writes a column twice a month for Maclean’s, is merely the most visible member of a formidable corps of women retailing financial and economic news and comment to Canadians. Deborah McGregor consistently does one of the most acute columns for a Canadian newspaper, business or other, as bureau chief of the rival Financial Times. The Globe and Mail has not developed a woman political/business writer of similar stature but it is not short in numbers. From a start that must have been at zero, 11 of 26 “Report on Business” writers are women, as is the editor of the Report On Business Magazine, Margaret Wente. As a sort of civilian casualty of the business paper wars, Maclean’s recently lost its valued business editor, Patricia Best, to Financial Times. The chief economic reporter for the CBC’S The National is a woman— Der Hoi-Yin, once of The Vancouver Sun. So is the editor of Canadian Business, Joann Webb. There are others similar. The Front Page was never like this.