Editor’s note: This is the last in a three-part series about how women have made an impact in the media fields in Southeast Texas.
All it took was one assignment in a high school journalism class and encouraging words from her adviser for Monique Batson to realize that she was meant to be a journalist. Almost 20 years later, she said she made the right decision.
“Our first assignment in intro to journalism in high school was to pair up with a neighbor and write kind of just a little profile about them,” Batson, now city editor and web producer for the Beaumont Enterprise, said. “My neighbor was a girl — I didn’t know her, we’d never met before, and we each interviewed each other and then sat down and wrote the paper.
“When I was done reading mine aloud in the class, my teacher said, ‘You are newspaper writer.’ I never really thought about that before, and I thought about how much I enjoyed just being able to interview and write, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. There was never any other option for me.”
Batson said she figured she’d be an author someday due to her love of writing stories, but once she discovered her love of journalism, there was no going back. Batson was drawn to print journalism as opposed to broadcast journalism for several reasons, she said.
“I tried both broadcast and print in high school — we had our newspaper and broadcast and then a little bit of radio,” she said. “I found that I really liked to tell the story and that you were allowed more freedom in newspaper writing, more time to kind of get all the story and really showcase your writing skills. I wanted to focus on my writing skills and kind of be behind the camera. I know it’s cliché, but I don’t know that I picked print writing as much as it kind of picked me up.”
Batson started college at Lamar in 1999 and began writing for the Beaumont Enterprise the following semester for one of their satellite newspapers in Hardin County when she was 19. She said she owes her career to Rachel Cox, her first editor at the Enterprise, who gave her a chance when she was still in college with no experience.
“I went to my interview with newspaper clippings from high school— I had literally nothing under my belt and she gave me a chance,” Batson said. “She spent four years working with me and helping me develop and kind of learn how to do news reporting and making sure that I understood (Associated Press) style, and just really worked hard to make sure I had all the tools I needed. If it weren’t for her having taken a chance on me, I may never have gotten an opportunity to continue in this business.”
Journalism gives reporters the opportunity to tell a wide array of stories, but they aren’t all happy ones, Batson said.
“The most memorable thing that I’ve covered since working at the Enterprise was the 2012 courthouse shooting,” she said. “I was working on the daily cops reporting web desk. I had the scanner on my desk and we were listening as it started coming in — shots were being fired and it was just a chaotic scene, and we were trying to get reporters dispatched and photographers out to the scene and get reports back on what was happening. That entire day was just chaos.”
Batson said it’s important for people to be involved in whatever they’re passionate about, regardless of gender.
“I was very fortunate that I came up in this business surrounded by women,” she said. “I’ve never felt the fact that I was a woman hindered me from anything. I do think, as women, we have a tendency to kind of put a ceiling on ourselves and try to push ourselves above it because we feel like we have to prove something. I’ve learned that’s not necessarily the case, but it is a little bit of a driving force for all of us.
“We want our media business to be like any other business with all voices and all different representatives, but it’s just important, really, that women do whatever it is they’re passionate about and don’t let up off the gas.”
It’s imperative that Women’s History Month is celebrated, because there are stories that need to be told, Batson said. But those histories should not be condensed into one month.
“We need to be teaching our children constantly, and make sure the younger generations are aware of these things and the struggles of women or whoever in the past, but I also think it needs to be done all 12 months instead of just one here and there,” she said. “I understand the focus, but it’s a conversation that we need to keep having. I look at Women’s History Month like I look at Mother’s Day — I’m going to be a mother the next day, too. I’m still going to be a woman next month, and still going to be in this business. I think it just needs to be a constant conversation, and it’s good to have the time to focus on it, but it is something you shouldn’t just focus on for a month.”
A mother of four, Batson said that it isn’t always easy to balance motherhood and a career in journalism, but it also isn’t impossible.
“I do find that there aren’t as many parents in the media business because anybody that works in media understands that it is very unpredictable and can be a grueling schedule,” Batson said. “There are late nights, there are meetings, there are weekends — it’s very unpredictable and it is extremely hard to balance both family and work.
“I found that a lot of people I know go on to something with a more stable schedule once they have children. I was fortunate when my children were younger that their father was really supportive of my career and I didn’t have to struggle as much to make sure they were taken care of.
“But it was not always easy. I worked nights for a little while doing page design and not getting home until midnight and not seeing my kids. I would take them to school in the morning just to spend 10 minutes with them and this is what we did for two years. It’s not easy to do, but it’s not an excuse. If you want your career and you also want to be a good mother, you’ll find a way to do both — and we did, we found a way.”
Batson said that the most important thing she’s learned in 20 years as a journalist is that there is more than one side to every story.
“Everybody has multi-facets and you can’t just take what you hear about another person or situation at face value,” she said. “Everybody deserves the truth. Everybody deserves to be looked at from two sides. Every situation deserves to be looked at from two sides. Everything deserves to be weighed heavily and considered from every possible angle, and we really just need to make sure that everybody gets a fair chance.”
Batson said that she does not believe print journalism is a dying industry and that there will always be a need for stories to be told.
“The way stories are presented changes, just like it does in any industry with anything,” she said. “When I started in this business, we had dial-up internet and it was something we didn’t get to use often. We actually had to get up and go to the library and look things up and find people in phonebooks.
“Some reporters nowadays have memories of phonebooks, but they always grew up with the internet and aren’t really aware of how dynamic that’s become in this business, how incredible it is to be able to do so much research right there from your desk. There will always be a need for print journalism. There will always be a need for in-depth storytelling. There will always be a need for laying out facts and weighing situations — it’s just a matter of how it’s presented and how we consume it that’s going to change.”
Olivia Malick, UP managing editor