A Dinner for Journalists Means More Power at the Table
How to start a dinner group, because gathering for support means a lot right now.
Working in news is hard, as we all know. Whether it’s the little day-to-day issues at your organization or the larger problems facing our industry, we’re dealing with a lot. Some of us are also constantly moving around and upending our lives for jobs, especially when we’re young, and that makes it difficult to build a community of support.
About six months ago, I had the idea to create a physical space for young women journalists and others of marginalized genders to talk, learn, and support each other in the earlier years of our careers. I started hosting a dinner, once a month at my apartment, for a small group of journalists.
It’s a place where we can feel connected to each other, where we can meet new people in a comforting environment, and a place where we can feel relaxed for a few hours.
What We Know about Power
In my career, I’ve found that spending time with other women in the news industry has often resulted in really great ideas and really positive friendships. Bleak statistics around pay and power gaps between men and women in journalism have also incensed me.
Women in journalism face big disparities in pay and representation—that’s just a fact.
Women made up 41.7% of newsrooms, according to a 2019 report from the Women’s Media Center. Yet, the Women’s Media Center’s report found that the gender pay gap persists in many of the top print newsrooms in the country, including the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
Women have to work harder to be heard, both in and out of their newsrooms. Even in places where men want to hear their ideas, women have to work together to push those ideas forward.
Female staffers in the Obama administration would repeat each other’s ideas, giving credit and recognition to the author so the idea would be recognized, and recognized as that person’s idea.
A 2018 study found that when men who are credentialed Congressional reporters respond to other credentialed reporters on Twitter, 91.5% of the time they’re responding to another man.
But for women facing these disparities, having a community can help.
A 2019 study found that high-performing women have an inner circle dominated by other women. The author of the study told Wired that the most successful networks of women were somewhat random, when women were put in contact with people they might otherwise not have met.
This means that women not only need to make connections within their workplace to amplify each other’s voices, but they need to get better at doing so outside the workplace, and with people they wouldn’t normally meet.
Running Your Own Community Gathering
How you could help people build connections
The gatherings I’ve organized, aimed at people who are roughly 21–35, are a way for young women to increase their strength. That can just mean finding a new friend to retweet their stories, or it can be finding an ally in their newsroom.
They even help people learn about new opportunities, like fellowships and conferences, and the members of the community can help educate each other on how to apply and finance those types of opportunities.
At our most recent gathering (a brunch), we discussed everything from local industry gossip, to how to negotiate a raise and how to figure out how much to ask for. It’s crowdsourced information, gained from collective experience, and it can enable people to ask questions they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so in other settings. Although the invited guests for these dinners are disproportionately from my news organization, I invite women from all across DC. They’re acquaintances from former internships; my alma mater; women I’ve only met once at a conference; or women who’ve been referred by another attendee.
Finding community is especially important right now. Our industry is changing, dealing with weighty issues such as how to stop sexual predators in the newsroom and how to become more equitable and diverse. A community gathering is an excellent non-work place for women to feel welcome, to vent, and to learn.
For me, food has always been a way to open up conversation. Food naturally leads to discussion and provides an easy opening for people to join in.
Making these events a dinner (or the occasional brunch) also gives me the opportunity to personally try cooking new recipes, and it gives guests the chance to bring something if they want. If they don’t want to bring something, I ask that they contribute a small amount of money (typically $15 or so) to the cost of the meal.
I try to accommodate people’s allergies, and I typically keep the meals vegetarian because that brings down the costs for me, and it’s easier to meet a range of people’s dietary needs that way.
I also wanted a space that wasn’t wholly focused on alcohol.
I was a SRCCON:POWER attendee, and afterwards, many of us talked about how much we appreciated that alcohol wasn’t a huge part of the conference. I’m someone who drinks sometimes, but doesn’t love it all the time, and I know there are people who choose not to drink for a variety of reasons.
I offer wine at dinner, but I always make sure to have iced tea or some other alternative. It seems simple, but I know it means a lot to attendees who choose not to drink.
This is something that anyone can duplicate. If you’re in a smaller city, it could just be a group of people from your newspaper and local freelancers. You don’t have to be the one to cook and host every time, and in fact, I’m considering doing some potluck meals at some of the houses of our regular attendees.
I started with just an email list and a simple introduction of myself to people who I didn’t know very well.
Now, the email list is up to about 30 people and growing. The small group is mainly because I can’t fit a ton of people in my apartment, but nobody is turned away.
And, after the dinner is over, I connect everyone by email, so they can choose to continue connecting later.
Although it’s a decent amount of work for me, I look forward to it every month. I love getting to hear about the things my peers and friends care about, and it means that I’m spending time with others outside of work.
If you are interested in starting this in your own city, or want to join my group if you live in DC, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @shiramstein.
Shira Stein is a reporter at Bloomberg Law covering health-care oversight on Capitol Hill, including drug pricing, changes to the Affordable Care Act, and health-care consolidation. She also writes unique enterprise and data stories about a wide variety of topics in health care, including LGBT health, rural health, and medical education. Shira is an alumna of American University and formerly interned at The Washington Post. She is passionate about making policy understandable for everyone and making a career in journalism accessible for those from marginalized backgrounds.