Leadership Insights….Catrin Pascoe
Current role and responsibilities
I’m editor of the Western Mail and also have responsibility for managing our newsroom at Media Wales. That means having involvement in the content that goes across print and our website, Wales Online. We work with our reporters, our newsdesk and our picture desk to make the best use of the stories that are coming in and determine how we best display them online, in print and on our social media platforms.
How did you know you wanted to get into this line of work?
I never had a big plan…! I always thought everyone else knew exactly where they were going and I was always full of admiration for that. I knew I loved talking to people and finding out their stories – it’s that curiosity and finding out what makes people tick and the whole psychology of that fascinates me. But also doing that within Wales, finding out what matters to Wales and what helps to shine a light on different issues that are important – that feels a real privilege.
How did you get into it?
I left university, went home to Pembrokeshire and thought, ‘What am I going to do next?’ I’d always talked about writing so I went to get some work experience at our local title – the Western Telegraph. I was looking for a place on a post-graduate course and, while I worked in a bar to get enough money to pay for a place, I did work experience at the South Wales Echo. I was lucky enough to get a place at Cardiff University’s Journalism School. Then I served my reporter traineeship at the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph for two years. That was a great training ground as a news patch – very raw with very real human issues. After that, I tried shifts at a London-based National, slept on a friend’s floor in Wimbledon and decided London and tabloid life wasn’t for me. A role came up at the Western Mail for a senior reporter so I applied and I got it in 2001. My first night shift was 9/11.
It was a completely different era for journalism then. There’s been a massive evolution in our industry in the last 20 years – with technology such as smartphones and social media people’s access to information is completely different. When I joined the Western Mail, the digital team for our website was in another room. By 2009 it was part of our newsdesk, and there has been huge evolution and change in how we work since. But the essence is always the same – the daily drive to deliver quality journalism.
Is that change and constant access for the better? Is it driving more awareness or is it creating overwhelm?
I think it has changed for the better in that you are able to give people immediate and useful information that is presented in a very clear, accessible and understandable way. Where concerns arise is that there is so much information. And that’s our role – fact-checking and being a trusted source – we do the fact checking on behalf of the reader.
What is the biggest leadership challenge in your current role?
Distilling all the information that’s coming at you from so many directions – external sources, contacts, organisations, social media – through to internal demands: managing the newsroom effectively, HR issues, how to best tackle a story and give it the responsibility it deserves. I may not agree with how another editor sees a story or how a reporter wants to do a story, so it’s building a consensus and picking the priorities carefully. There are lots of judgement calls all of the time with the complete awareness that you have to reach and maintain an audience, and build engagement, whilst maintaining high quality print products too.
Does that take you away from the reason you got into journalism in the first place – creativity and the writing?
You don’t get to write as much anymore which I do miss, but I think our journalists are far better writers than I am! But I enjoy working with people and getting the best out of them, and helping them create that content that best showcases their work. People are fascinating so whether it’s through the stories we tell or the people we work with, I love being part of that.
What gives you satisfaction in your role?
When you create a great edition or you break a great story and you see how well the team has pulled together to do that. The Rugby World Cup is an example of that, where you see how these small elements create a bigger picture, and the willingness within the team to go above and beyond to make that work.
When do you know you’re doing a good job?
I don’t! I constantly question that; it’s quite hard to know at times. People are always so ready to give you negative feedback – but when you get some positive feedback that makes your heart sing. For instance, every now and again, myself and some of our writers receive a card from a lady in Carmarthenshire who will write and thank us for the work that we do. She’s been reading the Western Mail since 1945 and it makes it so worthwhile. We get feedback from people we do stories about or who are running campaigns which gives a real sense that we are making a difference.
What are the key skills and qualities you have to demonstrate in order to be effective at a senior level?
Calmness! There always that sense of being calm under pressure. I don’t always get it right. And when you don’t get it right it’s about holding your hands up and saying it. That’s about earning respect not just expecting it. We expect a lot from our team but it is worth it.
What would you miss it if it all stopped tomorrow?
I like being in the midst of all the decision making and being part of this team. I’d miss it if it stopped tomorrow. If you’re Welsh, that there is a real pull to come back to Wales and to do something positive for Wales. It may be a little idealistic but it feels significant. Plus, call me biased, but it’s a great place to live.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in a journalism career?
Get as much work experience as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Open your eyes to what’s really going on around you. Read as much as possible, find out what makes a good story really work online or in print. Know how to be engaging to develop a following on social media.
Be robust, be confident. It is a difficult job; it can be tough and it is hard. Reporting a court case, for example, can be a hard task if it is a particularly difficult case. And feedback on social media can be so unnecessarily vile. So, a certain element of robustness is needed.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Trust your instincts. Look up every now and again and assess whether you are where you want to be. Gain sharp elbows – get into scenarios that you may be unaccustomed to or meetings that will give you more experience so you can build on that. Be persistent. Do what you enjoy.
What are some of the hurdles you’ve had to overcome and what did you do to stay on track?
The art of delegation!
Believing in myself – you have to be confident and believe that your voice needs to be heard as much as that noisy person over there. Sometimes people just don’t listen and that’s frustrating.
I’ve been lucky – my first news editor was a woman; my first editor was a woman and I think the perception of a newsroom being a bit Ron Burgundy is outdated now. Saying that, there are scenarios I’ve been in when there’s been a bit too much mansplaining going on. Then you need to be more forthright and vocal. You need to get things done – don’t be rude or unkind, of course, but it’s very OK to be firm and fair.
How do you look after yourself?
Not very well! I always have the best intentions on Monday but by Tuesday it’s gone. I’m awful with my phone – it’s usually always by my side. I need to react to that constant contact and making judgement calls so I’m always on alert, certainly near a deadline. It’s about trying to get away from a job where you’re sat down for at least 10/11 hours a day and how you push back from that but still fulfil your responsibilities and the good job you want to do. I’ve become more aware of just how important it can be to look after yourself as I’ve be become older and more confident in asserting that need.
What is your favourite way of switching off?
I run. I discovered that quite late and wish I had started at least 10 years before. Getting out in the fresh air. Taking the kids out and going for a scamper somewhere by the sea or surrounded by greenery.
If I have a day off, I think about what I need to do. I need to clear that noise in my head then go for a run. It’s switching the needs around. Go for the run first!
What keeps you awake at night?
Stories – things I want to cover and the stories we’ve covered. Rain on the window. Reading has become more prevalent in the last year too – books that are unrelated to work and give me a different perspective. And I love a good magazine whether that’s National Geographic or a running magazine to give my brain a break.
How do you balance home and work life?
I’ve been in the situation where I was working long hours and by Monday it didn’t feel that I’d had any time off. I almost thought I’d have to change jobs to be able to feel I could get things done at home and at work, but I had a conversation at work and came to an agreement where I can have every other Monday off. It gives me space to sort things out. It still feels wrong some days and I wonder if people think I lack commitment, but it means I can take the kids to school and be there when they get home and that’s really important to me.
I still wrestle with balancing time I could spend with the kids, to having a break so I create some headspace, to needing to be there for my team. I’ve increasingly realised that you can beat yourself up about it but it won’t change – you’re doing what you can do.
Finish these sentences:
a. I couldn’t do my role without….
My husband and tea.
b. If I won the lottery I would…
Invest in a trainee scholarship for journalism based in Wales, in our newsroom.
Find the best way to make a difference charitably with a cancer charity because I’m sick of losing people that I care about to that disease.
c. My friends always tell me that….
I don’t laugh enough but when I do it’s hilarious. I’ve been told I sound like an asthmatic donkey!
d. My goal at work is…
To do it well and to be respected for what I do. To be firm and fair; honest. To not tolerate the BS.
To ensure I’m always a support for those on their way up too.
e. What makes me happy….
Quality time with family and friends, and the sun on my face.
f. I can’t live without….
Family and friends, daps and my phone… alas….