To celebrate International Women’s Day, Manchester Media Group hosted a weekend of speakers, panels, and workshops for the Women in Media Conference 2017
On the weekend preceding International Women’s Day, a team of University of Manchester students took over the People’s History Museum in Manchester to hold the 2017 Women in Media Conference. The weekend was bursting with inspirational speakers, a wide range of panels, and enriching workshops for the 150 attendees.
Opening with a ‘Journalism Under Threat’ panel chaired by Amnesty International, Sue Turton, formerly of Al Jazeera, and Işın Eliçin discussed issues ranging from the emergence of digital journalism to gaining a more diverse workforce. At the same time Shelley Alexander of BBC Sport, returning to the conference having spoken in 2016, inspired men and women of her passion for Sports journalism. Shelley pulled together anecdotes and stories of her own experience with inspiration and ideas of where the sector could move to in the future. Fiona Jones of ITV ran a ‘Getting into Documentaries’ workshop giving useful advice and tales of her own work.
Next to take to the main stage was the ‘LGBTQI+ panel’, with honest retellings of personal struggles and a clear hope that things are now changing. While on a more light-hearted note Grace Victory’s booming laugh could be heard through the walls of the YouTube Panel, as Grace and Lucy Moon discussed their own journeys with YouTube and encouraged anyone with a passion for filmmaking or presenting to start a channel of their own. It was a great reminder that anyone and everyone can become journalists, presenters, and broadcasters if we continue to practise our media skills.
My highlight of Saturday has to go to BBC Breakfast queen Steph McGovern. Her keynote demonstrated her passion and struggles in the industry. Her journey from an engineering graduate to a producer and finally a presenter with the BBC was told with humour and integrity. It demonstrated how much women are still immediately thought of as less intelligent, air-head figures that glamourise the news — when in fact Steph can clearly demonstrate a huge knowledge and specialism as an expert in her field.
It is this attitude that still desperately needs changing.
We moved on to not only discussing the inferior position women are often placed in but the additional barrier of a regional accent and working-class background. This is an area that is finally starting to change — the days of RP at the BBC seem rather historic, especially with Steph helming breakfast news, but the attitudes and presumptions attached to accents are still apparent.
The day ended with the BAME panel, once again heightening the need for the minority voice to be heard, as the panellists discussed intersectional feminism and branching out from telling stories purely about race and background. Running concurrently were ‘Political Reporting’ with the BBC’s Lucy Adams, and a ‘Developing Ideas’ workshop with Chelsea Dickenson, to enrich all of our minds with some great content ideas. Of course, afterwards we headed out for some networking drinks.
Sunday started with slightly greyer skies, but the day’s events were equally inspirational, beginning with a choice of more niche areas of journalism: ‘Bureau of Investigative journalism’, ‘Sports journalism’ and a Radio presenting workshop. Harriet Minter, formerly of The Guardian, gave her career in a story, unravelling her skills and determination. Harriet’s message throughout seemed to stem from the lack of confidence women often feel, and instead encouraged us to believe in ourselves and our own knowledge, regardless of the situation.
Staying with local interests the ‘Our Manchester Women Panel’ triumphed the North and Manchester as an incredible creative hub for the media. As Media City is on our doorstep, the creative industry is only down the road. Julie Hesmondhalgh, Katie Thistleton and Anna Youssef bounced off one another, discussing personal experiences and the need for anyone with a desire for a creative career to be able to pick themselves up and keep going. As Julie put it: “Every woman in the media has been inspired by somebody and it’s your duty to pass that inspiration on.” It’s words like this that make the conference extra special.
One the biggest things I took away from the conference was the supportive and honest environment all the panels and workshops held. There is a place for every single woman in the media, regardless of class, race, sexuality or accent. Girl power at its finest.
The weekend couldn’t have been successful without the incredible hard work of the Co-Chairs: Jenny Sterne, Gemma Sowerby, and Elise Gallagher and a fabulously supportive committee. A special thanks must also go to our sponsors Amnesty International UK and NUS. Let’s see where Women in Media 2018 takes us.