Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Glass ceiling smashed again. Gender irrelevant when it comes to work

Katherine Viner taking over from Alan Rusbridger as the first editor-in-chief of The Guardian was news. After all, there are few women behind editors' desks. Viner has said she would pursue “ambitious journalism, ideas and events, setting the agenda and reaching out to readers all around the world” and that two of the essentials that would guide her priorities would include the two basics of modern-day journalism The Guardian has followed with considerable success: “Be instinctively digital,” and “Cherish print, but don't let it hold us back.” In her words, “it’s an enormous privilege and responsibility, leading a first-class team of journalists revered around the world…”

As Peter Preston, writing for The Guardian says, Viner is a new editor but an old hand. She was after all Rusbridger’s longstanding deputy. It appears that there was considerable head-hunting and advertising for the top post but, eventually, the choice came from within. According to Dame Liz Forgan, outgoing chair of the Scott Trust (Rusbridger will take up this role now), “it was a thorough, transparent and, for the first time, international process. We considered a very broad range of candidates across geographies, disciplines and backgrounds”. Which only goes to show what an outstanding journalist Viner is. Her selection is an inspiration for all young women working in news publishing houses across the world.

Katherine Viner studied English in Oxford. She won a competition organised by The Guardian’s woman’s page and was then advised to pursue a career in Journalism. Whoever advised her had the gift of spotting talent. For all her experience and backing from her staff (she won their majority support in a ballot), 44-year-old Viner has her task cut out. In Preston’s words: There’s a popular will to make this new page of history work. And The Guardian she inherits, like the one Rusbridger inherited, is hugely changed and hugely challenging…”

Viner joins a club populated by not many. Ariana Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, is a name that instantly comes to mind. Also, senior journalists like Pamela Philipose, Bachi Karkaria and Rasheeda Bhagat (am sticking to print). An article in Scroll.in says some of India’s top book publishers/ editors are women – Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan, Ritu Menon of Women Unlimited, Chiki Sarkar of Penguin Random House India, Diya Kar Hazra of Bloomsbury India, Karthika VK of HarperCollins India, Sayoni Basu of Duckbill Books, and Poulomi Chatterjee of Hachette India. Any particular reason? Kar Hazra sums it up pretty well in the article, saying, “Publishing involves a lot of nurturing. Women make good midwives.”

For all the bouquets for women, there have also been unhappy moments. Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the publisher of The New York Times, decided to fire the newspaper's executive editor, Jill Abramson. There was some controversy over accusations by Abramson's supporters that gender played a role in her dismissal. Then there was Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, who announced her departure from the Daily Beast, a website she founded.


However, overall, women are doing quite well. In Chennai, where RIND has its office, Malini Parthasarathy has the rare distinction of becoming the first woman editor of The Hindu. Lakshmi Natarajan is managing director at Bharathan Publications, publishers of Kalki, Mangayar Malar and Gokulam. I remember Ranjini Manian, co-founder of Global Adjustments, once telling me she had always wanted to write for a newspaper. She is the editor of Culturama, a popular magazine that “gives voice to expatriates and Indians alike”. So, if you have the passion and desire, and can bring quality and commitment to work, there’s no stopping you. Gender really doesn’t matter.