Monday, July 21, 2014

We Have Seen the Enemy -- and It is Photoshop

When journalist Esther Honig sent a natural picture of herself (which means hair up, no makeup and no filter) to Photoshop pros and amateurs from more than 23 countries and told them to "make her beautiful," she received multiple versions of herself in return.  Some of these show Honig
very simply retouched -- others were so radical as to change her looks entirely to conform to a certain idea of beauty.  The range is fascinating. The exercise serves as a rather bitter reminder to women that their natural selves are rarely deemed as beautiful as their makeovers.  You can view the results here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Beat Goes On: Forum on Women in News Scheduled June 30 in Washington

The Poynter Institute has announced that it will co-host a national forum in Washington, DC, focusing on the issues surrounding women in journalism and media leadership.

The forum, which will be held in partnership with the National Press Club Journalism Institute, will focus on the current conversation about newsroom culture as it pertains to women, which was invigorated by the firing of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson.

“I’m excited that Poynter and The National Press Club Journalism Institute are working to move the discussion forward about where women leaders are in journalism today and how to transform and improve their opportunities in the future,” said Tim Franklin, president of The Poynter Institute.

The forum, which will be held June 30 at the National Press Club in Washington, will include an examination of gender and newsroom culture and will encourage positive action to expand the influence of women leaders.

Participants in the forum will try to answer several questions pertaining to the leadership of women in newsrooms, discussing which organizations have been successful in advancing women to leadership positions and whether technology has been harnessed to advance women leaders.

The event will feature panelists from across journalism and media leadership. Speakers include Carolyn Ryan, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, Susan Goldberg, editor in chief of National Geographic and former president of the American Society of News Editors, Lynette Clemetson, director of editorial initiatives at NPR, Patti Dennis, director of recruiting for Gannett Broadcasting and Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president of news for McClatchy Newspapers.
Additional speakers at the forum include Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs, and Jill Geisler, senior faculty for Poynter’s leadership and management division, who will moderate.

The forum is an opportunity to advance the conversation that was ignited online and on social media about women’s leadership roles in journalism, said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute and Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

“Forty years after women began entering newsrooms in substantial numbers, it’s urgent to address the challenges women face in achieving parity in the newsroom,” Cochran said.

The gains that women made in journalism leadership have stagnated, said Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs.

“We have to figure out a way to reignite that progress,” McBride said. “We have an obligation to represent our audience. And content audits suggest that journalism as a profession does not fairly represent women as leaders and experts. If we can’t get it right in our newsrooms, it’s going to be hard to serve the public interest on this issue.”

To register for “Closing Journalism’s Gender Gap: A Forum on Women and Leadership," click here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

NYT Editor's Firing Raises Questions About and For Women in Journalism

The woman with the best job in American journalism lost it last week.

Jill Abramson
The reasons for the abrupt dismissal of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson are not entirely clear, but reasonable people can agree that the manner of her firing – without a word of gratitude to the woman under whom the Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes – was particularly harsh.  That has plunged the New York Times into the losing end of a PR debacle that has smudged the ascent of Abramson’s successor, Dean Baquet, the first African American to lead the Times’ newsroom.

Abramson was the first woman to lead the NYT newsroom and the ugliness surrounding her departure is tantamount to an earthquake.  Speculation has ranged from conflict arising from her apparent discovery of being paid less than her predecessor, which the Times has denied, and asking for more compensation; from resisting penetration through the news-business firewall by the business side of the newspaper; and by being a demanding boss who could be brusque, even rude.  None of this rises to the level of a firing offense.

In a thoughtful commentary, former Des Moines Register Editor Geneva Overholser, also the former director of the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California, wrote:

“What happened in this case, according to the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., is that his editor, Abramson, had to leave because of her management style. But, really: Editors are famed for being difficult.  Every journalist has stories about newsroom leaders throwing fits – or, better, potted plants. Hot tempers, arrogance, polarization:  these have practically been job requirements for editors.  I’m not saying this is a good thing.  I’m saying that it’s striking that we’d become sensitive to the unpleasantness only when a woman makes it to the top.”

It hasn’t gone unnoticed how few women are in the top jobs at major American news organizations, or how long it took a woman to get to the top rung at the New York Times. In a letter to Abramson, the president of the Journalism and Women Symposium, said, “We could not let this moment pass before saying loud and clear that we support women in journalism leadership positions, we support efforts to get equal pay for equal work and we support you.”  It was signed “Lauren M. Whaley and the rest of the pushy, brusque, stubborn and abrasive journalists of JAWS.”

Journalism seems to remain a treacherous place for women seeking to move the business to where it needs to go. Why?  Inherent bias? Old boys’ network?  Lingering notions that women are still less capable of covering politics, economics, sports?  Analyses of news content continue to show that women write about these subjects far less frequently than men.  Does this happen by accident?

In a great piece that tackles these issues, “Editing While Female,” Susan Glasser said, “We like to pretend it’s different now, that Hillary Clinton really did shatter that glass ceiling into thousands of pieces. But it’s not true. There are shockingly few women at the top anywhere in America, and it’s a deficit that is especially pronounced in journalism, where women leaders remain outliers, category-defying outliers who almost invariably still face a comeuppance.”

Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s most recent statement about the matter blamed Abramson for lousy management that was risking the loss of newsroom talent, denying that gender bias played a role.  The blame game goes on. Abramson moved a lot of women into senior positions at the time during her three years as editor.  We’ll see how long it takes for another to get a shot at the executive editor’s chair at the New York Times.  It took 160 years for the first one to get there.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Magazine Covers Can Still Knock Our Socks Off

Jill Filipovic, editor of the web site Feministe, has written a persuasive piece about why print magazine covers still grab us, even in this age of images flashing by online at dizzying speeds.  Is it the cover lines that tease?  The sleek models (think GQ), the "beautiful people" (Vogue), the edgy, quirky but always relevant (Rolling Stone)?  The shiny paper and lush inks?

Filipovic reminds of the covers that were cultural earthquakes: "Two decades ago, newsstands across the country wrapped Vanity Fair in paper to conceal a pregnant and nude Demi Moore. Mention the imminently talented Janet Jackson, and you’re likely to evoke three major cultural reference points: Miss Janet (if you’re nasty), wardrobe malfunction, and that Rolling Stone cover turned album art of Jackson in those high-rise, stone-washed jeans, arms up, with man-hands covering her bare breasts. John Lennon wrapped around Yoko Ono, also for Rolling Stone, is the iconic image of that relationship. Even National Lampoon’s 1973 “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog” bit triggered an immediate, emotive response—and remains a cultural touch point more than 40 years later."

Even with print publications in a seeming irreversible slump, their covers still make news.  And magazine cover opportunities are still coveted by public figures with an image to protect and burnish.  No matter how many Twitter followers you have, you aren't going to turn down Rolling Stone (ask Julia Louis-Dreyfus) or Vogue (probably the toniest magazine real estate Kim and Kanye have ever had!)

Even though we spend hours online sifting through news and images, millions still look forward to Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" cover (most recently Pope Francis, and still mostly men, in spite of Time's change from "Man of the Year" to "Person of the Year" in 1999).  Few who lived through the Afghanistan war era will forget photographer Steve McCurry haunting photo of the penetrating eyes of a 12-year-old refugee girl, Sharbat Gula, in a refugee camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, published as a National Geographic cover. 

There are lists and lists of favorites, compiled by sources from the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) to Mashable.  McCurry's National Geographic cover is Mashable's No. 1 pick; the Lennon-Ono photo is ASME's. A look through the cover images in these lists are good reminders of how compelling these covers can be, and how much emotion and commentary they contain.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Women Remain A Large Minority In All News Platforms

Women are outnumbered by men in the news industry — in television, newspapers, online and wires -- according to new research from The Women’s Media Center.

The research found that 63.4 percent of those with bylines or on-camera appearances as anchors or reporters were men, while women were 36.1 percent.

The Women’s Media Center’s research examined 20 of the most widely circulated, read, viewed and listened to U.S. based TV networks, newspapers, news wires and online news sites. The research findings tell a stark story about where women stand across every platform in the 24/7 news cycle.

Some news organizations have made more strides in achieving gender parity, according to the research.

“There are, most certainly, a handful of notable exceptions to the trend of men dominating media and it is important to note that a woman in the anchor seat is more than a symbol; she sends a message to viewers that women can lead a network broadcast — and that matters,” said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center. “Overall, this research is about much more than just one woman in an anchor seat, it is about making sure that who defines the story, who tells the story, and what the story is about, represents women and men equally. Women are more than half of the population, but we don’t see or hear them in equal numbers to men.  It is our hope – and our work – to see those numbers reach parity.”

Female journalists were more likely to report on lifestyle, culture and health while men were more likely to cover politics, criminal justice or technology, according to the research.

The Women’s Media Center commissioned Global News Intelligence (GNI) researchers to analyze 27,000 pieces of content from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013. The survey focused on the gender breakdown of full-time newsroom staffers, paid freelance journalists and non-paid content contributors from the following news organizations: The evening news broadcasts for ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS; Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Daily News, New York Post, The Associated Press, Reuters,, Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post.

You can see an at-a-glance infographic of the numbers disparity here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Personal Public Liberation: News Anchor Removes Her Wig on the Air

Broadcast news is loaded with glamor.  Anchors and on-air talent are relentlessly sized up for their audience appeal.  It's a high-wire act, especially for women, who are typically judged harshly on their looks -- by other women as well as men. Once the red light on the camera goes on, they're working without a net.

Memphis anchor Pam McKelvy decided enough was enough.  She had gone through dozens of styles, with wigs and her own hair, as female news anchors do to stay current with fashion trends.  Breast cancer treatment took her hair, so the wigs went on and stayed -- until a week and a half ago.

McKelvy is a news anchor at WMC-TV5 in Memphis.  Like many of the news anchors who make the "hottest women TV anchors" lists that have sprouted up all over the Internet, McKelvy is a former beauty queen.  She was Miss Kansas in 1992 and a runner-up in the Miss America pageant.  She's been in news broadcasting for 15 years.

Narrating a feature piece about women and hair, folding her own story into it, McKelvy describes the pressures on women in public life, particularly the ongoing critique about their appearances.  Overlaid with sexism is racism and, particularly for women in television, ageism.  She speaks without bitterness about chemo's effects, her embrace of her natural hair, and her gratitude for being alive. 

It was a bold gesture from a brave heart.  Watch it here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

VIDA 2013 Byline Count Released: No Champagne Called For

There is no end of clich├ęs about truth-telling, i.e.,  "Numbers don't lie" and "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts."  The latter one is from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and while I wish he had made his comment gender-neutral, I can't complain about its essential truth.

So the numbers and the facts about women's bylines compiled annually by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts tell us, once again, that "women’s writing continues to be disproportionately omitted from the pages of career-making journals," according to Amy King, a Nassau (NY) Community College faculty member who wrote this year's VIDA byline report.  While the facts that show women are underutilized as journalists, literary authors, and literary reviewers may be resisted by editors who are blocking their way, the facts are the facts.

The 2013 VIDA count shows marked improvement at The Paris Review and The New York Times Book Review -- truly bright spots in the literary pantheon, along with small press publishers. But there's little movement elsewhere.  The New Republic had its worst performance ever in the 2013 VIDA count.

The facts will continue to be collected and the numbers compiled. "In a country where many major newspapers and journals are owned by the few, where great swaths of 51% of the population are excluded by historical practices that continue to be handed down and enacted by heads of magazines, VIDA hopes to upset traditions that leave women writers out of editors’ Rolodexes and off publishers’ forthcoming lists," King writes.  She encourages consumer pushback -- letters to editors with praise for being inclusive and criticism for not, and subscription cancellations of periodicals that consistently show little interest in publishing women -- with an explanation of the reader's exit.

Read the full report and see pie charts of individual publications' 2013 performance here.