“Being in the same room with a lot of women with the same goals gave me more confidence because it reminded that not only can I do visual journalism, but I should keep doing visual journalism to show younger girls coming up that it's OK to want to be talented both in front of the camera and behind the camera,” Ross said.
When the NPPA stopped offering the women’s conference a while back, I was bummed. I was bummed because many times I would speak at or attend conferences where the faculty was great, but few — or none — were women. But I knew that some of the greats were women — they just needed to be given a chance to get in front of attendees who were clamoring for mentors who looked like them. So I did what my dad taught me: I started chipping away at the problem. With zero dollars. And no idea what I was doing.
That was five years ago. Sixty women. One day. Small. Mighty. Rad. After that year, the Women in Visual Journalism Conference morphed into something bigger — and something better, with help from Julia Robinson, a freelance still photographer who became my co-director. It was a sold-out crowd this year, by the way. It has been for the last three years. And the stoke? It is high.
“Just being around that energy — you come out feeling ready to start new work,” said Denise Cathey, a photojournalist with The Brownsville Herald in Brownsville, Texas. “I’ve been settling into this new job, and this helped tap back into that active passion for photojournalism. Like, ‘OK, I need to start six different projects now.’”
Dry, who will be graduating in spring from the University of North Texas, is feeling passionate again about her career path.
“In all honesty, I was feeling very discouraged by my work and school going into the weekend, and all I can really say is I needed this,” Dry said. “I left feeling on fire! Ready to tackle big stories, grow my craft and push myself harder.”
Inspiration came in all forms this year. From Marie D. De Jesús talking about lessons learned working on a heartbreaking project about kids being denied special education classes, to Carly Danek encouraging the audience to bend and break rules, each speaker was able to motivate the crowd in her own way. That is normal conference stuff, though, right?
The not-so-normal stuff was perfectly illustrated in the final panel, where a group of five women talked about being female journalists. “Let’s get paid the same” and “diversity matters” were common sentiments. And this year, TEGNA journalist Anastasiya Bolton asked me to add something I had been thinking about for years: a session on mental health and self-care. When Bolton and Dr. Trina Hall, a psychologist with the Dallas Police Department, spoke about how much trauma journalists are exposed to, the entire room of heads nodded.
“The mental health session stuck out for me,” said Cathey, who, like many in the audience, has covered difficult stories. “For a lot of people, it’s like, ‘No, I need to get out there and cover the story,’ and you don’t want to admit that this could actually be terrible for you — it might be good for your career, but not your mental health.”
Bolton, who has covered crime for years, said the constant stream of attendees after the session showed her the importance of being frank and open about mental health.
“Yes, newsrooms bring in counselors and sometimes dogs after a big event. And that’s great. But are those trauma-informed counselors? Is petting a dog when the deadline is looming enough?” Bolton said. “We should all learn effective self-care routines, openly talk about this in the newsroom, and managers need to know the signs of when even a committed journalist has hit their limit. How can we be at our best when we are emotionally broken?
“We teach people how to write, shoot, interview,” Bolton said. “We should teach how to care for ourselves in the face of all the human suffering we see.”
Getting that out there felt different. And important. Not all women are the same, but a lot of the challenges we face are similar. Noelle Walker, a reporter and award-winning writer at KXAS in Dallas, always shows up at the women’s conference with a readiness to learn, teach and listen.
“It’s helpful to hear from people who have walked a mile in your shoes and know where the land mines are as well as the rose gardens,” Walker said. “There is inner strength in numbers. It gives my soul a boost and my work a creative recharge.”
At one point during the weekend, I needed a recharge. I took a walk and thought about all the happy people in that room at the Dallas Morning News. Like my dad, I do not think what I do is a big deal. Ever. When something doesn’t feel quite right, I try hard to fix it. Not because anyone asks me to. That’s too late. Just start doing good before you are asked. It just might end up being a big deal — even if noticing that kind of stuff isn’t your thing. ■
Anne Herbst is director of visual journalism at KUSA, Denver, where she leads some of the best visual journalists in the country. She has directed the WIVJ conference for five years. In 2020, she will take the reins of the Advanced Storytelling Workshop as its director.