IWD: As a mother and woman in the media, my main challenge is achieving that balance between work and family — Linden Correspondent Utamu Belle

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By Lakhram Bhagirat

Working in the media is chaotic to put it lightly. The thing about the media is that it thrives on the uncertainty in our society. The unpredictability of human behaviour and nature mainly contribute to the chaotic nature of the work of a journalist.

Today you can have a light day with very little happening and that can change in the split of a second.
Just last year, the unpredictability of human behaviour caused us to see an elections process, which is usually no longer than 2 weeks, being dragged out for five months. That meant that for five months, media workers were caught up in the whirlwind trying to get the relevant information out to their subscribers.

However, the feeling of keeping a nation accurately informed is also one that compensates for the hard work that journalists do. It is what has been driving Guyana Times’ Linden Correspondent Utamu Belle for over a decade now.

Belle, a native of the mining town, has been employed with Guyana Times as a correspondent since July of 2012 and she has primary responsibility for covering all events happening in and around Administrative Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice).

She is her own boss most of the time and works away from the main newsroom which means that she has to be the go-getter.

Apart from being an excellent journalist, Belle is also a mother and for her, one of her major challenges is managing the unpredictability of media work and caring for her family.

“Working as a correspondent is quite different from working in the actual newsroom. For one, you have to be quite self-disciplined because you’re basically working on your own time and you have to try to be self-organised. For me, it’s juggling between my kids and work and really trying to achieve balance. Being a journalist, sometimes you have to put in the extra effort because stories happen at any time. Working away from the office environment means you have to be self-motivated,” she said.

Belle was not initially interested in a media career and had her sights set on a medical profession. However, fate would have it that she would grow to dislike the sciences and love English. She was an expert short story writer as a student and her teachers would use her pieces as guidance for teaching her classmates.

They also encouraged her to think about a career in writing and it was from there that the idea of becoming a journalist was birthed.

“It was then that I made an informed decision that I wanted to be a journalist – so I can tell others’ stories while doing what love. I felt it would be a win-win situation.”

She started out in the media 11 years ago working in television production. Sometime after she was encouraged to apply to freelance with Guyana Times and wanting to be well rounded, she did. She has worked from freelancing to being a full-time staff with the publication.

The journey, though, has not been a smooth one. Sometimes the fact that she works away from the office setting and is responsible for a vast geographical location makes it even more challenging.

“As with any profession, there are challenges, but I’ve never allowed challenges to interfere with my grind. Writing for print media is different from television, so I’m happy to have gained that new experience…Linden is what many might consider ‘a small town’. That being said, there are certain advantages while there are disadvantages in working in such an environment. But as a reporter/journalist you have to get your stories out regardless,” she noted.

As a correspondent, you’re a reporter and camera person in one so you find that when you’re out in the fields you have to switch between roles in an effort to capture the story to send to your editors. There are also certain challenges that many people in the media face that we hardly get to hear or talk about.

For example, how covering traumatic events for example can have effects on your mental health.

When asked about what is it like being a woman in the media, Belle had this to say “This might sound cliche, but it’s challenging. I think being a woman in any profession has its fair share of challenges. However, I believe that as women we are so resilient that we rise above so many challenges and are always setting the bar higher. When I first got into the media, my daughter who is now 11 years old was just a baby at the time. I remember working late nights and barely making it home before she retired to bed. My son was in primary school at the time. I understand too that it comes with the territory.

Working in the media sometimes means working late nights, or beyond the call of duty, multitasking and the like. Over the years I would’ve learned so much so I’d like to think that I’m much better at managing my time and lifestyle now than I was back then.”

Belle, over the years, has written thousands of stories that have impacted the lives of people and for her, that brings her the greatest satisfaction. The simple things, she said, are really what matters to her.

“I have quite a few (memorable pieces) but I think the most memorable one I can think of recently was the story I would’ve written about the Linden family who were stuck in Cuba following their baby’s successful heart surgery. I would’ve kept in contact with the family throughout their journey and it was quite heartwarming when they contacted me upon their return to Guyana to say ‘thank you’. The family had informed me that my articles had assisted them in getting the relevant assistance they needed. It’s really the little things. To know that you’re able to assist in making a difference in people’s lives.”

Coming from a long line of businesspeople, Belle is also hoping she can make her foray into the world of business in the near future.

“As a correspondent, you have an important and unique role to play as a point person for the region. As media workers in general, we should always strive to uphold journalistic ethics and stand by the established principles,” she advised.