Since starting her career as a cadet journalist back in 2000, Ginger Gorman has seen a lot of change in journalism and the media. In this interview, Ginger opens up about the good, the bad and the downright ugly things she’s seen and experienced over the years.
You’re an experienced, award-winning journalist. How have you seen the industry change and evolve over the years?
When I first started as a cadet journalist on the Werribee Banner back in 2000, it was all about boots on the ground. We spent most of our day meeting people face-to-face, taking quotes down in shorthand and cultivating our contacts. Those trusted contacts gave us story tips. We rarely ever used a press release. The digitisation of newsrooms and the 24-hour news cycle has transformed journalism – and a lot of that isn’t for the better. There are shrinking budgets and staff coupled with demand for constant output from journalists right around the clock. It can have dangerous results.
In the past few years, I’ve actually gone back to many of those traditional methods of gathering stories. We need more quality journalism, not less.
Do you think women’s roles in journalism have changed? If so, how?
I’d love to say that the media is a great place to work as a woman, but unfortunately it’s not always the case. A depressing report from Women in Media last year found that gender-based discrimination is rife in Australia’s media with almost half of respondents (48%) claiming, “they’d experienced intimidation, abuse or sexual harassment in the workplace.”
There’s also an entrenched pay gap. I’ve certainly experienced some of these issues firsthand. As women in the media, we’ve certainly got a lot of work to do!
You’ve covered some pretty traumatic issues/stories over the years. Does the subject matter impact you and if so, how do you manage to disconnect from it or cope?
It certainly does. A friend in the media recently called my work “investigative journalism with heart.” I love that description because it so accurately describes what I do. As a freelancer, I’ve developed specific methods to collaborate with interviewees who have suffered trauma and tell their stories in an ethical way. However, the harrowing personal experiences of others do often have a personal impact on me. It’s unavoidable – and actually, I don’t want to avoid it because that’s what it is to be human. I now have a trauma support person – the wonderful ABC journalist Karen Percy. She’s been trained by the Dart Centre (Asia Pacific) in that role. I value her support so much and frankly, it allows me to continue with this work.
You recently made the transition into freelancing. What did you find most difficult about this shift?
The hardest thing was – and still is – getting a handle on the business skills that I need. Before starting my own business, I had no idea how to: manage the constant, complex financial and administration aspects of a small business, negotiate pay rates, market my “product,” build a personal brand and the list goes on. It’s a steep learning curve.
What advice would you give to any budding female journalists out there?
Don’t assume that just because you work just as hard or harder than your male counterparts, you’ll be treated fairly once you have children. If that’s something you want to do, think long and hard about how you’ll manage it. The truth is, there are more women than men in the media. However, as this article states, they are younger, earn less and have less power than their male colleagues.
Therefore, I’d urge all women to join the relevant union and your local Women in Media branch too. It’s amazing to have the support and advice of your peers. I can’t stress this enough.
You wrote recently about your experience with trolling. Do you have any key takeaways or advice for others given that horrific experience?
Yes, trolls are sadists. They want to hurt and humiliate you and they derive pleasure from doing so. They are desperate for your wounded, angry response. This is their definition of success. Therefore, be silent to the trolls BUT not to each other. Keep doing what you do and saying what you say – just don’t talk back to the bullies. If you want to understand this better, watch my TEDx talk. Take a deep breath before you do, though. It’s not pretty.
Would you have done anything different in your career if you had the chance to hit rewind?
In so many ways I’ve had an exciting, challenging career. However, as I indicated above, I made the assumption my hard work would be rewarded and it wasn’t always rewarded – especially once I had children. Numerous untrue assumptions were made about my capacities. I gave birth to a baby. Not my brain! Looking back, I wish I’d factored that in and had a plan. As it turns out though, freelancing is an amazing solution because you can fully utilise your skill set but do it in a way that suits your own schedule. You can avoid the structural and organisational gender discrimination that still exists in many workplaces and really bound forward.
Do you have a favourite quote that helps you to get through the tough times?
I don’t have a favourite quote. However, when I’m writing, I ask myself: How do we treat each other? How can society be fairer?
As a rule, those questions guide my work. I adopted them from the human rights program, The State We’re In, that I previously worked on at Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
Feel free to add anything else you feel is relevant.
Sometimes, it may feel impossible to be a compassionate, investigative journalist in this day and age. It takes a lot of time and heart. But now more than ever, power must be held to account. My friends, go forth and report!
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