Mothers in journalism advocate for more family-friendly newsrooms

Rebecca Ruiz waited until she received a job offer from Mashable to reveal to her new employer that she was five months pregnant. Several of her mentors told her not to disclose it sooner out of concern it could potentially derail her hiring. 

Instead, Ruiz said the company’s head of human resources paused for a second and responded, “Congratulations!” 

“They handled it so sensitively and with grace,” Ruiz said. “That was a source of comfort for me and reassurance.”

A mother to two young daughters, Ruiz has been outspoken about the need for newsrooms to adopt policies that support pregnant employees and parents. She authored a Poynter article in 2017 about how the journalism industry treats parents, and noted that even when companies offer good benefits, journalists can still struggle to establish a healthy balance between work and parenting. One reason, she said, is that newsrooms often lack supervisors who can provide strong examples.

“You don’t want to disappoint your children, and you don’t want to disappoint yourself, and you also need to perform at your job,” she said. 

Rebecca Ruiz, an advocate for parents in the industry, goes to the beach with her children. PHOTO COURTESY OF REBECCA RUIZ

When Ruiz arrived at Mashable as a features reporter, she was its first pregnant employee in its U.S. office. The company’s parental leave policy let her take 12 paid weeks off. That amount had increased to 16 weeks by the time she became pregnant with her second child. Ruiz says supportive policies can help ease some of the natural challenges that come with parenting. 

“I don’t have empirical data right here,” Ruiz said, “but I can tell you from anecdote, from common sense, that when we reduce people’s anxiety, they just do better.”

For Nicole Santa Cruz, the desire to become a mother outweighed any concerns she had about how it would impact her career. Then a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, Santa Cruz learned she was pregnant about a month after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and her city went on lockdown. She says her pregnancy felt isolating while she was quarantining at home, but the company remained supportive throughout. 

“We had a generous leave policy because of the new union contract that we [signed] about two years ago,” she said. The contract allowed her to take six months of paid leave to spend time bonding with her newborn. She said she continues to feel supported as a parent by her new employer, ProPublica

Nicole Santa Cruz, a reporter at ProPublica, poses with her daughter. PHOTO COURTESY OF NICOLE SANTA CRUZ

But not all journalist parents can say the same. 

In Ruiz’s Poynter piece, she unpacked the results of a survey of 390 journalists about their workplace’s policies. One-third said their companies’ policies around breastfeeding were unsupportive. While two-thirds said their employers offered paid parental leave, less than half took the full amount of time provided.

Struggles with work-life balance were also widespread. Combined, about 65% said they worked at least two days each week during nights or weekends. It went up to three or more days for about a quarter of that group.

In trying to navigate the demands of work and parenthood, some new moms are turning to each other for support. 

Jessica Strelitz, chief strategic partnerships officer for the Online News Association, co-created the Facebook group Media Moms — an online community that comprises nearly 1,000 mothers and soon-to-be moms working in journalism.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a substitute for having your own mom friends,” Strelitz said. “But to have a community of people who understand the pressure and the uniqueness of the work that we do and also are sharing that outside of work — work life balance issue that we run into — is an incredible gift.”

Strelitz, who has two sons ages 8 and 5, was six months pregnant when she joined ONA. She says she immediately felt supported by the company’s hybrid work model – three days out of the office and two days in. 

She says work-related travel poses one of the greatest challenges that requires extensive coordinating with her husband and plenty of back up plans. 

“But I’ll be honest, I really beat myself up,” Strelitz said. “Making sure that everything was ready and prepared — even when I would go away just for an overnight.” 

Jessica Strelitz, seen here with her two sons, co-created the Facebook group Media Moms. PHOTO COURTESY OF JESSICA STRELITZ

As a leader in her newsroom, Strelitz says she continuously advocates for working and nursing moms, in part by asking them about their needs. 

“How do you advocate for some sort of hybrid schedule if you don’t start having the conversation?” she said.

As parents strive to establish a balance and set boundaries between their work and home lives, their experiences raising children can go on to enhance their reporting. 

With nearly 20 years in the business, Ruiz says becoming a mother opened her eyes to story ideas she never saw before. 

“My mind and my heart was open to so many other human experiences that I could understand abstractly but not viscerally,” Ruiz said about her views before motherhood. “And once you understand them viscerally, it’s like a switch that comes on.”

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story misstated the origin of Mashable’s parental leave policy. The story has been updated.

Mónica Cappas is beginning her fourth year at the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, where she studies television and radio communication. She is an aspiring photo- and video-journalist who until recently served as the editor in chief of Cápsulas de Noticas Punto a Punto, the news program produced by her local NAHJ chapter. Reach her at monicacappas00 [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @MKappa2000.

Aurora Martínez is a junior at the University of Florida, where she studies journalism. In 2021, she was awarded a grant to help educate diabetes patients in her home country of Nicaragua. She has worked at WUFT News, an affiliate of NPR in Gainesville, Fla., and its Spanish-language counterpart, Noticias WUFT. In the fall, she will return as an assistant producer for Noticias WUFT. Reach her at auroraceciliam [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @AuroraCeciliaM.

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