Board member blog post: Age diversity in JAWS membership

AngelaGreilingKeaneBy Angela Greiling Keane, JAWS Board Member

There are many things to love about JAWS, but one of my favorites is the age diversity of our members. When I first joined JAWS in 2003, that wasn’t the case. But the members at the time— the core of whom had founded the group as soulmates in solidarity in the 1980s— realized that JAWS wouldn’t be sustainable into the future if they didn’t replenish their ranks. So they set out to do just that.

I was recruited to JAWS by the indomitable Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, who at the time worked down the hall from me. I don’t remember her exact words, but whatever they were, when she invited me to a reception for JAWS that was being held in conjunction with an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Washington, I don’t recall there being a choice of whether I would attend.

When I joined JAWS, I was in my 20s. At my first few gatherings, I remember feeling awfully young compared with most attendees.

Fast forward a few years and discount the fact that I have gotten older. The intergenerational moment that brings me amusement came a couple years ago at CAMP. On the first night, the wonderful Kathy Bonk — a woman old enough to be my mother if she’d been a very young mother — invited me to sit at her table for dinner.


I was thrilled to join Linda Deutsch and other JAWS veterans and have some time to talk with them about JAWS and their interesting careers. Someone made a comment about how young I was in comparison.

The next night — when I was all of one day older — I found myself at a dinner table next to one of that year’s fellows who was an upperclass(wo)man at her college, my alma mater. We talked about the school and she asked me when I graduated, seeing if we’d overlapped. I told her it was a long time ago and she asked what year. I told her the year and, with not a hint of irony, her eyes got big and she said “Wow, that WAS a long time ago!” I smiled, thinking back to how young I was the night before.

What that CAMP’s experience illustrates to me is how far JAWS has come in increasing its age range. We have many senior members, and will hopefully have for a long time. They’re our founders, our institutional memory, our mentors and our friends. We also have an increasing number of Millennials among our ranks. They’re our teachers of new skills, bearers of new ideas and our students who are eager to learn from the experiences of people who have gone before them.

They want to hear about why today, when women can aspire to whatever job they want, we still need to be vigilant about getting more women into newsrooms and as sources in our stories. They want to hear about work-life balance and whether women can have it all.

Speaking from experience and observation, I know it can be hard to bridge the age gap at JAWS events. It’s not always easy to strike up a conversation with someone a generation or two removed from you, regardless of whether you’re the older or the younger person. But it’s worth making that effort to break out of your comfort zone and get to know JAWdesses from across the age spectrum. In other organizations, too often we learn about peoples’ interesting stories and careers only in their obituaries once they die, and it’s my fervent hope that in JAWS, we carry on the tradition of learning these things and hearing these stories now.