Tag Archives: gender

On committing journalism on purpose

In the last week I have been duly inspired by two standout women journalists. As I speak before a lecture hall to freshmen journalism students at Northwestern University’s Medill School every week, I am brought back to the intention that inspired many of us to pursue journalism reverently and humbly. It starts with the intention to change a system, portray a life, change a mind, foster a smile or an action. I want to remind the young men– and mostly women– that journalism is a noble profession.

The shame of plagiarists, back-talking CNN anchors and sloppy pundits aside, there are many thousands who take this profession seriously and view our jobs more as a calling than a call to a paycheck. It is the storytelling that matters to us.

Connie Schultz , a columnist at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, reminded me why I became a journalist in 1979 in her essay published on Poynter last week.     

It is an honor to tell the stories of regular people leading heroic lives of struggle and hard work. While it is sometimes wearying to chip away at the daily injustices of American life, it is ultimately rewarding work, if for no other reason than it fuels the person I want to be when I wake up in the morning. I don’t want to give up the fight. I want to be the woman who still jumps out of bed ready to take another swing at life.

    Another journalist I emulate is Laurie Hertzel, whose new book, “News To Me” is just out from University of Minnsota Press. In her book she writes about her own career as a small town reporter able to tell stories exceptionally well.  

For my last book, Everyman News, I interviewed Laurie, then working on narrative projects for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2004. Now the books editor, Laurie said, “When you attach news stories to human beings, then it becomes more real.”

It’s ethics week this quarter in my Reporting & Writing Class and I have a robust lecture planned with two days of vigorous reporting and writing assignments designed to spark debate and thoughtfulness on the practice of being an ethical journalist. I sometimes cringe that I only spend a week on ethics. Hopefully this is the beginning of a dialogue that lasts each student’s four-year career here.

But it’s an opportunity to affect young journalists and to point out examples of those who continue to tell stories well because the compulsion is to inspire change that will affect lives. And to do it as well as humanly possible. Strive for excellence. And if real change is not possible through the journalism committed, then real stories will at least give a reader or viewer pause.

Schultz said it best:

“This is why I got into journalism. This is why I stay.”   

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2010 and still not half the media world yet

A few weeks ago the American Society of Newspaper Editors Diversity Report came out with the latest depressing numbers. It’s worse now for women in newsrooms than it was last year. Thirty-seven percent of all newsroom employees were female in 2009, compared to 37.4 percent the year before. OK, not so much.

Except that I wrote about this in 2004 for womensenews  when the percentage of women in newswrooms was 37.23 percent. One step forward, a few steps back. Or maybe we are just running in place.  My lead then was:

 “Ambition defies the boundaries of gender. Opportunity is less democratic.”

I guess that could be my mantra.

There are the same percentage of women supervisors in newsrooms now as  in 2005– 34.8 percent, after a brief trend of minor increases. There are fewer women reporters, or 38.7 percent of  staff, compared to 39.1 percent in 2008. A woeful percentage of women are photographers, artists, videographers, or 26.9 percent, down from 27.1 percent in 2008.

 Recently businessinsider.com posted a story on the 12 most powerful women in new media, boasting that Tina Brown, Arianna Huffington and my old friend, Melinda Hennebeger, were part of a force of digital nature.   

Check out this breathless lede:

Media is not just a crotchety old man’s world. Women are making a huge impact, too.

As the media industry evolves, they are leading powerful companies, launching new ventures and redefining the future of journalism. And their success stories serve as models for those hoping to make a mark in this multi-faceted, risky business.

Isn’t it a little late in the 21st century to think it’s news that media is not just for men? I mean, how old is Brenda Starr? Seems condescending and a little ridiculous to keep saying it is not a man’s world. And a lot old.

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From Dollies to PMS and More of the Same

Not even two weeks after International Women’s Day, when the website for the March 8 event urged women to click and tell their stories, I am left wondering why we don’t understand that half the world needs more than a day in our honor. And why then,  if by default, the other 364 days are automatically International Men’s Days.  And what in the world we are still doing with mostly gender-avoidant media.

The media coverage of the day about the day seemed gratuitious, especially since most of the online and broadcast stories were splashed with Sandra Bullock’s Oscar win that night.       As we all know now, that wasn’t even the real story. Never mind.

In the superbly reported and written Newsweek  story this week,  “Sexism at Work: Young Women, Newsweek and Gender,” the “dollies”  write:

“Female bylines at major magazines are still outnumbered by seven to one; women are just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than a quarter of law partners and politicians. That imbalance even applies to the Web, where the founder of a popular copywriting Web site, Men With Pens, revealed late last year that ‘he’ was actually a she. ‘I assumed if I chose a male name [I’d] be viewed as somebody who runs a company, not a mom sitting at home with a child hanging off her leg,’ the woman says. It worked: her business doubled once she joined the boys’ club.”

All of this points to what my finely feminist writer friends label the “pale, male, stale” (or what I call PMS) status quo.  And then CNN attacked Politico for doing more of the same:.

Politico’s John F. Harris is on the defensive over the diversity of his staff after CNN’s Reliable Sources showed an editorial meeting that featured an all-white crowd and few women.

The publication’s editor-in-chief told Journal-isms columnist Richard Prince that the camera shots didn’t reflect the diversity of Politico’s staff, especially when it came to the number of women who work at the organization. Harris, however, refused to discuss actual numbers with Prince, saying “our corporate policies don’t allow me to release numerical data.”

The Reliable Sources segment was designed to show Politico’s preparation for covering the vote over the health care bill.

Blogging about the PMS for editorsweblog.org, Alexandra Jaffe wrote:

“(The editorial meeting) was pathetic.  All white folks at the table deciding the stories to cover.  Not one African American or any other minority,” says a journalist in an e-mail to the National Association of Black Journalists e-mail list.
Another laments: “How can they consider themselves ‘new media’ when they look just like the old media?”

The lack of diversity at this meeting was striking because of the visual uniformity of the scene, but it reflects a developing trend in the newsroom.  Although minorities compose over 33 percent of the population in the U.S., in 2008, as reported by the American Society of News Editors in their annual census, only 13.4 percent of journalists were people of color.  

Women fare only marginally better, with seven male bylines printed at major magazines for every one female byline.  Newsweek, which has a 39 percent female editorial board, reports that the four most common jobs for women today are stereotypically “pink-collar” jobs, with 43 percent of women working as secretaries, nurses, teachers and cashiers.  Of Newsweek‘s 49 cover stories last year, men wrote all but six.  And only two women currently work as editors of top circulation dailies in the U.S.

I teach my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University about the necessity of inclusiveness, about diversity of thought and how it shifts content and how every source for every story must be considered for race, age, gender, ideaology, geography, disability, education, income and orientation. You can’t get a broad diversity of sources on all stories, but you have to try. Why? Because it improves the journalism. Stories cease to be flat and become fully dimensional.

And then I came home to see my son, Brendan’s, new issue of Men’s Health. On the cover? “Cars! Beers! Breasts! And 9 Other Things Worth Living and Dying For.”

What more can I say.

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