Fifty – a dangerous age for (women) journalists?

And old typewriter and dusty books.Women over 50 are very active in our branch, so two of us went to London last week for a Women in Journalism event called “Fifty – a dangerous age for journalists?”

We’re not going to say which two because we don’t want to “come out” publicly as being over 50, in case it’s detrimental to our careers. But maybe we’re wrong… that was the point of the discussion.

According to the panel (all over 50, and some over 60), 50 is no more dangerous than any other age. But perhaps you’d expect them to be confident, because the nature of these panels is that they are made up of successful people.

The chair was Lindsay Nicholson, editorial director of Good Housekeeping (who says 60 is a dangerous age for a woman), and the other speakers were:  Suzi Godson, Times relationships expert; Ann Treneman, chief theatre critic at the Times; Alice Hart-Davis, freelance beauty writer; Julianne Miles, co-founder and MD of Women Returners; Anne Perkins, the Guardian.

Their observations were:

Find a niche (or niches)

Being a specialist gives you value.  But you can be a specialist in more than one thing: Ann Treneman claims to have had six careers, including foreign editor of the Observer and political sketch writer for the Times.

Find your strengths, choose the stuff you enjoy, and fend off things you’re not interested in.

Watch your attitude

Be realistic: you’re no longer the bright young things. But stay confident: find out how you can add value and do it.
Don’t:

  • think you’re entitled to anything (eg respect)
  • say “I don’t know how to log on”
  • be negative
  • write yourself off.

Do:

  • say yes to everything
  • think “why couldn’t I?”

If you’re in a workplace, you won’t just be working with people 20 years younger, but working FOR people 20 years younger. Your job is to help them forget it.

The question of age discrimination was raised, but there didn’t seem to be a consensus (although there’s research from Women in Journalism themselves that suggests it is alive and kicking ). I suspect the audience may have had different experiences from the panel.

Be flexible

Portfolio careers are normal. Think about your transferable skills: who else would be interested? Don’t define yourself by what you’ve done before. Julianne Miles says she has reinvented herself every decade.

Embrace technology

Tech is not just for young people. Suzi Godson is co-founder of Mee Two, an app to support teenagers with anxiety problems. One audience member has founded an online resource/forum for people with elderly parents.

Challenging yourself to keep up can be rewarding. We can all use social media to promote ourselves and create networks (and privacy doesn’t have to be a problem, if you approach it carefully).  We can all blog, too – this gives you an outlet for things you want to write about, and can be a vehicle to promote your specialisms.

Recognise the things older women have to offer

Some of us can be entrepreneurial.

We know how to write (and we know about grammar).

We’re always available, compared to women with young children.

There are things we can do better because we’re older. We have life experience and access to lots of potential stories.

People over 50 are the ones still buying newspapers – we can write for that audience.

We can help younger women. There was some discussion of “reverse mentoring”, where an older and a younger person share knowledge with each other.

Be confident in yourself

There wasn’t too much of what one speaker called “life-coachy claptrap”, but we were given these tips:

  • Stop interpreting past successes as luck.
  • Don’t think of failure as a concept: sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t.
  • Never consider yourself too old for anything.
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