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Hard News: Women Underrepresented

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


A recent report issued by the Women's Media Center points to "stubborn gender inequality" in the ways that women are employed and represented in news, entertainment and technology related media. In Rhode Island, experts say the gender equality is a mixed bag.

The "Status of Women in U.S. Media 2013" report states that with females making up 51 percent of the U.S. population, there are "business, societal and 
cultural imperatives that demand gender equality and equal participation."

Shining the Light on Disparities 

The Women’s Media Center – founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem – has the stated goal of making women visible and powerful in media.

The report issued comprehensive look at data, studies, and issues that affect women and the media found among the following: 

* At its current pace, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.

* Only 17 women at media and technology companies are on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.

* By a nearly 3 to 1 margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered  female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Men were also far more likely to be quoted than women in newspapers, television and public radio. 

* On Sunday TV talk shows, one survey found that only 25 percent of guests were female. 

According to the Women's Media Center website, WMC states that "media influence is one of the most powerful economic and cultural forces today.  By deciding who gets to talk, what shapes the debate, who writes, and what is important enough to report, media shape our understanding of who we are and what we can be."

GoLocal talked with both local and national media and journalism experts to get their perspectives both on the report, and its significance.  

Rhode Island Perspectives

"I think Rhode Island, in particular, is still seeing the effects of white men hiring white men to fill jobs...men who look like them, dress like them and go to the same places....the Old Boy Network," said Linda Levin, former Professor and Chair of the Journalism Department at the University of Rhode Island.  

"I have worked first as a reporter and editor in Rhode Island and then as a professor for a long time. I would like to say this network has vanished, but it really has not. Women in all professional fields in Rhode Island, including the news media, have made  strides but not nearly fast enough."

Levin, whose career began as a reporter for The Providence Journal however did see gains being made in the state.  "Over the last 30 or more years, I have watched more and more women hired as tv news reporters, which is very good," said Levin.  "The same goes for newspapers."

"Overall, I don't think women, for the most part, are underrepresented in the media in RI," said Levin.  "Where they tend to be is at the management level, both in print and broadcast.  The Providence Journal got its first ever executive editor recently.  And the deputy editor is also a woman, but not the first in that job.  The editor-in-chief at the Newport Daily News is a woman, the second woman in that job."

"Unfortunately, because of all the layoffs at the Journal and other local news media, there is little hiring going on, especially in the bigger news outlets," said Levin.  "Less hiring means fewer women and hence, fewer future stars."

Prof. Scully, Roger Williams University

Michael Scully, Assistant Professor of Communications at Roger Williams University following a career in media that included writing for CNN and Time Inc., told GoLocal he saw similar trends, but alsot that the future of opportunities in media as rapidly shifting.  

"The magazine industry is dominated by female writers and editors, but its pretty much all men at the top.  Similarly, in cable news, the writers are mixed, the producers are predominantly female, but again, the executive producers are mostly male."

"Most TV reporters are female, but their salaries are terrible," said Sculy.  "I had a student graduate recently and go to a minor NC market to be a reporter, where she's making $14,000."  

"Contrast that with a recent graduate who took a job as Director of Internet Marketing, shooting video, where she's making three times that -- with the same training," continued Scully.  "The traditional market is paying a pittance, while the dot coms are much more competitive."  

"Look at it this way.  Reports show that traditional TV costs 13 times more than digital media to produce.  In this economy, you can't cut your expenses 13 fold and survive," said Scully.  "TV news is struggling just as hard as newspapers, but the papers are just more masochistic in explaining their situation."  

"We just saw the departure of one of the The Providence Journal's top reporters in  Jennifer Jordan," said Scully.  "I don't know what the future holds for the Journal. I think you'll see it have a weekly print edition with daily online content."  

Alan Mutter

National Experts Weigh In

Alan Mutter, who started as a newspaper columnist and editor at the Chicago Daily News and later as City Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, is currently with the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley and also is a consultant specializing in corporate initiatives and new media ventures involving journalism and technology. 

"The digital media democratize both the creation and consumption of media, so it theoretically is possible for more women than ever before to create media brands," said Mutter.

He continued, "The enrollment at Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley, where I teach, is overwhelmingly female. Based on this observation, it seems fair to speculate that women will women will continue to claim an ever-greater role in the future of media, including that is covered and how it is covered."

Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, saw the prospects for women in journalism as remaining relatively stagnant.  

"I see this problem firsthand in the work I do," said McBride.  "I really appreciated that they used the word "stubborn" in the report.  I think that's really appropriate.   I came into my career in the late 80s, and I feel like we haven't made any progress."

"There was a lot of progress made in the point I stepped into my career, women were starting to become leaders," she continued.  "I think we made about 75% of our progress by that point.  Getting that last 25% is difficult."

"Once you get that far, you can let up, not be as intentional, and the public lets you get away with it," said McBride. "The other things is that women have lost ground in the economic and tech shifts we've seen.  The reasons behind that are various, but part of what I speculate is that the industry has gotten smaller, so women leaders have disproportionately suffered."

"We haven't seen a lot of turnover at the leadership.  Baby boomers aren't leaving voluntarily.  it's very hard to create any sort of movement.  We see more women coming into the business -- but not staying in the business.

"I see something much more insidious....qualified, accomplished women leave the business voluntarily because they just can't see a pathway to the top."

McBride didn't necessarily see digital media as changing those trends.  

"There are a number of startups out there, but they're similarly male dominated," said McBride.  "I know a small, hip, cool one in NY that has found itself under criticism under the past year and a half -- because they have all men in the newsroom."

"It's because the tech world is male dominated.  The diversity problem -- gender, philosophical, ethical, racial.....the problem begins with the the fact that if you have similar people doing similar things, its's hard to break out of that."


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