How We Started – The History Of Women In Journalism

Eve Pollard, Founder of Women in Journalism (Image Credit: David Venni)

Eve Pollard, the Founder of Women in Journalism, and Honorary President, writes on the beginnings of the charity, and why it has continued to thrive throughout the decades.

Women in Journalism started its life, like many worthwhile organisations, by accident. It has survived and thrived because many, many women from many branches of the profession gave unstintingly of their time and energy. This is my thanks to them.

On a sunny, summer’s day in 1992 I returned from lunch and raced into my woman-cave, the Editor’s office at the Sunday Express, with its sweeping view of the River Thames and Blackfriars Bridge.

Astonishingly, there was a tall stranger sitting looking out at the glorious scene. Security was tight at Express Newspapers. This had never happened before.

He introduced himself as Ted Pickering. Immediately I understood. During the 50s and early 60s Sir Edward Pickering was the Editor of the Daily Express. The men on the front door desk had welcomed him back in and ushered him up.

He then proceeded to launch a charm offensive that lasted for a few weeks. Would I become the first woman to be the Charity Appeal Chair for the Newspaper Press Fund?

An august organisation who ran a charity that helped journalists all over the UK when they were down on their luck or ill at the end of their careers. The Fund (now called the Journalist’s Charity) included sheltered housing and medical facilities in Dorking.

‘I Could See Nothing In The Calendar Aimed Especially For Women’

An article following the successful event.

I was not of an age where retirement meant anything to me so I didn’t know much about the charity, but as the only married couple who have ever simultaneously edited national newspapers, both I and my husband, Nicholas Lloyd, editor at that time of the Daily Express, were often invited to events held to raise money for the NPF.

Obviously, I was flattered. Being the first woman to do anything meant he nearly had me in the first five minutes.

It was also, I discovered, very competitive.  Every year an editor was asked to raise money under the watchful gaze of the President of the Charity. Presidents with names like Beaverbrook and Rothermere. No one wanted to let the side down. Ted asked me if I would do the job for 1993.

Before agreeing I asked for a bit of time to do some research. I checked. The NPF, founded by Charles Dickens, patron H.M. The Queen, raised a lot of money by having annual dinners, lunches, and once a year inviting the PM of the day to address an evening reception. Then there were sporting events. Golf days and matches (male), cricket matches (male) all male dinners and lunches. But I could see nothing in the calendar aimed especially for women.

‘My Entire Career At That Time Could Be Described As The Only Woman In The Room’

A picture from the evening.

My entire career at that time could be described as “the only woman in the room”. Every day, at conference, at board meetings and at many other occasions I was the only female.  There were other women journalists, reporters, subs and of course an army of brilliant freelancers who kept the show on the road. But in the office, putting the feminine view of news across, it was just me.

The path towards gender equality has been hard in our business but by the 90’s there were, at last, three female national newspaper editors.  My paper also had a female Assistant Editor in charge of Features and a female News Editor. Despite being in charge I felt that never having someone in conference who looked at life through a feminine lens was not the best way to run a paper.

I also reckoned that as women were very slowly becoming a larger force in the workplace, wouldn’t we need help from the NPF in the future?

Fired up I agreed to take the job on. I was going to organise an event for women, I got a great deal from the Intercontinental Hotel off Park Lane.  They had a cancellation of a huge event in their ballroom. Terrified we would never fill it I ploughed ahead.

As it was for charity the hotel gave me the vast room from 6 – 8pm thinking that entertaining women journalists would be good PR for the hotel. Plus, as it was for a charity, they offered to pay for wine and canapés. Each guest was asked to pay £15. All of that went straight to the NPF. The debate was called “Are Women Getting their Fair Share” men and women of the Press were invited and I asked the other two female newspaper editors, Wendy Henry of the News of the World and Bridget Rowe who had taken my old job as Editor of the Sunday Mirror to appear with me on the platform.

‘I Wondered How Many Would Actually Turn Up. Answer. All Of Them’

A write-up from the evening in the Journalists’ Weekly.

In the end they both made an excuse and failed to make it so I asked Jane Reed from News International, Sue Tinson from ITN, and Amanda Platell from the Daily Mirror very kindly stepped in. I shall always be grateful because the tickets sold and sold and sold.

I arrived to check all was ok and wondered how many would actually turn up. Answer. All of them.

By 6.15pm the place was packed. 95% women and a few men. There were journalists from the Guardian sitting next to assistants on Vogue.

Gold chairs suitable for a cocktail party were assembled in front of a dais that held four desks and four microphones. There weren’t nearly enough of them so the few men and many women stood.

I did a short introduction. We waited for the first question. But it didn’t work out like that.

From the off it was like a Revivalist Meeting where one by one, woman after woman, didn’t ask us questions but opened up about their lives. Explaining they weren’t getting their fair share. Unburdening themselves in public for the first time they wanted to tell the truth. However grand their title, they wanted to admit that just because they were women they had so little power.

Magazine editors discovered they were in the midst of a strange anomaly where you could work on a publication for years but just because you were female you would never, ever get to be on the Board. You were never even be allowed to present to the Board.

None who spoke were in control of their budget, plans for circulation or promotions and profit and loss were regarded as none of their business. As for salaries and working hours, immovable!

We discovered that night that newspapers were not much better.

‘If You Want To Be Heard, It’s Best To Stand’

The novelty of the evening was highlighted by Michael Cole, then Royal Correspondent for the BBC. Unused to making such personal and impassioned speeches the first speakers spoke whilst sitting down. Sisterly yes, but not forceful or important enough for this occasion.

After two or three had done this, Michael sensing how special the atmosphere was, stood up.

Gently, he explained: “What you have to say is very important. If you want to be heard it’s best to stand.”

Sharing their anger meant there was a great deal of emotion in the room. These women felt marginalised and hurt. The evening was now resembling a “Holy Rollers” event.

Felicity Green, my old boss and the first woman on the board of a newspaper group, the Mirror, was supportive but warned: “You can take this to the men. But there will be blood!”

As one speaker stopped, another took her place, they wanted to testify about low salaries, chairmen with tin ears, being locked out of the culture of Fleet Street and working conditions. Tears were blinked back. Tissues were out. There were murmurs of agreement and encouragement, short bursts of applause as no one wanted to miss a word.

‘The Next Day My Phone Did Not Stop Ringing’

At 8.30 pm waiters glided in and I knew we had to wrap the evening up. I remember saying that this night “had been the beginning of something.” The next day my phone did not stop ringing. Everyone wanted to have another meeting.

I remember talking to my friend the great Joyce Hopkirk and asked if she would phone a few of the guests she knew to ask their opinion.

WIJ was born. A committee was self-selected. There were many meetings, at the Sunday Express, at City University when Linda Christmas became Vice Chair, at my home and anywhere we could find.

There were endless discussions about our stated aims. There were angst-ridden months where we tried to find sponsorship or money to pay for meeting rooms and for research.

Many male journalists openly laughed with some calling WIJ – Whinge! Some of them used to taunt me saying where can I find “Men in Journalism?” I always replied: “I think I am looking at them”.

But I will never forget that evening. Women in Journalism was forged in camaraderie, honesty and a wish to improve our lives and our readers lives. It has never changed.

“Since 1994, women journalists from all over the UK have joined in their hundreds. Every level of entrant, from well established national newspaper editors, to the newest freelance, have attended WIJ talks, lectures, debates, discussions and many other events.”

Eve Pollard, author, journalist, former national newspaper editor and Honorary President, WIJ

First Committee of Women in Journalism

The First Committee of Women in Journalism

  • Eve Pollard (Chair)
  • Linda Christmas ( Deputy Chair)
  • Ginny Dougary
  • Cathy Galvin
  • Maggie Goodman
  • Deborah Orr
  • Mary Ann Sieghart
  • Ann Treneman

Past Chairs

Past chairs of Women in Journalism, from the organisation’s founding to date:

  • Eve Pollard
  • Georgina Henry
  • Rebekah Brooks
  • Alexandra Campbell
  • Lindsay Nicholson
  • Sue Matthias
  • Jane Martinson
  • Eleanor Mills