Want to become a better journalist? Get better friends

The Cohort is Poynter's bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

Imagine a typical evening out with friends. What are the conversations like? What did you contribute? Do you picture yourself inspired, energized and encouraged by the end of the night? And if not, why?

I was recently in New Orleans celebrating a bachelorette weekend with a rad group of former CNN colleagues. We didn’t have the most highbrow conversations or do the most highbrow things, obviously — it was a bachelorette party in New Orleans! But spending time with fellow journalists and, more importantly, hearing about their aspirations for their careers and work was so refreshing. Even when we were making stupid jokes, I’d still think: These stupid jokes are coming from smart people, and I love them for it.

Somewhere between drinking frozen rosés (that’s a real thing; don’t judge) and eating too much, I finished Jen Sincero’s “You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.” In the last chapter of the book, she writes about the importance of spending time with people who inspire you to be a better version of yourself.

“Who you surround yourself with greatly affects how you see your world and how high you set the bar for yourself,” Sincero writes. It’s advice I’ve heard before, and the New Orleans weekend was a perfect time to revisit it. Amid all the fun, I was reminded how important it is to befriend and be inspired by smart, ambitious people.

A few days prior, I had the opportunity to teach alongside the incredible Jacqui Banaszynski in Miami. We shared a conversation over dinner that was enough to keep me sustained, inspired and motivated for weeks. Jacqui asked lots of pointed questions that challenged me and made me think. Much like the time with New Orleans crew, I left wanting more experiences like that.

It’s no secret that it’s tougher to make friends as we get older, but that’s all the more reason to actively seek out people who challenge you to be better. There are many areas in our lives that we can’t control, but we do have plenty of influence over who we spend our time with.

As women, this is especially important to acknowledge. There are plenty of unfair things stacked up against our personal success. Friends should never be one of them.

One of the best outcomes of the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media is the lasting connections that attendees build. It’s been incredible to witness groups of women come together, realize how much they have in common and eventually walk away knowing they’ll always support each other. I’ve seen these women score big promotions, move to new organizations, decide to start families, stand up to opponents and navigate all sorts of big decisions and sticky situations.

While I wish we could extend this experience to every deserving woman, there are some things you can do on your own to create your own supportive cohort:

  • Reach out with a meetup idea. Most of the lady leaders I know are super busy. The more specific you can be with suggestions, the better. Try suggesting a monthly meetup of some sort, either offering up a time or inviting people to chime in on Doodle. Be patient if not everyone can make it, and try it for at least a couple of months to see if momentum builds. Ideas for meetups: wine and coloring at your place; sharing creative ideas over Skype with faraway friends; weekend picnics in the park.
  • Create a safe space. Private Slack channels or Facebook groups can be a valuable place for getting perspective and quick feedback, especially with situations that arise in the moment. Keep the group relatively small — if it gets too large, conversations become unwieldy and members are less likely to open up. Also remember that venting isn’t the healthiest approach. Focusing on solutions and keeping the overall tone positive and constructive is key.
  • Be generous. Think about what you’re offering in your friendships. Connect smart women to other smart women. Employ the Shine Theory. Don’t be that person who reaches out to someone to “pick their brain.” If you’re looking for others to be interested in your success, you have to put in the effort to be invested in their lives, too. (The same is true for romantic relationships, but that’s another subject for another newsletter.)

May you all find the squad that you deserve.


P.S. Speaking of #squadgoals, I created a survey to learn more about Cohort readers. Full deets at the end of this newsletter.

I've been busy! Here are a few cool things that might be of interest:

  • Poynter's 10UP audience engagement summit takes place on Monday. The event is sold out, but you can follow along at #10YearsUP on Twitter. We’re also exploring the possibility of a West Coast version early next year. Sound like something you’d be interested in? Send me an email with the subject line “10UP West” and we’ll keep you in the loop.
  • Our project focused on improving workplace culture is almost here! 40 Better Hours week will take place Sept. 19-23. Go ahead and sign up for the 40 Better Hours pop-up newsletter, which will help you make the most of the free training all week.
  • We’re hiring an Online Community Manager! This person will be responsible for engaging with and building Poynter’s online audience. She or he will also report to yours truly. (I’m excited to be a manager again!) Applications are due Friday, Sept. 2.

Things worth reading
If Hillary wins, it’ll be a win for women, right? Not so fast. ? ? ? to Jason Shen for his open letter to managers of women. FiveThirtyEight analyzes why the gender pay gap still exists. One size doesn’t fit all: Workplace diversity programs rarely help both women and racial minorities. And more than 50 journalists spoke out to Newsweek about experiencing sexual harassment.

Let’s talk
It’s been almost six months (!) since I started this newsletter, which means it’s a good time to check in. I created a survey to get a better idea of who you are and what you’re hoping to get from this newsletter.

Here’s the survey. It will take just a few minutes of your time, for which I’m so grateful. I’ll share some of the results in the next newsletter. Get excited!

I’m looking for more badass women to profile. Email me at katie@poynter.org. You can also nominate someone on Twitter with #digitalwomenleaders.

Pass this newsletter on to coworkers and friends! Watching The Cohort community grow makes me super happy.

The Cohort is part of the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to Kristen Hare for her radically candid newsletter edits and insight.

  • Profile picture for user katiehawk

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar is the organizer of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. She was previously Poynter’s digital innovation faculty member, and taught journalists how to make the most of social media, understand audience engagement, rethink workflows and foster creativity.


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