Tag Archives: journalist

Tipping the balance for equity in OpEds

Katherine Lanpher at the Chicago Core Seminar

More than a week after a double session of the Chicago Core Seminar of the OpEd Project held at the Medill Chicago newsroom (part of the Medill School at Northwestern University where I am an assistant professor of journalism), I am still buzzing. I am electrified by the energy and ideas of the nearly 40 participants, their expertise and their intentions to change the world with specific knowledge and insight to share across platforms with the public.

Non-profit ceo’s, academics, researchers, lawyers, a doctor, a judge, social media experts, publishers, teachers, executives and even a member of the Secret Service, spent six hours focused on how best to articulate a balanced argument that will produce an intended outcome.
It almost sounds like the beginnig of a good joke” “A doctor, lawyer, teacher, Secret Service agent and a social media expert walk ito a bar…”

With seminar co-leaders Zeba Khan, Katherine Lanpher and Deborah Siegel, all in from New York for the session, we delivered a day of instruction, feedback, interaction and at time hilarious encouragement. We discussed and debated the upside of being outspoken and deliberate with specific knowledge.

“If you write something of consequence, there will be consequences,” Lanpher warned. “The alternative is to be inconsequential.”

Gina Marotta, managing director of StepUp Women’s Network in Chicago, rallied several members to particpate in the session, while representatives from Northwestern and DePaul University, all were vocal and engaged. We are anticipating their published viewpoints.

The more people moving successfully through the core seminars and sessions of The OpEdProject, the closer we get to tipping the balance toward gender equity or at least diversity of viewpoints in mainstream media opinion pages. The latest byline count from the OpEd project shows small gains at the traditional sites such as NYT and Washington Post, with an increase from non-staffer women but on “pink topics.”

More work to do. More seminars to offer. More voices to hear. More new knowledge to share.We can try again, same place, January 15. The OpEdProject is back in Chicago to continue to make a difference.

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Moms, don’t blame your kids for your own shortcomings

My sons did not make me a liar.

The dog ate my homework. My kids made me lie in my newspaper review. Both are wrong.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist and reporter Paige Wiser apparently was none the, when she submitted a fabricated review of a “Glee Live” concert last week and was fired for it.

Not that she was covering the war in Afghanistan or anything, but she lied in her column. In a newspaper. She lied. We cover that in the first course at Medill, “Reporting & Writing.”

She blamed her kids. When all she can really do is blame herself. She should have gotten fired. Sorry to be harsh. But this is why. It slashes the credibility of working mothers everywhere, and not just working mother journalists.

I know it sounds odd coming from a single working mother of three who is sole support. I realize I should nod my head and say I understand, send her a reassuring comment on her Twitter account. But I believe excusing her unethical behavior because she is a working mother is like excusing Anthony Weiner for exposing himself to young women online because his pregnant wife travels a lot. No, the two are not the same. They just give me the same reaction: incensed.

You cannot blame someone else for your behavior.

While a lot of women journalists, pundits and bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon to say the real problem is it is hard for working mothers to juggle everything, I cannot disagree more with that as an excuse.

Yes, it is hard to juggle it all as a working mother. Working single fathers too. But millions of us don’t take the shortcuts, do what we know is wrong professionally and ethically. Don’t lump us all together and say women cannot perform at peak because we have given birth. Or adopted. Or stepped in as a step. Or take care of an elderly parent.

Yes, it is hard to juggle it all, just as it is for men who do the same thing as single parents, like my brother Paul, a widower raising three kids and running a manufacturing company, attending every volleyball game, concert, meeting and even serving as Team Mom. Or my brother, Bill, raising five children as a widower.

When we start to trade in our kids as an excuse, we undermine all women who have been trying like hell for the last 100 years to reach parity in the workplace. To me it feels as gruesome and impossibly unlikely as saying you can’t expect a woman to attend a meeting because she may have PMS. I am offended.

Yes, I empathize. In 15 years of paying for childcare for three kids in five years without a husband in the house, I broke out in hives, panicking to the core if the phone rang at 6 a.m. Because if a sitter cancelled, I had to completely rearrange my life, get three boys to separate schools, or drop off a toddler at a friend’s so I could make it to my class at Northwestern University. Where I could not act as if any of my homelife was a problem. Continue the lecture. Teach the three-hour undergrad or seven-hour grad class.

Once I had to bring Colin and Brendan to the lecture hall with me, where they ran in and out, banging on the locked doors to get back in. It was not pretty. I have had to write newspaper and magazine columns at 3 a.m. because that was all the time I had. I have met book deadlines without any sleep because I would not tell an editor that the laundry and the wrestling tournaments took up too much of my time. I have given speeches with a few hours of sleep. But I would just do it.

I am free of that worry now. Weldon, Brendan and Colin are 22,20 and 17. They drive. They are mostly independent. My oldest graduated from college last month. I have not had to pay for childcare– except for someone to stay overnight when I travel for work and the older two are away at school– in five years.

Raising these three sons alone and working since they were 6, 4 and 1 makes me a lot of things, but it does not make me a liar. It does not make me fabricate, plagiarize or say I saw something I did not. It doesn’t make me type something I don’t know for sure and pretend something that is not true is true.

I am not saying I am a perfect parent. Or beyond reproach professionally. I have probably trimmed a lot off my performance as a mother, professor and journalist just because it is hard to excel in all arenas all the time. But I have not compromised my code of ethics.

I am in the same business as Ms. Wiser. I am a journalist. I am an author. And I teach and model for the next generation of journalists how to behave professionally. I show young women that yes, you can do it all. You don’t have to pick truth over lies. You can be successful, even with pictures of your kids all over your office.

There was another way out. This is what I would have advised Ms. Wiser: Call your editor. Say your kid is sick and you had to leave. Stuff happens. I understand completely; I am still traumatized by the memory of the itchy six weeks of chicken pox in our house the winter of 1996. And the flu the boys passed around that kept me sleepless for three days.

When something happens as it did with the Glee concert, you are transparent. After calling your editor, you are apologetic. You suggest to your editor that you find who tweeted about the end of the concert. You contact the blogger. You quote the person. You write about how you had to leave, you write your opinion based on the 75 percent of the concert you saw, and you fill in with the attributed info. And you end with the line: “Note to self: Never again.”

You keep your integrity. You keep your job. And you keep all the other working mothers in the world from rolling their eyes and muttering under our breaths that you just gave our bosses a reason to mistrust our integrity, while we silently pray that the babysitter won’t cancel so we can go to work the next day.

Having kids doesn’t give you a handicap. It makes everything a little more complicated. Not impossible. And it sure doesn’t give you a free card to do the wrong thing.


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Hollywood’s Saintly Moms and Demon Dads

As I watched the Oscars Sunday, I thought aloud that the most unofficial nominations and kudos of the evening went to moms. There was mother praise all around, from the Mominations video pre-awards (when all I wanted to do was see pretty and not pretty dresses) to the campy bit with Ann Hathaway’s mother and James Franco’s grandma.  

  It seemed everyone acknowledged his or her mom. And that was good. Refreshing. The guy with the crazy hair and the short documentary. Then Natalie Portman thanked her mother and said she was grateful for her upcoming biggest role ever– motherhood– and she looked so dewy and pretty I was near tears.

As a mother of three who has not had acknowledgment in a public acceptance speech– to date– I was feeling pretty satsified with all the warm, fuzzy, sincere applause for the jobs mothers do.  One good mother praising leads to another. I was getting ready for a possible close-up. Someday. Or maybe just a call from college from one or both of the older two not asking for something I can do for them. Sure, they say thanks. They do text “Love u.” So maybe I am being a little demanding.  

And along came Charlie.

Does anybody not know who this is?

 I have to say I couldn’t help myself but watch the train wreck Tuesday night in what was possibly The Most Restraint Ever Practiced by A Journalist in an Interview on ABC  by Andrea Canning.  As the porn star and the model goddess snuggled up his twin toddlers in Broll, Sheen chain smoked and drank Orange Crush (right) and made one narcissistic outrageous statement after another. So much so that I prayed, really prayed that in the middle of it all, children and family services would pound down the door and take the kids away.

Lo and behold they pretty much did.  Phew.

Which brings me to the Hollywood mothers who have been scorned for outrageous acts and occasional rebellions, like Octomom, whose crime of having too many kids is really a lack of sense and self. The mother of all bad or mad mommies was Joan Crawford, whose Portrayal by Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest” still occasionally flashes before my eyes, especially when I clean out a closet.  There have been some bad Hollywood Moms, in between, OK Brittany,  but mostly not so many really, really take the kids away in the middle of the night for their own sake moms .

Because here is the thing. It is new to call mothers who work saints. The Working Mom Vs. Stay-at-Home Mom battle has been ongoing since before I had my first son in 1988. Moms did not have to chain smoke, do crack, drink for three days or wreck a hotel room to be called a monster. All she had to do was get up and go to the office. She was selfish, she was about all about herself. She worked.

I have never heard someone call a father selfish because he has a job. You gotta be pretty awful to get labelled a Demon Dad.

As a mother raising three sons, I know how hard it is to be a parent. I know it is harder than it looks, even on “Parenthood” or “Modern Family.” And I think it is great that mothers are getting their due (I was trying to be funny, anyway.) Thank the moms in the speeches. Blow her a kiss in the crowd. Send her a thank-you note.

And for the Saintly Dads out there, sharing in the childcare duties, papying their child support and driving to practices, paying for college?  You deserve your own round of applause. And I won’t blame you at all for believing Charlie Sheen gives cool, goo dads a bad name. Just please do not follow him on Twitter.

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Barbie Is No Journalist

Times like these I am relieved I have sons.

Barbie, specifically the I Can Be.. Barbie, has a new gig. News anchor. Dressed like Paris Hilton on her way to jail, this blonde beauty has it all wrong. Described as “wearing a posh pink suit with black accents and carrying a B news folder, camera and microphone, this savvy journalist reports up-to-the-minute news in signature Barbie style. The inspiring set also comes with a special code that unlocks career-themed content online, for even more digital play!”

Of course, the copy continues, this fashion doll has “a flair for journalism– and power pink!”

Dressed this way, Barbie would no more be the first one with the scoop than Elizabeth Hasselbeck would be the first one picked to interview a visiting dignitary over Barbara Walters.

But I guess a little girl can dream.  

This is where I get sick.

OK, so I grew up wanting to be Brenda Starr or Lois Lane. While everyone I knew wanted to be a ballerina or a fireman, I wanted to ask questions. And write stories like Brenda or Lois. But those idols looked like Golda Meir compared to the tart news anchor coming out in time for the holidays for just $12.99.

Never mind I have taught more than 1,000 woman in 14 years to be journalists at the Medill School of Journalism  and have emphasized and tried to role model for them what it means to be professional. I have had the dressing for an interview chat with students, most all of whom understand what not to wear to ask questions of strangers and cover a news conference. Occasionally, I have had the “have your shirt meet your pants” conversation for those students who like to bare a midriff in class. Never have I ever suggested they turn out for a story in a sparkly camisole, skin tight skirt, high heels and a jacket.

I have never told anyone or been advised that pink is a power color. What I tell students is you want to be remembered for your journalism, nothing else.

I guess as a journalist and journalism professor I can take solace in the notion that this News Anchor Barbie was the “first Barbie profession chosen by a global vote.” When you scroll through the other options– computer engineer, rock star, pizza chef (pizza chef?), dentist, kid doctor (can’t you call it a pediatrician?), race car driver (because there are so many of those), newborn baby doctor (again, what’s up with the pediatrician?), ballroom dancer (tell Bristol Palin it’s a real career), bride or babysitter– I guess News Anchor Barbie is a noble choice.    

My sons are now 21, 19 and 16 and heading toward real careers. Weldon will graduate in May from college with a double major and is headed to graduate school in Spain in translation. Brendan is majoring in business. Colin may go into sales. He’s still in high school.

When my youngest, Colin, was about 5, he said he wanted to be a jet ski driver. He insisted it was a career, I gather after the visit to the Wisconsin Dells. He assured me people would pay money to witness him  drive a jet ski in front of them back and forth, back and forth.  He knew to wear a wet suit. At least he would be dressed properly.

I am all for giving young girls a goal. I wanted to be a journalist from way back when. Probably since about 7 or 8 years old. I also wanted to wear pretty clothes and I dressed my Barbies, Midge, Francie and Skipper in all the teeny tiny tight dresses and plastic high heels my mother would buy. But I knew better than to think those two worlds could collide. I mean, seriously, Barbie totally dressed for Ken.  

Just as I know better than to stand in front of my journalism students dressed like Nicole Richie as ridiculed on gofugyourself, I know to interview someone dressed like a real journalist, not a Barbie doll.

Maybe next year Mattel will come out with Barbie I Can Be… Something Sensible.

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