Newsquest Journalist Diana Jarvis on how she broke into a male-dominated industry
While more women tend to study journalism at the undergraduate level, men are still more likely to occupy senior editorial positions as acting section heads, according to a 2017 report by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) titled Diversity in Journalism.
One anomaly this to research is Diana Jarvis, a veteran journalist at the UK-based Newsquest Media Group. With over twenty years of industry experience under her belt, she is adamant about helping foster change and offer resources to the gender imbalanced journalism sector.
In 2008, Jarvis wrote the template for the Young Reporter Scheme, one of Britain’s leading youth-focused training programmes for budding writers. Reaching out to secondary school pupils across the South East, the scheme allows students a realistic insight into the world of a working journalist by allowing them to publish online articles, pursue local stories, and work on exclusive interview opportunities.
Intrigued to know how she defied the odds, The New Feminist caught up with journalism guru Diana Jarvis.
How did you break into the industry, and where has your career taken you?
I broke into the industry through pure chance. I had always wanted to do journalism, but it was predominately a male environment, and I was dissuaded from doing it when I was still at school.
However, following full-time education, I was temping in London when I decided what I wanted to do and was eventually sent to a company that ran an in-house newspaper. I approached the sub-editor and asked him whether I could write an article for them, and they liked it and published it. It was so thrilling to have my name in print that I approached him again and asked him whether the paper would take me on to write one piece a month, and they agreed. They presumably thought I had potential because they funded me to study journalism part-time and work for the paper simultaneously, which was the break I needed.
The editor was female, which was pretty much unheard of at the time, and she ran the office like a military camp. She was a force to be reckoned with and scared the life out of me. But I realise in hindsight that her continual criticism and constant re-writes was an excellent way for me to learn on the job, and even today, I am extremely grateful for her somewhat intimidating critique.
What inspired you to initiate the Young Reporter Scheme? How has it grown since its inception?
The Young Reporter Scheme began in 2008 when I came up with the idea to take a scheme that Newsquest was running into schools. At the time, they were looking for independent contributors to post stories. The idea was good, but there was little control over it and no real incentive for people to carry on reporting every week or month. So, I came up with a template that we could use in schools and have a certain amount of structure to oversee what the students did and make sure those who signed up were inspired to write the number of articles required during the time they worked with me.
Initially, the editor threw his hands up in horror as he had visions of libel suits and Newsquest being sued regularly, but I had every faith that I could control it with many guidelines put in place.
It started with two pilot schools, and over thirteen years, I have now taken thousands of students through this scheme, some of whom are now successful journalists.
The Alumni Scheme, which consists of a series of online interview podcasts with ex-scheme members, was an idea that was suggested to me earlier on in the year by someone I worked with at a school in West London. Since its initiation earlier this year, I have been amazed at how many students were keen to get involved, and it was lovely to talk to them again and discover what they are now doing.
What challenges or opportunities did the COVID-19 pandemic bring onto the media industry and the Young Reporter Scheme?
‘When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, we were at the end of the scheme for that year, so it didn’t really affect us at all. However, we had the foresight to plan ahead in case the situation didn’t change, and during the summer months, we re-wrote the whole programme, taking the scheme completely digital. For us, it has been hugely successful because mentoring sessions online has proved a huge hit with schools. The digital transformation also meant that I could visit every school more than once during the year’s scheme.
Have you encountered any obstacles during your time in the journalism industry due to your gender?
I’m a great believer in positive thinking and have never let the fact that I work in a male-dominated industry phase me. You have to believe that you can do the job as well as any man, and I think that belief allows you to succeed. I have experienced men not taking me seriously, especially when I was young and inexperienced. But very early on, I learned to turn the other cheek.
Any words of wisdom for young women intimidated by the still male-dominated news/media industry?
It is different now from when I started, but my advice would be to have faith in your ability as a writer and never be put off because you are entering a predominately male world. Even today at Newsquest, most people applying for a role as journalists tend to be male, and I am never sure why women are not more drawn to it. I have loved every minute of it, and it has opened doors for me that would never have been opened had I not followed in this career choice.
The Young Reporter Scheme is currently raising funds to keep its operations going. Read more about the programme and how to help here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.