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Women in Westminster: In Conversation With Kitty Donaldson

5 min read Partner content

Kitty Donaldson, political editor at Bloomberg News, has been reporting from Westminster for two decades. During that period, she has broken many major stories and played an important role in making Westminster a more welcoming workplace. As part of our Women in Westminster series, we sat down with Donaldson to learn more about life in the Lobby

Some people fall into journalism as a career almost by accident. For others it feels like a vocation – the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition.

Kitty Donaldson falls firmly into the second category. She recalls deciding to be a journalist when she was just 10 years old, the start of a journey that has led to her becoming one of the most respected figures in the Press Lobby.

She explained to PoliticsHome that her childhood interest in news and world events was not always fully shared by her classmates.

“I remember the day the first Iraq war broke out,” she tells us, as she remembers her childhood. “I went into school and was all, ‘Wow, have you seen what's happened?’ And everyone else was like, ‘Do you want to do some skipping?’”

That early curiosity about what was happening in the world is what propelled Donaldson into political journalism. It has also remained at the heart of her wider journalistic approach, always seeking to focus on the issues that matter and explaining them to the public with clarity and insight.

Donaldson believes that explaining complex events to the public is the key role of a political journalist. She never sees herself as part of the story, but instead as a route through which people across the UK can understand the impact of political decision-making on their own lives.

“I don't do opinion, I do analysis,” she explains. “It doesn't matter what I think about any policy. It is always about what the viewer or the reader needs to know. What it means for them and what it means for the country. Why would I try and insert myself into that story?”

However, as well as reporting in order to increase public understanding, as one of the more established figures in the Lobby, Donaldson also recognises that she has a professional responsibility to support her colleagues. She has worked proactively to help shape a Westminster working environment that addresses some of the toxicity that has often been associated with UK politics in recent years.  

It is that commitment to support colleagues that determined Donaldson's focus when she was chair of the Press Lobby in 2022. In that role, she worked with others to establish new processes and structures to try and make Westminster a safer and more welcoming workplace, particularly for those at the outset of their careers.

Donaldson’s priorities and approach were informed by her own early experiences as a young female journalist in the Lobby. She recollects that the environment she entered was overwhelmingly male-dominated and not one that always felt comfortable for women. It was that memory that fed Donaldson’s determination to put practical support in place for others.

“For my generation, sexual harassment was kind of there all the time,” she explains. “Nobody did anything about it. It was just understood as the way things were. When I became Lobby chair, I thought I was sufficiently old and grumpy enough to try and do something to address it.”

In her role as Lobby chair, Donaldson focused not on slogans but on establishing practical support mechanisms that helped address the sense of isolation that younger journalists sometimes feel. For instance, one of the things that Donaldson put in place was a “buddy system” that connected new starters with a more experienced colleague who could provide informal advice and support. This is something that she views as increasingly necessary due to wider changes to the industry that have removed some of the informal mentoring support that journalists from her generation received from more experienced colleagues.

“I learned so much from older colleagues about how to handle myself, the right tone of questions, and what to ask,” she explains. “If you are starting out now, the structure of the industry means that you are often working much more on your own. I think that is much harder.”

Donaldson is clear that whilst more needs to be done, there has been positive progress since she first joined the Lobby in 2003. She is optimistic that change will continue, accelerated by a generation of younger journalists who are increasingly prepared to challenge poor behaviour.

“Maybe it's a generational thing,” she tells PoliticsHome. “Things have changed. I see that in my millennial colleagues. They have completely different expectations of work and on this point, they're completely right. They shouldn't have to put up with this nonsense.”

Despite being open about the challenges that being a woman in Westminster can bring, Donaldson retains a clear affection for Parliament. She has never lost her sense of wonder at the job she does or about the place where she works every day.

“I will never get over working in a Palace,” she tells us. “In the Members’ Lobby, there's a statue of Churchill on the left and of David Lloyd George on the right. You just think, ‘Oh my God, I'm in the place where giants stood’. You can't ever take it for granted.”

Throughout our conversation, it is clear that Donaldson certainly does not take what she does for granted. There is no sense of world-weariness or cynicism about politics. Instead, what comes across is a clear-sighted commitment to connect the public to the decisions and events that impact on their lives.  

Ultimately, Donaldson regards the role she performs as both a privilege and a responsibility. Her advice to any women early in their careers considering political journalism is unambiguous, reflecting her enthusiasm for the career she has chosen.

“Of course, they should do it. It's brilliant,” she says. “When it’s good it is so good. When something big is happening and you are the first on the scene trying to piece it together. Well, there’s no feeling like it.”

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