An invitation to listen and learn

By Sandra Fish

Listening is one of the most important skills we use as journalists.

We listen to our sources tell us their stories. Ideally, we do our best to communicate those stories in our work toward a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.

As journalists, we are trained not to interrupt, to allow periods of silence, to think before we speak.

But are we always listening? Do we allow for silence, think about how others might perceive what we say?

The final Sunday dinner at last fall’s CAMP and the subsequent fallout made clear we don’t always practice these skills in all aspects of our lives.

JAWS is not unique to organizations in journalism and beyond grappling with issues of diversity and inclusion.

But it is high time we did.

When I joined JAWS in 2004, I asked women at my Friday dinner table why I’d never heard of this organization before.

“Because it’s elitist!” one of them replied. She was on the board at the time, and I soon would be too.

JAWS was founded by women who banded together in the 1980s to support each other in our profession. They fought battles that may seem like old news to many, but are still integral parts of their lives.

Younger women journalists, especially women of color, face some of the same challenges in hiring and pay, and they’re continuing to fight the battles in their own ways. They need our support.

Our organization began to grow significantly in the last 15 years or so, when we began reaching out beyond just the people we knew to younger women, women of color, all those who identify as women.

Because as women, we all still face an uphill battle in the workplace – in journalism and elsewhere.

JAWS moved beyond being a semi-private club, and it’s time we focus on the professional development of all women journalists, of making our industry more representative and inclusive of all both AT work and IN our work.

It’s time to be inclusive, not exclusive.

Moving forward means we have a lot of learning to do, another skill journalists are known for.

We need to learn to better listen to each other. We ALL need to do a better job of considering perspectives other than our own.

And we need to learn to talk more effectively with each other about issues of race, ethnicity, age, economics, gender, even ideology.

A significant part of all this is setting aside preconceived notions, defensive reactions and how others might interpret us.

Hiring a new executive director and a diversity consultant are among the first steps in the process.

All of us have work to do. I know I do.

I welcome all women journalists to join us as we proceed, at both regional groups and especially at CAMP this fall.