Tag Archives: stories

Can Anyone Hear Us? Women Media Sources and Experts Need to Speak Louder

Full disclosure here, Alicia Shepard is a friend of mine. That is not critical to the story. But I need to say it.

She is the ombudsman (not ombudswoman) at National Public Radio and she wrote a brilliant, however unsettling piece last week on the dearth of female sources on NPR on her NPR blog.  

http://www.npr.org/ombudsman/

This is what she and her staff found:  

My office researched the number of female commentators who appear on air regularly, along with the number of females who are interviewed or quoted in stories on ME, ATC and the weekend counterparts.

The news is not encouraging, though NPR is trying to do something about it.

Admittedly, the relative lack of female voices reflects the broader world. The fact remains that even in the fifth decade after the feminist revolution; men are still largely in charge in government at all levels, in corporations and nearly all other aspects of society. That means, by default, there are going to be more male than female news sources.

To cut to the chase? The green bars are the female sources. The gold are the men.  

But this much? You would think from this graphic that women don’t have a lot to say as sources or commentators.  That they don’t answer the phone or emails when reporters cast the net or that they are not listed somewhere as an expert, they don’t have a Web presence or they are just not well-known.

But that inequity reflects the reporter or producer’s choice, not the lack of female expertise in the world. It reflects a comfort zone, a status quo, a settling for what is easy to do, not what is more fair, more ethical or just plain right. It is something all journalists in all platforms can do better.

As you can see, Weekend Edition comes close to parity. Are women more available to talk then?

I tell my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University that inclusiveness is required in good journalism. When we think of diversity of sources, the notion is not limited to race, ethnicity or gender. It is also about age, socioeconomic status, ability, geography, ideology, education, religion, sexual orientation, everything. 

Why bother trying to find sources that reflect the diversity of society? Because it makes the journalism better. Because, as I wrote in my last book, “Everyman News,” diversity of thought changes content. Just by asking the same question of a different type of source, you will yield different responses and ultimately deeper content.  

In her new book, “Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done” (Times Books), Susan Douglas, a communications professor at the University of Michigan , writes that the myth of the all-powerful woman may be more of a hinderance than an inspiration. It may massage us into complacency thinking just because Oprah rules the airwaves, and Cyndi Lauper is having fun in Donald Trump’s boardroom, all is fair in gender terms.

But no. I agree with Douglas. It’s not time to pronounce victory and say we achieved the goal. It’s time to keep trying to make room for other voices. We can start with female voices and work from there.

Driving to work this morning I smiled when I heard the voice of Christine Brennan, USA Today sports columnist and author on NPR. She was commenting on the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team winning the NCAA title over Stanford University. And full disclosure here, Christine is also a friend of mine, a fellow NU alum. She is an expert, great journalist and the right source on that story.  She should be heard.

According to Lisa on her NPR blog:

When listeners don’t hear women as sources and commentators on the air, they can get the impression that women aren’t smart, aren’t experts and aren’t authoritative.

That’s just not true.

I agree. As the other half of the commenting world, we need to speak louder. As journalists and authors we need to report more fully and be more inclusive in the sourcing of our work.  It’s only fair. It’s time we all were heard. And seen. And read.    

2 Comments

Filed under Features, Media, News, Uncategorized

Obits: The Ultimate Everyman News

     “Dead. That’s what Mary Jones is.”

     I remember clearly the Basic Writing assignment in 1975 at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University where I was a freshman. We were to write an obituary and we were not to write it that way. That was a catchy lead, sure, but it was not the proper tone. And obits are never funny.

   So we completed our obituary assignment from a sheet of facts, typing on manual typewriters in the basement of Fisk Hall where the instructor chain- smoked and drank about eight cups of coffee in a four-hour lab. Sometimes students stifled tears as they typed. Everyone turned in something at the end of the hour, along with the carbon copies.

    Fast forward 34 years. I am an assistant professor at Medill, assigning obituaries to the freshmen in 201-1 Reporting and Writing, and not allowing them to create fiction by writing their own obituaries (a practice I find not only ghoulish but unethical) that was suprisnlgy on the syllabus before my arrival.  Knowing how to write an obituary is solid practice in news judgment, sourcing, organization,  as well as writing with the appropriate tone and voice. Good practice for profiles.

         It seems obits are not only good practice for journalists, but good business for forward-thinking media innovators.

    Two of my Medill colleagues, Owen Youngman and Rich Gordon, led a group of students in the Fall 09 Interative Innovation Project to recently redesign, rethink and relaunch the American obituary for legacy.com.

    At the presentation last week students spoke about the immense popularity of “compelling stories about a noteworthy life,” separate from fame and celebrity. These were life capsules of “anyone’s neighbor, any average Joe.”
        Everyman news? Of course.  And these stories are not just a community or family service (no pun intended), but death notices are a 1/2 billion-dollar revenue maker for newspapers. 

       Add text, video, audio, photo slideshows and all combinations of multimedia memorials and this is the somber flipside to youtube’s jackass videos of teenagers jumping off their parents’ garages. Not that my three sons have done that. Yet.

      An element I found especially interesting in the presentation was the fact that historically newspaper obituaries were limited to stories of society’s elite, and naturally, at first only elite white men. Few women were written about and honored in print obituaries.   Another demographic piece is that an overwhelming majority of visitors to online memorial sites are Christian.

     Now here is the opportunity.

    We (me, too) spend a lot of time writing, teaching and talking about the democratization of news and the necessity for inclusiveness in media of all forms. Tell everyone’s story. Project all voices. So in the spirit of open sourcing, here is the chance to have storytelling without boundaries, with repsect for all religious and non-religious affiliations, to honor a life, any life, every life, everyman’s life, everywoman’s.

     We all deserve a memorial, a story with dignity that honors who we were, what we contributed and how we were loved and known. And one that doesn’t begin with “Dead. That’s what…”

Leave a comment

Filed under Features, Media, News, Newspapers