Monday, May 25, 2009

Women in Journalism: Are you a Martha or an Alicia?

by Meryl Swiatek

The movie "The Paper" covers many aspects of a journalist's life like the chaotic newsroom environment, the struggle between advertising and reporting, and the process of chasing down a big scoop. But to me, the most engaging aspect of the film was watching Michael Keaton's character Henry try to balance the long intense hours of being a journalist with the demands of being a husband and father.

When I think about my future as a journalist, I see myself in a very demanding job where I'd work 60-hour weeks including latenights, early mornings and weekends. I want a job that I can throw myself into entirely, the way Henry does in "The Paper". I know I can be a journalist without spending so much time at work, but it’s the intensity of the job that I’m drawn to, and I want the excitement of working around the clock and chasing stories at odd hours.

At the same time, however, I know I want to have a family and children in the future, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can simultaneously be a reporter and a parent. When I was watching “The Paper,” I paid special attention to the contrast between Glenn Close’s character Alicia and Marisa Tomei’s character Martha.

Martha chose family and gave up her reporter job with The Sun to have a child. She spends most of the movie trying to convince her husband to cut down on his work hours as well, in preparation for the birth of their baby. Alicia on the other hand, is clearly a career woman who chose climbing the ladder at work over having a family. She’s portrayed as the bitch of the newsroom who spends all her time at work and doesn’t have patience for friends, family or emotion. However, for her dedication, she is rewarded with a senior position in the newsroom and the respect of her colleagues.

When I think about my future, I sometimes think that these two characters are laying out the two basic paths my life could take. I know it’s possible to have a career and be a parent at the same, but can I be the BEST reporter I can be while also being the BEST parent I can be? I worry that I’ll love my job too much to be willing to take time off to start a family, or that I’ll love my kids too much to be able to go back to work after they’re born. Knowing I’ll face a decision like that causes me to wonder if I’m not better off putting my journalism degree on the shelf and going to graduate school to be a librarian or a teacher.

I don’t want to be sexist and say that only women will be faced with these choices, as clearly Henry in “The Paper” faces such a quandary as a man. I do think women are more often faced with this challenge of work and family, however, and I think that the best we can do now as we enter the workforce is to keep it in mind as we move through jobs and positions. Like Martha explains to Henry at the end of the movie: it’s not going to be a single moment where someone holds a gun to your head and asks you to choose work or family. Instead, it’s a series of small decisions you make every day that will shape your future.

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