Woman Bates, Nancy (1948 - )

3 March 1948
Katikati, New Zealand

Written by Erin Godwin, Queensland University of Technology

Nancy Bates, born in the New Zealand town of Katikati, on March 3, 1948, was New Zealand's first female daily newspaper editor and Australia's second. She is also Australia's longest serving regional editor, leading the Fraser Coast Chronicle for almost 21 years. Nancy's father worked mainly in the timber and forestry industry, but she had newspapers in the blood, with a mother who worked as a correspondent for New Zealand newspapers, then owned her own community newspaper. Nancy's cousin forged a literary career and one of her forebears was a respected newspaper owner in Warrnambool. 'I lean to the theory that some gifts and talents - writing, sports, craft - are guided by genes', Nancy said (pers. comm. 2012).

Nancy was educated at the Katikati College, but she credits her mother for enforcing high English standards. 'I thought about teaching but was not enthusiastic. A newspaper career was not really in my sights - it was not a particularly glamorous career in the 1960s', she said (pers. comm. 2012). Her mother opened the door to her daughter's print career, putting in an application for a cadetship at the Bay of Plenty Times in Tauranga, New Zealand, for a 16-year-old Nancy. 'Before I knew it I was a cadet on a daily newspaper', she said (pers comm. 2012). Nancy stayed at this publication for three years, then the Rotorua Post for another three, before crossing the Tasman to work in Australia in 1970. She joined the Maryborough Chronicle (later the Fraser Coast Chronicle) as a general reporter, progressing through the chain of working as chief sub-editor and chief-of-staff to become editor of the publication in 1988. She was just 40, and the mother of young children. She propelled it to the highest circulation growth of a daily newspaper in Australia during a period in which circulations were generally declining.

On becoming an editor, Nancy says she found it difficult to adjust to the changed perception of people on staff who were friends and peers. 'I did not realise the new weight that would be given to my words, both written and spoken. I had always been fairly outspoken so I had to consider my words more carefully. Apart from that my children probably did not see as much of me as they should have at times and on occasions they were penalised or teased because I ran a newspaper recognised as playing a challenging role' (pers. comm. 2012).

During her term as editor the paper accumulated a number of PANPA awards, including three in her last year. She is also the holder of a Telstra Queensland Businesswoman of the Year award, but says she was 'especially pleased' when awarded a United Nations Media Peace Award for a project incorporating the language and history of the traditional owners of the Fraser Coast, the Butchulla people, into the Chronicle. 'A poignant moment was when one of the Butchulla elders said "Thank you for making us exist"', Nancy said (Meade).

She cannot recall her gender being an impediment in the progression of her career. 'Early in my reporting days in Australia I was amused by a grazier who came in with a story involving politics and agriculture. When I came out to interview him he wanted to talk to a "real reporter" not a girl', she said. But when it came to colleagues or superiors she doesn't feel her sex counted against her when she became editor. 'You might occasionally lose something on the blokey scene but you pick it up because you wear high heels. When I think back, it probably balanced out a little on the favourable side but I did tend to move into the male domain' (pers. comm. 2012).

On her leadership style, she said she found she had to treat men and women differently because their reactions differed. 'I tried to encourage an open forum in the newsroom and valued opinions of everyone', she said.'I took criticism on board. I also learned the little things mattered most' (pers. comm. 2012). As a woman editor however, she attests she faced down stereotypes when it came to her decision making. 'I found I was judged much more decisively than a male would have been in the same role'. She said she had to 'be mentally nimble to counter the ready perceptions - on staff and with readers - that when I was tough I was hard-hearted and when I was caring I was weak. I know men were not judged as harshly for parallel actions' (pers. comm. 2012). She also had to face sexual slurs which she believes would not have been directed at male editors (Meade).

While Nancy acknowledges any working mother has issues balancing home life with that her career, she points out that journalism is a fairly erratic industry in terms of hours and that can clash with the constraints of raising children. 'When Diana dies on a weekend the lives of journalists everywhere are disrupted. I was fortunate because my husband Tony had been involved in the newspaper before he began working from home so he understood the demands and was able to create stability on the home front' (pers. comm. 2012). 'I was fortunate because circumstances put me in a prime spot for the editor's job at a time when companies were becoming aware of the lack of females in that role. I found it curious, however, that in the years that followed we had many women appointed as editors but they rarely stayed for long' (pers. comm. 2012).

Bates does not identify as a feminist, and in fact is 'dismayed by the overall performance of women today. They command the voting power in Australia but they have used it badly. I feel the poor quality of politicians we have today is directly related to the women's vote and their rejection of "boring" in-depth political analysis in favour of the salacious celebrity cult. Women, not men, salivate over celebrities and I feel they have transferred this stupidity to their political evaluations' (pers. comm. 2012). Nancy attacks the 'no-holds-barred journalism' as putting the private lives of politicians under the same intense media scrutiny as celebrities. 'Many potential great leaders are turning their backs on politics because it has become so tawdry and I believe women voters are to blame. Their expectations are unreasonable and shallow' (pers. comm. 2012). She was also critical of attempts to 'feminise' the workplace which she argued should remain 'the modern equivalent of the hunting ground where the strong and ruthless shine' (Grewal).

Of the years she spent in the industry, Nancy found watching the beginning of the online revolution roll out was particularly noteworthy. 'It was interesting to live through a period of rapid change and have to adjust to changing needs and interests of people', she said. 'The move to on-line news is fascinating' (pers. comm. 2012). Nancy retired from journalism on 2 July 2009 after 40 years with the Fraser Coast Chronicle, 21 as editor.

Archival Resources

Private Collection

  • Personal Interview with Nancy Bates [Erin Godwin], 19 June 2012; Private Collection. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also