Why I left journalism

In my 13 years as a journalist I have covered countless murders, interviewed several Lottery winners, discussed a heartwarming number of heroic acts, interviewed incredible people who left me close to tears, spoke to others who I wish I had never met, and attended one royal birth ( I was of course OUTSIDE the hospital!).

I have enough tales from the frontline of journalism to get me through dozens of dinner parties.

But it’s all come to an end.

This month I left my job as a journalist for a national newspaper.

Leaving newspaper journalism makes me sad, but I feel I am at a bit of a crossroads and I need to try a new direction.

It’s got me thinking about mums in journalism, and why there aren’t more of us.

Unfortunately, the nature of the job is that once we start a family, it becomes virtually impossible to juggle both hats – motherhood and reporter.

That is because both jobs do not have hours attached to them. They are unpredictable and challenging roles that require flexibility at all times.

You feel guilty that you’re not available for your job 24/7 and guilty that you’re not there for your kids 24/7.

My children were spending the majority of the week being cared for by other people. I know some people don’t mind that, and that’s totally cool! Everyone finds their own way of juggling life – and I respect the fact that a lot of women LOVE their jobs.

I just want more time with my children while they are young. And I had fallen out of love with my job, probably because I just didn’t have the time to do it properly any more.

Journalism is an industry of no certainties. You could be twiddling your thumbs all day at the start of the week and on a plane to goodness knows where by the end.

There are “hours” when you’re expected in the office, but these are rarely the reality. Stories break at random, and they do not end at 5pm.

They go on for days, and include Saturdays, Sundays and that day off you had booked six months ago.

I missed a good friend’s hen weekend abroad because Kate Middleton was due to have her first baby that month and work didn’t want me leaving the country.

I was gutted, as I saw pictures of people celebrating, drinking and sight-seeing fill my Facebook feed and I was stuck at home on royal baby watch.

But then Kate went into labour and the Great Kate Wait swung into exciting action.

The next three days were among the most exhilarating in my professional career. There’s nothing quite like being present for such a huge story, seeing it through to the end and then reading your name in print the day after. It’s a rush and hugely satisfying.

But the cost is that you give up a lot of personal time.

While I was happy to make that sacrifice before I had children, now that they are here I don’t want to go abroad for a fortnight at the drop of a hat.

Missing drinks with friends is one thing, but not being there for bedtime five days out of seven is a compromise too far for me.

I was provided with flexible hours after returning from my first and second maternity leaves. I appreciate the allowances made for me – it was something my bosses did not have to do, but did because they wanted to make it work for me.

But I often felt guilty, that I was stitching fellow colleagues up by making them pick up the slack while I dashed off for the nursery run.

There are not enough women in journalism in general, you only need to take a look around the newsrooms of the biggest papers in the country and you’ll see the vast majority of reporters are men.

So, is journalism as an industry at fault for not making flexible working more widespread?

I would say yes and no.

The job is what it is, but – blowing my own trumpet here, seeing as my self-confidence has taken a major kicking lately – I’m a good reporter. I’m accurate, experienced and hard working. I can produce a lot of content in one day.

I can’t be out on a doorstep all day and night, but I can write 10 page leads to a high standard in one day.

Companies should bend over backwards to keep good employees. There needs to be a compromise somewhere that enables mums with young families to continue working in journalism.

Having kids is a fact of life – a lot of us do it. Yes it’s our responsibility to care for them and earn a living to provide for them as parents, but it’s also society’s role to support the raising of children.

The next generation and their welfare is something that ultimately benefits and impacts on us all.

Am I betraying the sisterhood by complaining that we need more preferential treatment as mums? Maybe.

We’ve fought for equality – in fact we are still fighting for equality – and here I am saying actually now that I’ve had kids I can’t be at your beck and call 24/7.

But this isn’t just about female journalists. I’m sure there are many dads in the industry who lose precious time with their children too.

I’m sure the opportunity for flexible working wouldn’t be unwelcome for them as well.

And despite all of my arguments above I know that ultimately an old-school journo would simply look at me with a shake of the head and say, this is reporting. That’s what the job is. Unpredictable hours, uncertain work patterns and a lot of time on the road.

So, for now at least, I’m done.

What’s next for me? A little time reflecting, extra time with my kids and a lot of time looking for freelance work (if you’re looking to hire someone who can write about leaky boobs, overflowing nappies and copious amounts of snot, then I’m your gal!).

I’m going to create work that works for me. I’ll be taking the skills I’ve learned and honed in more than a decade in a high pressure industry and put them to good use, in my own hours.

Will I miss anything about it? Yes. I will miss the people, because it’s the people that make journalism so amazing. The people who you work with, and the people who you meet.

I’ve met incredible men, women and children who have been through the impossible and survived.

And journalists are among the most interesting people you will ever meet. There’s a camaraderie among journalists that make it a special career. We share the same black humour, the determination and the lack of tolerance to bullshit.

I’ve made good friends, people who counselled me after a shitty day and people who drank wine with me until we couldn’t form coherent sentences any more. It’s these people who will make me miss journalism.

So, will I ever return to this unpredictable but exciting career? Never say never, but for now I’ve got two little people who keep me more than busy enough.

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