In this special edition of ’10 minutes with’ marking next week’s International Women’s Day, we’re sitting down with Alison Phillips, editor of the Daily Mirror and chair of Women in Journalism. Read more below about the day’s importance, how Women in Journalism is marking the occasion and more from Alison’s career in journalism…
International Women’s Day is 111 years old this year. How has it grown and changed in importance during that time?
When International Women’s Day began, women like my grandma still weren’t able to vote in the UK. It was only in 1928 when women over 21 without property finally got a vote. It seems almost mind-blowing that such a crucial part of being a full citizen was denied to women so recently in the UK.
So yes, we have come a long way quite quickly and it’s great that IWD has become part of the calendar. But there is still so much that needs to improve around better pay and conditions for women, action to address the epidemic of violence against women and girls and action on climate change which so impacts on women and children. Now once again in Ukraine we are seeing women suffering in a conflict created by a man.
It feels much has been achieved but sometimes the amount left to do feels almost overwhelming.
Women in Journalism – why is it important and what is its mission?
Women in Journalism seeks to inspire and encourage women to achieve their very best in the industry.
We offer practical advice and workshops to help women further their careers. Our mentoring scheme has supported thousands of women over the years and our ‘In Conversation’ events with some of the country’s leading journalists have inspired and encouraged others. I also think it is a club with a sense of solidarity – we’ve got each others’ backs!
How is Women in Journalism marking International Women’s Day?
On the eve of International Women’s Day we are holding an online event in solidarity with women journalists in Afghanistan. In 2020 there were 700 women working in journalism in Kabul; that number is now down to fewer than 40.
We are holding this event to pay tribute and show those who remain – and those who have been forced into exile – that we stand with them.
Going back to the beginning of your career, how did you get into journalism?
After my A-Levels, I went to work for the weekly Harlow Star newspaper which I loved. From there, I went to Leeds University where I became involved in student news and then editor of Leeds Student.
Then, I got a job on the Brighton Evening Argus before moving on to Connors Press Agency, Woman magazine, the Sunday People and then onto the Mirror.
Why does journalism matter?
I think you only have to look at Putin’s Russia right now for a living illustration of why a free press matters. An illegal war is being waged in the name of the Russian people who have been fed years of lies and disinformation. Putin is only able to do what he is doing right now because he has crushed the free press. That’s how much it matters.
A quote that always remains with me is from Hannah Arendt’s classic book The Origins of Totalitarianism: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”
That’s why honest journalism matters.
From your storied career, is it possible to narrow down a best scoop?
I think the best scoop I have been involved in has to be the Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown story.
Obviously all the hard work was done by our political editor Pippa Crerar and north east reporter Jeremy Armstrong, working in collaboration with the Guardian, but when we took the decision to publish it, we knew it was a huge moment. The idea that someone at the heart of government who’d helped make the Covid rules was not living by them was huge.
It was some months later that we then broke the stories of parties throughout lockdown in Number 10 which revealed an entire culture of rule breaking. Again, these were stories that needed to be told – those in power have to be held to account for their actions and it is our job to do that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
As a female leader, what’s the best advice you’d give?
Be the leader you want to be. If shouting, screaming, power dressing and bombarding staff with unrealistic demands at midnight isn’t your bag then don’t do it. You don’t need to. (If it is, I guess, fill your boots). But the point is anyone can lead if they are consistent, they listen and they can make a decision.
Who or what inspires you?
Who would be your fantasy dinner party guests and why?
I’m not massive on dinner parties but I’d love to go for a few drinks with Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Penthesilea and all her sisters, George Orwell, Billy Bragg and Boudicca. And maybe Agnetha and Frida. What a laugh.
What is the biggest story this International Women’s Day that more people should know about?
We all know what is going on in Ukraine but we need to think about how women in this war and in conflicts around the globe are suffering. We need to step up our commitments to helping them and ending war.