Tag Archives: Journalism & Women Symposium

What if women ruled the news, or at least half of it?

Andrea Stone, Cami McCormick, Nancy Youssef, Anu Bhagwati, me

It takes a bit to wind down from the euphoria that buoyed me since I attended last weekend’s Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS) in Asheville, N.C.

It’s a place where the content was deliberately offered in a context of all women journalists all about advancing themselves, each other and the notion that the profession should leap into equity with fervor. The message is that we can all learn new things, and that talented, smart women journalists can change the world. Or at the very least, a few media outlets, and a hell of a lot of minds.

I mean, enough already of the manly world of journalism. It is 2011.

So it is why once a year it is necessary to spend a few days with other women journalists, writers, innovators, academics and authors who understand what we all face without even saying a word. Even though we say lots of them.

From concrete technolgoical advice to the decades-enduring professional alliances and newfound friendships, I gathered what I needed to recharge, reinvigorate and come back to my work as an assistant professor at the Medill School at Northwestern University revved up.

Here are only a few things I learned:

1. Nancy Youssef, McClatchy’s chief Pentagon correspondence, described her job of storytelling in a war zone as ‘being in a very dark room with a very small flashlight.” She added about her coverage in Iraq and Afghansitan, “The story isn’t about me. At the end of the day, I could leave.”

2. Robin Phillips, web managing editor at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism: “Twitter can figure out the Venn diagram of me.”

3. Megan Cottrell, journalist for the Chicago Reporter: “Information won’t always change people’s minds but if you tell stories that have empathy, you can change the way people think.”

4. Lisen Stromberg, journalist and brand specialist: “Branding is being consistent, being clear to everyone. Communicate your brand across platforms, all moving toward an end game.”

Back in my Medill office, all jazzed to tell my students about Storify, the latest Google tools and how to get internship possibilities with hyperlocal startups, I was interested to read about the Who Needs Newspapers? site. It’s an ambitious and uplifting project that documents the ephipanies and other insights from 50 editors at 50 small to medium sized newspapers in all 50 states. I read the comments voraciously.

And it hit me like a ton of urinal cakes.

Of all 50 editors, four were women– all white. Three men were non-white. One Asian, one Native American and one Hispanic. This is pretty dreadful representation. Despite Jill Abramson’s recent declaration that as a woman she brings no different senisbility to her duties as executive editor of the New York Times– the first ever woman in that post in the paper’s history– I disagree vehemently.

Of course a journalist is a journalist. But we ask different questions. We bring different experiences to our writing. The male and female brains are different for goodness sake.

For confirmation, I checked the April 2011 newsroom census (the latest available) from the American Society of News Editors . Once again it demonstrated the woeful lack of gender and racial diversity in newsrooms in this country. The number of minorities in newsrooms declined only slightly to less than 13 percent of all employes in the 847 news outlets that responded to the survey. In all, more than half, or 441 newspapers had no minorities on staff.

Women in newsrooms make up 36.92 percent of full-time employees. Not much difference over the last decade; it’s actually a return to the same percentages as existed in 1999, when Cher’s “Believe” was the No. 1 hit song and the Backstreet Boys were still boys.

No wonder I love the annual JAWS camp so much.

Which brings me to a game changer I have jumped into with both feet. The OpEd Project, founded in 2008 by Katie Orenstein, has a mission to tip the balance of thought leadership in this country by engaging smart women and men around the country into claiming their expertise and doing something about it, instead of sitting back and letting the same old chorus of mostly male, mostly white voices drown the rest of us out.

I have been involved as a mentor/editor for a few months with OpEd and am helping to assist this weekend in Chicago at Medill’s Chicago newsroom, in a core seminar where more than 30 community leaders, authors, journalists, doctors, nonprofit executive directors, judges, advocates and academics will convene. All have the goal of changing the world with their thought leadership.

Because as The OpEdProject research shows, the byline count and the headcount on talk shows is abysmally weighted against a diversity of voice. In its June-July 2011 byline survey, 18.49 percent of opinion pieces were written by women in the New York Times. That means 81.51 percent were written by men. That same month, 35.67 percent of opinion pieces pubslihed on Slate.com were by women. More than 64 percent were written by men.

Even pundits on tv shows are predominantly men, as pointed out oh so cleverly on Jezebel a few weeks ago.

The OpEdProject is actively addressing this brand of disparity. In Chicago a June core seminar proved so powerful and inspiring, that 20 opinion pieces (including several from me on Huffington Post and in the Chicago Tribune) were published in the past three months by 26 participants.

We are all hoping for more of the same from this weekend’s group. More inspiration, more ways to engage the world with new ideas from new voices.

I wrote in my 2008 book, Everyman News, that diversity of thought shifts content. And I tell my students– including those I urged on the reaction story assignment today– that whom you include as sources matters. You must seek out a diversity of source along lines of gender, age, race, outlook, income, geography and ability in every story. Because it makes the journalism better.

And the people who write those stories must also represent society. We simply must reach parity in newsrooms, in bylines, in opinion pieces.

That feeling I had of being understood, respected and accepted as a colleague among other feisty, ambitious, powerful women journalists last weekend at the JAWS conference in Asheville, N.C.? You see, I want that feeling all the time.

What if women ruled the news, or at least half of it?

It’s a lot to ask. But I am doing my part. Really, no kidding, I am doing my best.

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Guts is not the problem, but training is the solution


I have guts. A lot of guts. Guts is not the issue.

Recently Poynter.org’s Mallory Jean Tenore wrote that Minnesota Public Radio’s Eric Ringham claimed women and all others who felt left out of the public discourse in opinion pages of mainstream media needed to “summon up some guts to dive in.”

Women journalists have more guts than most anybody I know. For the Journalism & Women Symposium annual camp held in Texas last year, the t-shirt read, “Don’t Mess With a Woman Journalist.” We are not generally a timid bunch.

Many, many men and women journalists have been protesting for years about the inequity of gender –and color– refelcted in bylines and guest shots on opinion pages, broadcasts  and Internet sites for years. For YEARS. I did a chapter on it in my 2008 book, Everyman News: “Diversity of Thought Changes Content.”

Every once in a while, a gender-balanced or predominatly female byline count of a opinion or home page will feel fresh and victorious. And then it’s back to the same old same old.

Which is why founder and director of The Op-Ed Project Katie Orenstein is bringing the show to Chicago June 11 for a day-long core seminar with journalist, author and broadcaster Katherine Lanpher as workshop leader.

In bringing the Op/Ed Project to Chicago, partnering with Women of the World and Northwestern University’s Medill School, where I am an assistant journalsim professor, the goal is for thought leaders in the area to feel compelled to show up and spend a day learning how to be seen and heard. Diversify the conversation.

Because it isn’t about guts and it isn’t about surveys, updates and byline counts. It’s about having your voice listened to amid the noise. It’s about making a difference. Being the change. And not just screaming at the wind.

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Oprah, don’t let the liar get you down

 

Oprah, please don’t apologize. Please don’t talk about the liar ever again. You are better than this.

It is beneath you to spend so much time on someone who could not disclose that his complicated story was not a cautionary tale,  but a fairy tale altogether. And fretting over his insincerity causes me a million little anxiety attacks. 

I don’t watch Oprah in the mornings not because I don’t want to watch Oprah  in the mornings. When she airs in my market at 9 a.m. , I am either in the car on the way to work at Northwestern University’s Medill School where I teach journalism students to write the truth, or I am already standing in front of an auditorium full of students, talking about reporting,writing and telling the truth in multimedia platforms.

So I watch at 11 p.m. for many reasons, and not the least is because I am a big fan. A big grateful fan.

So I squirmed through her interview last night with James Frey, the author of the made-up A Million Little Pieces, who purports not to care much for the truth. In his Oprah interview, he sounded all Midwestern English adjunct professorish with his interpretation of reality and his Tropic Of Cancer accolades, talking about how he was really like Picasso who didn’t really look like his distorted self-portrait and that he only agreed to say it was a memoir so he could get an advance from the publisher.

What a bunch of baloney.

In spite of his writerliness, Frey tells a million little lies in the book that apparently caused Oprah her biggest headache in 25 years. And he does not look or sound like a man filled with remorse. 

I have read and heard this morning about how tricky it is to tell and vet the truth in a memoir. Just ask Greg Mortenson about Three Cups of Tea.

But the truth is telling the truth is not hard at all.

My first book, a memoir, came out in 1999. It took me three years to write the painful story of my experience with my husband who was violent.

Having been a journalist for 20 years by that time, I was excruciatingly mindful of the need to perfectly articulate the truth, as a journalist, with the details, the facts and indisputable realities bolstering my story. The publisher had lawyers. I had a lawyer. I had documents for every claim.

And my ex-husband was a litigating attorney. So I had to be sure to get it right.

Every description was accurate, every moment recalled was double-checked with another source. The idea of telling a story that was not truthful would ruin my career as a journalist, professor of journalism and slay my integrity and credibility.

It is not that I  dared not. It never occurred to me to even try.  

I was extremely lucky to be a guest on Oprah’s show in June 2002 discussing that book and my writing book as well. The path to Harpo Studios was lined with dutiful and diligent producers and lawyers. I took tough questions in scores of interviews over the weeks, months and years from 1999 to 2002 to earn the chance to have Oprah ask me questions about my books before an audience of millions. 

I cannot fathom getting to that point on the tails of a big fat lie. But that is me. Some authors and journalists apparently consider misrepresentation a marketing plan.

In my classes I tell my students about the dangers of fabrication and plagiarism, about how each journalist needs to fiercely protect the brand that is his or her own byline. I tell my students to be proud of every word that goes beneath their names and to be able to defend it vigorously. Because your words live forever.

Be genuine in your writing, I tell them, whether telling the story of a fire or telling your own story. 

I also give writing workshops, mostly on memoir, and have one slated for this summer through Northwestern. And I tell those writers eager to publish their stories that they own their own history.

So here is what I know. About writing, as a journalist. As a memoirist: You own your truth. You own the right to tell it, so you do not have to be intimidated by anyone who attempts to thwart your storytelling. Because as I wrote in my second book, writing can save your life.    

But no one can save you if you lie. You don’t have any rights to lie just so you can get a contract.

It is not tricky at all. It is a simple truth. So go ahead. Tell it.

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Arianna Vs. Amy: Two Mothers’ Idealogical Battle

Arianna Huffington

   It was a battle of the Titan Mom and the Tiger Mom in Chicago Thursday night. And I know who won.

   Arianna Huffington, the $315 million woman, spoke eloquently and briefly at the WomenOnCall.org annual gathering in the Crystal Ballroom at the Hyatt Rgency on Wacker to about 500 women. The point was “speed dating for causes,” as Huffington put it, an event connecting volunteers with 76 area nonprofit groups from Working in the Schools to National Able Network.

  The 20-,30, -40- (and in my case) 50-somethings paid $25 to pair up with a nonprofit to volunteer, but mostly to hear from the media titan who recently took her initial 2005 $1 million investment in Huffington Post to Aol.com for a whole bunch more.

   Over the Chicago River and into the Tribune Tower a block away simultaneously –and likely not knowing or caring Arianna was up the street– was Amy Chua, the professor and author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” before a spill-over crowd who paid $10 each to hear the author speak about why she pushed her two daughters to the brink and why she is proud of it.

   It was an evening of stark contrasts in idealogy, parenting and world view. 

   Introduced by Margot Pritzker, the founder of WomenOn Call, Huffington took to the stage looking all the world like a woman of leisure, perfectly coiffed wearing an elegant black dress– and well-prepared.  She was forceful, inspiring and no-nonsense.

    “Life is not truly meaningful if we do not do something for others,”‘ said the author of 13 books. “When you are giving back to people you don’t know, we are expanding the boundaries of our being.” And the world, she added, “desperately needs more empathy. It’s time for everyone to step up to the plate,” she said.

   Of course she talked about HuffPo, calling it “community solutions” and she invited everyone to contact her and submit stories of their causes. “Two-hundred fifty million people around the world can read about things to motivate them and that begins to transform their lives and they recognize the responsibility to others,” she said.

    Huffington talked about Patch.com, the AOL community journalism project in 900 cities with “profesional journalists and freelancers writing about communities.” She added, “We can cover what is happening in non-profits.”

    I met Huffington in 1988 when I was a columnist for the now defunct Dallas Times-Herald. Back then I interviewed her on her tour for her breathtaking book, “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer.” She was smart, inspiring, and if I remember correctly,  pregnant with her daughter. I also wrote about her in 1999 for the Chicago Tribune, on her “Greetings from the Lincoln Bedroom.” I introduced myself to her Thursday night, reminded her of the interviews,  and she politely said, “Yes, yes,” even though I am pretty darn sure she did not remember. My point is, she was gracious.  

    “I’ve had an interesting personal journey,” she said Thursday to the crowd.

    Everyone knew what she meant: a very public divorce, media criticism, all of that. She also spoke candidly of her daughter’s dealing with anorexia and how volunteering for others helped her daughter put her own problems in perspective. As a mother,  I found her comments not exploitative, but authentic.

      A lot has been written about HuffPo not paying its bloggers. I tell my students at Northwestern  University’s Medill School of Journalism to write for money. It’s a karma thing. But the model for blogging is writing for free; if you aim to buy food with your work, then you have to seek outlets where you will be paid. 

      I am writing this on my one of two blogs for free with my goal to promote my ideas, my brand and ultimately my books and speeches for money. Because I have a family with two in college, and a third in college in a year and a half, I write for money more than I write for free. I have a paying job as a professor, I write articles for magazines and newspapers for money. 

      I also give speeches to nonprofits pro-bono each year.  I give back. I have been on boards of directors over the years for many nonprofits: Tuesday’s Child, Sarah’s Inn, Journalism & Women Symposium, and now am on the board of advisors for Between Friends, a domestic violence services agency. I don’t count all the volunteering I do for my boys’ schools and teams, because that is to benefit my sons. It is the stuff you do for strangers that counts.  I was brought up by a mother who said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I heard her.

   “The empathy index needs to grow,” Huffington said. And I agree.      

  While she made no public apologies for the free blogging model at her site, Huffington made a case for giving of yourself to causes you believe in. Because it matters.

   “There is far too much emphasis in our media on what is not working,” she said. “We are focusing on our dysfunctionality and perpetuating it.”

         Which brings me to Amy Chua.

      We came late to Chua’s book event; we nestled in the spill over room and watched on a big screen Elizabeth Taylor of the Tribune interview the controversial Tiger Mom. Like Huffington, she was well-dressed, well-coiffed, well-spoken  and well-prepared. But all I heard was whine, whine, whine, complain, complain, defend, defend. Her daughters, her job, her beliefs, her childhood, her students, her stance on boyfriends and sleepovers. She talked about instilling respect and gratitude in her daughters. But respect for her. Gratitude to her.

    When she complained about all she did was work and take care of her family, I had enough. She expanded on her plight of having  two daughters and a husband who shares in the raising of  both girls. We left before it was over.

    It got me thinking back to Arianna and just an hour earlier. She is a single parent to daughters. She managed to write all these books, think outside the box, create a media empire built on ideas. She purports to be about the fourth instinct, or the drive to add meaning to our lives by giving back.  

    “I’m tired of describing problems,” Huffington said. “We need to break that type of behavior.”

      Final score: Arianna 1, Amy 0.

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“Eat Your Fear” For Your Career

“Eat your fear and go for it,” Maria Hinojosa of CNN and public radio fame advised the crowd at the recent Journalism & Women Symposium conference in Texas.  It’s good advice. And advice was what was on hand in the buffet of career suggestions offered at the panel I moderated, “Portfolio Careers.”

Journalists are no longer able to survive with singular specialties. What is required is affinity for change, a mega-nimble approach to adapting to the marketplace and a willlingness to shape your talents to the needs of media outlets and organizations. All of this was evidenced by the panel of superstars who quilt together professions highlighting different interests and passions.

Roberta Baskin, a broadcast investigative journalist with 75 illustrious prizes to her name, has moved from the post of executive director for the Center for Public Integrity, and is now senior communications advisor at the Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services. Her years in Chicago and Washington, D.C., working for ABC’s “20/20,” CBS’ “48 Hours” and “CBS Evening News,” as well as “NOW with Bill Moyers,” prepared her for a shift in career where her skills as an investigative reporter help uncover fraud, scams and crimes that harm the American public on a grand scale.

 Arnesa Howell advised the audience to manage time efficiently, as she moves from her posts as full-time freelancer, editor and consultant in Washington, D.C. writing for People, Uptown, Heart & Soul, USA Weekend and adjunct speaking gigs at Georgetown University and American.  

Charreah Jackson is doing it all out of New York as a writer, speaker, editor and family life educator. She is associate editor at Heart & Soul and a social media editor at Siren PR, as well as head of her own communications company, Studio Social.     

Linda Kramer Jenning is the Washington, D.C. editor for Glamour and an adjunct at Georgetown in journalism. A former Associated Press reporter, she has worked as an editor for People as well as in stints in broadcast outlets. She juggles editing as well as freelance work.

Gone are the days of journalists spending 25 years in a single media job resulting in a gold watch, gold pen or party with champagne in the newsroom with a single layer cake. You do what you can for outlets who will contract with you for your efforts. And you make it all work because you need to make it all work.

You eat your fear.

When I was a student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in the 1970s, every instructor spoke with great reverence about how we should all aspire to be reporters on the national desk for the New York Times. It seemed a noble goal, but I also looked around and decided that if my class that year had 150 students in it, and every class all four years had 150 or more students each, then 600 students every year were told to get the same job at the New York Times.

Chances are they had been telling students for the last 10, perhaps 20 or 30 years the same thing. So anywhere from 6,000 to 18,000 people were right now trying for the same job. And the one person in that job wasn’t leaving.

I learned before my writing career even began that I would make my own way and craft for myself a challenging and fulfilling career out of writing that satisfied me and met no one else’s idea of success.

Now I teach at that journalism school.  In the last 30 years, I have worked on staff as an editor at three magazines and one major daily newspaper. I have freelanced regularly for dozens of daily newspapers, magazines, websites and written for radio. I have written thousands of articles appearing in hundreds and hundreds of media outlets.

I even branched out to non-traditional writing experiments. About 15 years ago, I wrote health briefs for a new company whose idea was to have health tip annoucnements every morning on voicemail at different subscribing companies. Forward thinking we all thought. But not forward thinking enough. Even laughable right about now.  

I am a journalist, but do not have one journalism job. I teach journalism, have published three books, am revising my fourth and brainstorming on a fifth. I have a bi-monthly magazine column, three websites, two blogs. I have three sons and am right now paying two college tuitions. I just finished paying for the basement reconstruction after a flood.  

 I write for money. I write because I love to write, but also because I love to pay the mortgage.

I give speeches. I give writing workshops.  For clients, I have written brochures, slideshow scripts, photo exhibit captions, annual reports, and for a little bit in the 90s I was the parenting columnist for Kellogg’s monthly newsletter, The Best To You. And I am not ashamed.

  As my friend and colleague Lisa Shepard says, journalism is undergoing a revolution. And the rate of change is volcanic.  

Success looks differently in 2010 and far beyond, than it did even 10 years ago. For sure, very, very differently than it did in 1975. There are new ways to get to work. New ways to share your multimedia journalism skills, new ways to produce content and put food on the table and non-sensible shoes on your feet, money in your account and books for your kids.  Ways to brand yourself. Ways to prove your worth and get out there. Ways for people to seek you out.

There is no one right way. Not everyone gets on the national desk at the NYT.

One thing that was so striking about all the women on that panel is that they appeared fearless. They are striving ahead in many different areas, all by choice. 

As Maria Hinojosa said, it is time to eat your fear. Bon appetit.

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Women Journalists Making Sense Not Noise Across the Border

     

    In an amazing panel moderated by Teresa Puente of Columbia College, Chicago, four young women journalists covering the U.S./Mexico border revealed the dangers, tragedies and critical importance of telling the stories of the chaos at the border. They spoke at the Journalism & Women Symposium in Boerne, Texas last weekend. 

      “How many people need to die so some people at a party can have a gram of cocaine?” asked Judith Torrea, a Spanish-born journalist and blogger. Torrea documents stories out of Juarez, Mexico  about the drug deaths, cartels and daily violence in the violence-torn city for television, magazines and newspapers in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. 

     “We are journalists and we are women and if you have the power, you need to start reporting,” Torrea said.  “Get people to think that if they consume marijuana, how many people have to die for that?”

        Angela Kocherga, Mexico City bureau cheif for Belo Corp., talked about the  urgency of covering “the most violent time in Mexico history.” Access to information in Mexico, where the press is censored, is difficult. “People have to look at Facebook and Twitter to see the crimes. ” She added, “There are not a lot of U.S. journalists doing this coverage.” 

     Monica Ortiz Uribe, a freelance radio reporter said she has a passion to report the underreported stories, particularly the new round of disappearances of young girls from the streets of Juarez. Last week a young woman was taken from a bus and has disappeared, some say as a victim of sex trafficking, and others fear she has been murdered. The stark, desolated city is dangerous because of the safety threats to everyone who lives there, she said.

     “There are daily deaths,” she said.  

      A native of Mexico, Adriana Gomez Lion is a staff reporter at the El Paso Times, where she says her coverage sparks comments from readers that range from congratulatory to incendiary, racist and shocking.  

    All of these women are committing journalism that is crucial to know not just near the border, but around the globe. Whenever anyone harangues about the death of invetsigative, important journalism and the preponderance of dumbed-down, celebrity muck, I will speak of these women journalists who make sense, not noise.

     It was an eye-opener to remind me, and all of us, just what the point is as journalists. Tell the astounding stories the world needs to know. And be courageous enough to do so.

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Fired Up Over Firing

     Early Saturday morning, in the wake of the Juan Williams/ NPR scandal, at the annual Journalism & Women Symposium camp, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard stepped up to the plate and the podium for an unrehearsed discussion of the case.

         “I don’t believe in off the record,” Shepard said. “The mike is never off.” Shepard went on to explain that she is independent of NPR as the ombudsman. “I am not speaking for NPR.”

     Putting the controversy into context, Shepard said, “No one is let go on just one action.” She added, “This is about a relationship between a news analyst and a network. You cannot say something on another venue that you would not say on NPR.”

    Williams was fired from NPR for comments he made on Fox to Bill O’Reilly. Blogs and media are percolating with opinion both measured and absurd about what was done, what should have been done, what was said and what should not have been said.

     I’m with Shepard here, who for the record and to give context,  is a friend.

    “Context is an important element in journalism,” she said Saturday at the impromptu JAWS discussion.

    I agree. And it’s what I try to teach my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. And what I do in all my stories. So let’s not violate that missive oursleves.

   Oh, and for the record? The only people who made me nervous on my flight from San Antonio to Dallas, with a brief lapse before connection to Chicago, were the ones who took too much time retrieving their overhead luggage. I had a few minutes to get from Concourse D to Concourse A, a long way to run and a lot on my mind.

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