"You Will Have a Good Career Here, but Not a Great Career": Male Mentoring and the Women Journalists of the Canadian Press News Cooperative, 1965-2000

By Freeman, Barbara M. | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

"You Will Have a Good Career Here, but Not a Great Career": Male Mentoring and the Women Journalists of the Canadian Press News Cooperative, 1965-2000


Freeman, Barbara M., Labour/Le Travail


THE WOMEN JOURNALISTS WHO WORKED for Canadian Press (CP) from the mid-1960s to the year 2000 faced varying degrees of overt and subtle discrimination within an institution that prided itself on its unbiased stance on political and social issues. Unionization in the mid-1970s, new federal employment equity regulations a decade later, and their own demands for equal opportunities led to improvements in better workplace conditions for CP women, but did not satisfy their requests for work-life balance policies or facilitate promotions into senior management. Changing the attitudes of their male supervisors and mentors, who outwardly supported their female employees but still operated as an "old boys' network," was a long-time, complicated business, both professionally and personally. In response, the women adopted different coping skills, as suited to their respective times, locations, circumstances, and personalities. Their experiences are examined here in the historical context of the andocentric newsroom culture within which they performed their duties and the liberal, equality feminism that spurred their personal ambitions.

Canadian Press was a central and influential news cooperative, a wire service that served most of the country's English and French media, with several of its own bureaus across the country and a few of them abroad. It shared immediate "spot" news and less urgent features with its 100 newspapers members, and operated Broadcast News (BN) for the private TV and radio stations and Press News for the CBC. Most of the private stations adopted the CP-BN style guides for reporting, writing and editing. Each member paid Canadian Press an annual fee and contributed its own locally generated news for distribution. Media historian Gene Allen has written an institutional history of Canadian Press from its founding in 1917 up to 1970. Allen's study focuses on the efforts of CP'S founders and managers to establish and maintain a national news cooperative with strong journalistic values, more than the experiences of its staff. (1)

The female journalists who worked for cp and its media members came of professional age during the resurgence of the women's movement in Canada, when a number of feminist groups and academics were demanding gender equality in law, policy, and practice from government, political parties, business, the professions, educational and arts institutions, and social service agencies. (2) Joan Sangster and other historians have illustrated how female advocacy influenced the struggles for gender and labour equality among Canadian women of the working and middle classes, and of different ethnicities, religions and other circumstances, who were entering previously "male" occupations, or fighting for respect in predominantly female workplaces. (3) By the late 1960s, Canadian labour unions became more willing to negotiate on behalf of their female members. (4) The journalists at Canadian Press joined the Canadian Wire Services Guild in the mid-1970s, (5) a move that brought about equal pay. Unlike newspapers and magazines, which are considered private businesses, the news agency was also subject to the federal employment equity regulations that were introduced in the mid-1980s because it had been founded as an essential communication network during World War I, under a 1917 Act of Parliament. (6)

A feminist, interdisciplinary approach to the history of journalism's working culture allows analysis of systemic gender biases as they were reflected in CP's masculine newsroom norms and affected women journalists and their career aspirations over 30 years. As Karen Ross and Cynthia Carter point out, "the processes of socialization into the newsroom, where reporters learn on a daily basis the skills needed for their job, show that historically, assumptions about gender-appropriateness have actually been central to the definitions of the profession" even when the men do not see gender as an issue in their demand for professional conformity. …

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