I opened my phone to 67 new WhatsApp messages as my plane touched down at Toronto’s Pearson Airport from Tampa Sunday – a new record for only having it turned off for a little more than two hours.
Twenty-nine of my newest friends, with whom I had just spent the past week, at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., were making sure we were OK. That we safely made it home. That we had started processing the week. That we had taken a nap.
We are the first of three cohorts this year to undergo one of the most transformative training sessions of my professional career as a journalist. Earlier this year, we found out we were accepted as part of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, winter edition.
I have been a journalist for Black Press for more than 10 years, and have worked in media for 14. I’m grateful I didn’t set many expectations once I found out I was accepted and received the support of my company to attend, as they would have completely been shattered within the first day.
I entered the week with serious impostor syndrome – why was I here? My peers came from major media outlets across the U.S. and the world, and were at the top of their respective newsrooms.
Just like possible expectations, my imposter syndrome ended almost immediately. Instead, I was surrounded by women who felt the same way as me. Women who didn’t know their worth. Women who experienced burnout. Women who sacrificed their mental and physical health. Women who are tired of being soft leaders. Women who were told they weren’t good enough and believed it. Women who experienced sexual harassment and assault.
All of them were amazing.
The days and nights were long and challenged us to think deeply about who we are, what we want, and how to transform the media industry to allow more women at the top and to become the change-makers we need to be.
We arrived from various walks of life, from different positions, newsrooms and mediums. Some covered sports, digital strategy, engagement, demographics, print, web, television, radio, podcasts and even animals. We navigated culture, skill sets, charting career paths, ethics, difficult conversations, finding work-life balance and negotiating while being female and being ourselves.
We spoke about shine theory – the idea that surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.
Our cohort opened ourselves to sharing vulnerable conversations, doubts and fears, and questioned the way things have and should be done.
I never expected to be part of a much larger network of support, care, inspiration, motivation, accountability and advocacy.
We learned to stand with each other professionally, and lean on and amongst each other.
I have spent a week looking inward on how I can make changes and how I can become a better leader, a better journalist and a better advocate. I have the tools to apply my plan and the ambition of 29 unbelievably gifted, thoughtful, supportive and intelligent women behind me and supporting me.
I don’t have any siblings, but these women are my 29 Poynter sisters for life.
Erin Haluschak is a Vancouver Island Free Daily correspondent with the Comox Valley Record.