Family Values  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   June 1997

Family Values   

Newsrooms, notorious for their long hours and demanding schedules, are finding ways to make life more manageable for journalists with children via job-sharing, on-site day care and telecom-muting. But some are more family-friendly than others.

By Chris Harvey
Harvey, a former AJR managing editor and a former associate editor at washingtonpost.com, teaches Web writing and publishing at the University of Maryland.     


Newsrooms, notorious for their long hours and demanding schedules, are finding ways to make life more manageable for journalists with children via job-sharing, on-site day care and telecom-muting. But some are more family-friendly than others.

Late afternoon on Halloween, the Seattle Times newsroom is invaded by preschoolers. Sporting Cookie Monster, jester and cowboy costumes, the 35 youngsters beg pencils, stickers and other trinkets from amused staffers.

Many of the costumed kids aren't strangers to the staff. In fact, some call the journalists mom or dad. On most days, while their parents hunch over their keyboards, the children are busy a block away, learning new songs, gliding on swings or sharing lunch with a friend.

The children are enrolled in a program rare to the news business: a day care center owned and maintained by the newspaper for use by its staff and others. Operating close to the Times' main building, the day care center allows reporters and editors to drop in to nurse their children, take them to lunch or participate in special activities, such as trick-or-treating.

Parents say it offers some respite from worry. "Going back and forth to work, I'll go by the playground and see her swinging," says Times investigative reporter Deborah Nelson, 44, of her youngest daughter, Anna, a preschooler. And, adds Nelson, who shared a Pulitzer with two other staffers this year, the center symbolizes something more: "The fact that the company subsidizes this..gives you a sense the company is supportive of families."

That's exactly the message that executives at a growing number of daily newspapers are trumpeting as women secure more newsroom jobs. To attract and retain the best staffers, newspapers are opening day care centers, allowing journalists to share jobs or work from home, and extending

unpaid family leaves beyond the 12 weeks required by

federal law. The arrangements give parents flexibility when raising young children or caring for elderly adults.

ýouisville's Courier-Journal, like the Seattle Times, owns a day care center on company grounds. It pays the YMCA to manage it. "It's a good recruiting tool for us. It's a positive employee benefit," says Larry VonderHaar, vice president of labor relations for the Gannett paper. On average about 23 employees' children attend the center, which opened in 1985.

For more than four years the Miami Herald has set aside a small room for back-up child care, for use when a regular babysitter is ill or when preschool is closed for the day. Three to four children are watched at a time by a babysitter independently hired by their parents.

And a number of other newspapers — including the St. Petersburg Times, Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot and New York's Poughkeepsie Journal — are embracing more flexible work policies. "It's good business to have a diverse work force, and that means having some diverse work options," says Mimi Feller, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for the Gannett chain.

But women's advocates caution that much more needs to be done. Despite the progress of the past decade, there are still many newspapers where even inexpensive benefits, such as job- sharing or part time work, have been held out of the reach of news reporters.

Women, who have traditionally borne the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities, are hardest hit by the inflexibility. Many female journalists are reluctant to start families, "afraid it will ruin their careers," says Joan Jacobson, 44, a veteran reporter at the Baltimore Sun. Others are forced to leave jobs they enjoy when the responsibilities of a full time job conflict with the needs of their children.

The issue has become more critical as the number of women in the labor force has grown. The U.S. Department of Labor reported there were nearly 62 million women in the civilian labor force in 1996 — about 46 percent of the total. That's up from 24 percent in 1940.

ýemale journalists also have made inroads, although more modest. They accounted for nearly 34 percent of the work force at daily newspapers in 1992, up from about 22 percent in 1971, according to a study conducted by Indiana University professors David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit.

"We need to reorganize and rethink" to meet the needs of working parents, says Ann Bookman, former policy and research director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor. "The issue of child care is really critical... If you've got a young child or elderly parent who needs care and you can't get that care, you can't get to work."

Of course, flexible, family-centered policies fly in the face of deep newsroom traditions. The profession has always prized reporters who work long and erratic hours and travel on short notice.

"When one works for a daily newspaper, one sort of has to think about the fact that it frequently involves working on days that may be holidays for other people, but not for you," says Jeanne Fox-Alston, the Washington Post's director of recruiting and hiring. Blizzards, plane crashes and school board meetings often don't fall neatly into the 9-to-5 workday.

The Post has tried to aid journalists with young children by approving some part time and flex-time schedules. But it dismissed the idea of on-site child care because staffers' varied shifts made it impractical. And it discourages working from home because it removes employees from the creative energy of the newsroom, says Post Assistant Managing Editor Tom Wilkinson.

"I don't know if I expect more [family-friendly policies], knowing the nature of journalism," says Fox-Alston. "When you sign on [with] this profession, you know what you're getting into."

Lucy Morgan knows all about working long hours. But having worked three decades in journalism — as a regional edition reporter, special projects reporter and state capital bureau chief at the St. Petersburg Times — she thinks the status of women journalists is improving.

The 56-year-old grandmother and Pulitzer Prize winner spent her first year at the Times juggling a reporter's demands with the obligations of single motherhood. It was before jobsharing and part time reporting had entered the vocabulary of daily newspapering.

Her three children, she says, were "raised on murders and fires... They got very accustomed to being at the scene of something."

She was in her mid-20s and divorced from a high school basketball coach when she joined the paper. She took a job covering a two-county area north of Tampa so she could be close to home.

"I remember one morning the fire alarm went off at 3 a.m.," Morgan says. She made a quick call and learned a hotel in New Port Richey was burning. "I was there all alone with the three children. I ran through their rooms saying, 'Everybody up. You'll have to go with me.' "

Her middle son, about five, was too sleepy to understand. "He thought his room was on fire," she recalls. "He gathered up all his toys to take with him."

Her children learned to make other accommodations. Her two sons walked about 10 blocks every afternoon from their elementary school to her office and did their homework while they waited for her to finish work. Her daughter used to complain she was the last to be picked up from after-school activities. "But I don't think they were immeasurably harmed," Morgan says.

Life became smoother after she married Richard Morgan, then a St. Petersburg Times bureau chief. He brought two children and regular hours to the marriage. "He worked a 9-6 day," Morgan says. "He didn't go out of town. He was the stable one. I might get trapped in a trial... He would be able to go home on time."

Morgan says that as a young mother she never had the option of working less than full time. "Back when I was doing this, most of us worked far more than 40 hours a week. Times have changed."

Linda W. Y. Parrish spends 20 hours a week at her job at the Seattle Times: 16 hours reporting and writing about school squabbles in Washington state's Snohomish and King counties, and another four hours planning a summer journalism workshop for minority high school students.

But under the agreement Parrish crafted in May 1993 with the Times, the 32-year-old mother is not a part-timer; she's a job-sharer. She and reporter Nancy Montgomery split the education beat for the northern counties, sharing sources, story leads and assignments. Montgomery spends about 24 hours a week on the beat.

Both accepted cuts in salary, vacation and holiday leave. Montgomery took over the position's health benefits, but writes Parrish a check to help cover the cost of her outside benefits.

"We were paying more in benefits and making less, but it was worth it to be able to spend time with my children," says Parrish, the mother of two- and four-year-old boys. Montgomery, who does not have children, wanted the time to pursue outside interests.

Each spreads her work hours out over three days. They overlap on Wednesdays.

Parrish says the split beat has not been headache-free. She says before a union vote one evening, she was instructed to file boilerplate background and to hand it off to a reporter in the main newsroom who would cover the vote and write the story. But the reporter was unfamiliar with the issues, and when Parrish reported for work the next morning the story was riddled with holes. She had to fill them on deadline for the afternoon paper. A source complained that three reporters had called with questions.

"We didn't cover it as well as we could have..but we know how to fix it," Parrish says. She says she and her editor agreed that next time, either Parrish could work a double shift or her partner's schedule could be adjusted so she could cover the night meeting.

Parrish says she and her partner keep in constant contact, calling each other at home to pass along information and posting notes and updates for each other in a computer file.

"They're real good about keeping each other in touch with what's going on in the schools," says Bill Kossen, the Snohomish County bureau editor. "Very few things fall through the cracks."

The job-share has brought unexpected benefits. In her first performance review after the beat was split, Parrish's former editor told her she had been more productive than a full-timer would have been. And the pair's story enterprise, Parrish and Kossen agree, has had more depth than it would if just one person was covering the beat.

"I'm interested in multicultural issues, diversity; I'm a Chinese American," Parrish says. Montgomery tends to look in other directions. "She had one story, on the dumbing-down of textbooks... I wouldn't have ever thought of that."

Marlene Sokol and her husband, Barry Klein, have both changed jobs at the St. Petersburg Times in order to share the responsibility of raising their young son and daughter.

Sokol, 39, was a reporter chasing some of the region's top stories when she became pregnant with her first child nearly four years ago. Her husband was city editor in Tampa.

"Women reporters, we get pregnant, and we all think we're going to come back and be Murphy Brown," Sokol says. "I thought I would have a baby and get right back into it" after taking four months' maternity and vacation leave.

But when she returned to work, she says, she discovered that she "didn't want to go on the trips, work the hours, have the craziness." The realization came in layers.

"My whole life, I had always wanted to go to Cuba, be a foreign correspondent. Four months after my daughter was born, there was a situation where thousands of Cubans were showing up on rafts in Miami. The paper asked me to go to Cuba for three weeks. I just looked at the baby and said, 'No way.' To hear myself say, 'I'm not going to Cuba,' I never..thought I'd say that."

About six months later, she had the opportunity to cover an assignment in Haiti. But, she recalls, "I had a little cold, and my child had a little cold, and I thought, what if I pick up a disease and give it to my baby? I'd never forgive myself."

Sokol decided to make a move: In May 1995 she became a suburban bureau chief in Carrollwood. She writes a weekly column and edits copy for a twice-weekly section. "I knew I wouldn't be stuck in the office at 9 or 10 at night on a breaking story," she says. She is out the door by 7 p.m.

Her husband has made concessions, too. When Sokol went back to work four months after the birth of their daughter, Sarah Klein, her husband took seven months' leave from his city editor's job. He worked part time at the paper, doing shift editing, to help pay the bills. He returned to his full time job when Sarah was nearly one.

When Sokol had their second child, Aaron Klein, in April 1996, she took two-and-a-half months off before returning to the Carrollwood bureau. Her husband again took an extended leave. He returned to a full time job at the paper in March, covering higher education.

Loretta Rieman, manager of organizational development at the Times, says the paper's policy is to allow men and women up to a year off following the birth of a child. And, she says of the leave, "people are not afraid to use it."

ýhe paper also approves part time jobs for newsroom employees and in one case sanctioned a job-sharing arrangement. But the paper is cautious when it comes to employees working at home. "It shouldn't mean you're home working and taking care of kids..," Rieman says. "That's putting yourself in the worst position. Work-at- home is a good option, but you'd need someone else in the house to do the child care."

Margaretta "Meg" Downey, 45, editorial page editor of the Poughkeepsie Journal, was working from home and hospitals even before a formal "telework" policy was adopted last spring by her newspaper's managers. When her youngest son, Evan, now 12, was hospitalized for asthma several times in 1987 and '88, she wrote editorials at his bedside.

Later, Downey says, writing away from the office proved invaluable when she was trying to recuperate from her own health problems after she was in a head-on collision.

She was out of work for several months in 1991, recuperating, and several months in 1992, following spinal surgery. Both times, she was able to work from home, first on a redesign of the newspaper, later writing some editorials. The paper supplied her with a laptop computer connected to the office with a modem. "From the Journal standpoint," Downey says, "as long as I can do the job, it's less important where I am."

Derek Osenenko, executive editor of the 44,000-circulation Gannett daily, agrees, noting the policy is designed to allow employees to work from home for limited periods for "pressing family issues."

Lane DeGregory's boss at the Virginian-Pilot believes she has earned a chance to work from home, too. DeGregory, 30, a reporter for the paper and also editor of its weekly entertainment tab, returned from maternity leave in January to a job working one day a week from her home on North Carolina's Outer Banks and the other four days from the paper's Nags Head bureau.

The arrangement approved by her boss, Ronald L. Speer, the general manager and editor of the paper's North Carolina operation, allows DeGregory to work from home on Thursdays or Fridays. While her infant son takes long naps in his room or dangles contentedly in his swing, DeGregory taps out stories on ancient shipwrecks or proposed changes to fisheries rules.

She says she negotiated the arrangement to keep her son, Ryland, who was born last October, in her care as much as possible. She said neither she nor her husband, Dan DeGregory, 29, wanted to give up the early years with the baby.

Her home computer is linked by modem to the newspaper's bureau in Nags Head and to the main office in Norfolk. "I can get into the library, the AP; I can message reporters," DeGregory says.

But the couple's schedule isn't quite as flexible as they had hoped. Dan DeGregory, a book editor, had sought to switch to four 10-hour workdays, giving him one day of each work week home with the baby. His wife had hoped to be home on Thursdays and Fridays.

But the Pilot's entertainment tab, the Carolina Coast, is going through a redesign, and DeGregory has been needed to help with that. And Dan's boss, who had given him tentative approval for the 10-hour-a-day schedule, withdrew it after other young parents clamored for more flexible schedules.

"The moral of my story is, you can make a lot of promises, but demands of daily work" don't always allow their fulfillment, DeGregory says.

Her parents' generosity with their time has allowed DeGregory to keep Ryland's day care in the family. The retired couple lives about 15 minutes from their daughter and son-in-law and care for Ryland in their home four days a week.

Stitching her work together from home and the office has allowed DeGregory to keep her full time salary and status. This allows the couple to continue paying off college loans while meeting mortgage payments on the three-bedroom house they purchased in 1993.

Speer says he agreed to the telework arrangement with DeGregory because she is an "exceptionally talented" and driven journalist, one he doesn't want to lose. He says he recognizes that "working mothers have the biggest chore of the world..and need some slack."

His only apprehension about widespread telecommuting, he says, is that taking journalists out of the newsroom removes them from the stimulation of "working with other excited people."

While some newspapers have taken substantial steps to make it easier for journalists to blend work and family life, changes at other news outlets have come at the speed of a glacial melt.

"There is a hangover from the past, where men were expected never to leave the workplace to go to a parent-teacher meeting or to pick up a child from child care," says Anne Padia of the Newspaper Guild, which represents journalists at 200 papers. "And the woman, who has had the traditional role," is still often considered "not as attached to her job."

Working Mother magazine, which since 1986 has published a list of the U.S. companies most friendly to families, included three newspaper companies on its 1996 list of 100: Gannett, which also operates TV and radio stations; the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald, owned by Knight-
Ridder; and the Seattle Times Co.

The Bureau of National Affairs, a Washington, D.C.-based newsletter publisher, also made the cut. The St. Petersburg Times, like the Seattle Times an independent newspaper, made the list from 1992 to 1995 but was dropped last year.

ýThe competition is fierce," says Deborah Wilburn, deputy editor of the monthly magazine, which considers job flexibility, pay, child care availability, benefits and opportunities for advancement among its criteria for the top 100. She says one reason newspapers may be less likely to make the list than hospitals or insurance companies is that the news profession is "very male-dominated at the top, and the whole family-friendly approach hasn't filtered up that far."

The National Federation of Press Women estimated that women accounted for only about 21 percent of the top newspaper positions in the United States — from editor in chief to city editor — in 1995. But that was up from about 5 percent 18 years earlier.

Sometimes, as Wilburn speculates, having women in top management can yield flexible work arrangements. At Gannett's Rockford Register Star in Illinois, both the publisher and executive editor are women. "We're cognizant [journalists] have kids who have got to go to a dentist appointment," says Linda Grist Cunningham, mother of an 18-year-old and executive editor of the 80,000-circulation daily. When it's not harmful to the paper, managers try to offer employees flexibility with work hours, she says.

Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. One husband and wife at the Rockford paper have taken turns cutting back to part time schedules to reduce the hours their two children are away from them. Brian Leaf, a business reporter, now works 22-and-a-half hours a week, while wife Mary Kaull, an editorial writer and assistant editorial page editor, works full time. But she had worked part time for about a year and a half after the birth of their daughter Sally, now five.

Betsy Burkhard, another editorial writer, works three seven-and-a-half-hour days a week while raising three boys, including five-year-old twins. But even the Register Star could do more, Burkhard says, such as allowing four nine-and-a-half-hour-day work weeks. "It's a concession management has been silly not to make," she says.

At the Baltimore Sun, where the publisher is a woman but the editor is a man, Guild representatives say they are still struggling to win more flexible work schedules.

Connie Knox, president of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild and a Sun copy editor, says the union has unsuccessfully attempted in the last three contracts it negotiated with Sun managers to incorporate language on job-sharing. As these negotiations ground on, the Sun lost at least three female reporters who asked to job-share — two to have more time with their children, the third to attend graduate school.

But the Sun has made some progress, according to Knox. For instance, the current contract does include up to six months of maternity and paternity leave. And some part time newsroom jobs have been approved, most on the copy desk.

Sun Editor John S. Carroll says flexible schedules will be approved when they are "not only in the best interest of the employee, but also in the best interest of the paper." He adds, "We want to be a company attractive to talented journalists, including women. I would like us to be a more helpful place to people who have a career" and a family.

Carroll says he is not blind to young working parents' struggles, pointing out he raised two daughters alone between 1982 and 1986. Then the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, Carroll says he managed by eliminating "frivolous activities, like reading books" and by enlisting the help of sorority members attending the University of Kentucky.

"I take satisfaction for having done that and in the way my daughters have turned out," Carroll says. "But it's tough" working and parenting, he acknowledges, adding the Sun will continue to review family-friendly options.

Former Labor Department official Bookman predicts workplace cultures will not change without strong labor-management partnerships. What's critical, she says, is for managers to realize that spending money on more flexible policies will earn dividends in the long run.

"When employees are not distracted by the worry of unmet family needs, they can concentrate on the job," she says. "There is a growing body of evidence that spending money on these policies is a long term policy that pays off."

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