BY DENISE SOBH
As a young child Grosse Ile resident Kristen Jordan Shamus, discovered that she loved stories — both writing them and reading them.
Once she discovered that you could get paid for writing stories, her career path was pretty well set.
“The idea of getting paid to be a storyteller seemed like something that was too good to be true,” Shamus said. “Journalism is about storytelling, but it’s also about writing tomorrow’s history today. It’s about standing up for the truth, and being a voice for those who too often in society are voiceless.”
Shamus, a Syracuse University graduate who worked for Heritage Newspapers and the Oakland Press early in her career, has been with the Detroit Free Press since 2003. During that time she has handled a variety of roles, including assistant metro editor, copy editor, reporter and columnist. She was the features editor, running that department for a few years, too, before coming back after the birth of her third child as a reporter/columnist.
“I love the work I do because every day is a new adventure,” she said. “I’m constantly learning, meeting new and different people and being invited to see the world from their point of view. It’s a gift.“
Just as Facebook and Twitter were gaining momentum, she launched a social media website for the Detroit Free Press, called MotorCityMoms.com, for local mothers.
Nowadays Shamus covers women’s issues, including topics such as the gender gap in journalism. It wasn’t so much a matter of her deciding to cover women’s issues as it was the company recognizing an important segment of its readership, women ages 25-55, were hungry for news and stories that touched their lives.
Shamus’s focus became writing about what matters most to them, whether it’s highlighting a successful woman in business, a story about women and children’s health or domestic violence. Since Shamus is a woman in that key demographic area, those topics interest her as well.
Shamus believes that, “the gender wage gap exists in all professions, including journalism. It pains me to realize that I will not live to see the day when a woman will make as much money as a man in Michigan, and that my daughters might not, either.”
She noted that, in 2016, Michigan women made about 78 cents for every dollar a man earned — even worse than the national average — for full-time, year-round work.
“Part of the problem, of course, isn’t just flat-out wage discrimination,” she said. “It’s the loss over time that women see in their earnings because of choices they make (or have no choice but to make) regarding work. It’s complex.”
Shamus outlined some of the numerous issues at play: Women tend to choose careers in lower-paying fields, such as education and social work, and are less likely to pick higher-paid fields such as science, technology, mathematics and engineering. Women hold nearly two-thirds of the minimum-wage jobs in America.
“A solution could be greater transparency in wages,” she said. “Women are more often to drop out of the workforce than men to care for a child or a parent, reducing their lifetime earnings. They are also more likely to avoid the management track if they see a future of long, inflexible hours that would take them away from the needs of the family.
“A potential solution would be to show girls and young women from an early age which careers are likely to bring them higher lifetime earnings so they can make informed decisions going into college.
“Lastly, women are less likely than men to negotiate for higher wages and better benefit packages,” she said. “A solution could be that employers could create policies that support families, such as higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave and offer employees low cost, high-quality child care options. The high cost of child care is a big obstacle for a lot of women.”
Some of the best stories that Shamus has covered include those that give voice to people who aren’t heard in our society.
“I spent about six weeks driving back and forth to Flint at the height of the water crisis, and I think I might be most proud of the stories that came from that time, and especially this one, which spoke to the racial and environmental injustice involved,” said Shamus.
“The worst stories are always the tragedies, where people die and you feel powerless to help them. Though I was an editor at the Oakland Press when 9/11 happened, and I didn’t write the stories for the paper that day, I was very much part of the coverage.
“It was a hard day for us all. I was watching the “Today Show” when the first plane crashed. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric were talking about the accidental plane crash with cameras trained on the towers when the second one hit. That’s when I knew it wasn’t an accident, and hurried to the office. We put out a special afternoon edition that day, and followed the next day with a paper full of news about the tragedy.”
In her free time, Shamus spends time with her family: husband Greg Shamus, a professional photographer; and daughters Julia, 12, a seventh-grader at Grosse Ile Middle School; and Sarah, 9, a fourth-grader at Meridian Elementary; and son Sam, 6, a first-grader at Parke Lane.
In addition, she loves traveling, gardening, doing genealogy research and sewing in her spare time, of which there isn’t much. She also loves being outdoors walking with her mom, Diane Jordan.