True Confessions

Sometimes things get a little too serious around here.

I want to share a twitter exchange I had with New England Cable Network’s Jackie Bruno this morning. I think so many of you will be able to relate.

Jackie obviously has a sense of humor and was brave enough to post this today on her twitter feed:

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Her post made me laugh and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad about the vase of dead Valentine roses I’ve been meaning to throw away.

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Jackie is right. She’s admitting what every other woman I know – whether in this business or out of it is saying. It is hard to juggle work, family, and home and our desire to get it all done only puts more pressure on ourselves. Trust me, I don’t have any advice about trying to tame the beast but her post reminded me that sometimes it’s best to take a moment, admit the truth and laugh about it.

P.S. The dead roses finally made it into the trash!

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Women’s Media Center Report Looks At Gender Inequality in Media

The Women’s Media Center is out with its third annual report on the Status of Women in U.S. Media. If you are not familiar with the report it compiles the most recent studies, data and research on women in media. I don’t think it comes as a surprise to any of us working in this field that there is disparity in how women are employed and represented by the industry.

Here are some key highlights related to news media:

  • Women comprise 23.3% of leadership roles in journalism and media, with the lowest at 7.5% in radio and the highest at 55% in social media. 
  • The percentage of women staffers in newspaper newsrooms has held steady at around 36% since 1999
  • At the nation’s three most prestigious newspapers and four newspaper syndicates, male opinion page writers outnumbered women 4-to-1. 
  • The number of women in radio news jumped 8% from 2012 to 2013, narrowing one of the historically widest gender gaps in the news industry. However, elsewhere in broadcast news, there were, as examples, losses in female on-air talent and broadcast managers.

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The report was the topic of a panel discussion at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The event was organized by the Take the Lead initiative which promotes women in leadership positions.

MSNBC’s Karen Finney moderated the panel which looked at the challenges and opportunities for making women more visible and powerful in media.

Panelist Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center said change starts at the top, “Those people who have the power to decide which stories will be told, who will be hired; they are the ones who should look at their own family table and say, ‘Is everybody represented? Are we all in?’. We don’t want just half the story. We want the whole story.”

The other panelists included Kristin Gilger, associate dean at ASU’s Cronkite School; Erica Gonzalez, executive editor of El Diario-La Prensa; Pat Mitchell, president & CEO of The Paley Center for Media; and Amina Sow digital strategist and co-founder of the networking group, Tech Lady Mafia.

If you would like to hear more, Take the Lead has posted the entire panel discussion:

So where do women rank in leadership roles in the news industry? The Women’s Media Center report includes findings from a Colorado Women’s College study that shows women hold more than 23 percent of leadership positions in journalism and related media. That’s an increase of more than 3 percent since 2008. Here’s how the numbers breakdown within the different fields of journalism for the year 2012:

Online Graphing
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What I found particularly interesting about this study is that its researchers and academic leaders contend that women in these power positions impact more than just the news industry.

Tiffani Lennon, Colorado Women's College / photo: University of Denver Photographer Wayne Armstrong

Tiffani Lennon, Colorado Women’s College / photo: University of Denver Photographer Wayne Armstrong

“Without female representation in journalism and media, I don’t think we will see adequate representation in any other sector,” said Tiffani Lennon, chair of Colorado Women’s College’s law and society department. “I can’t say it’s a direct causation—and those variables would be all but impossible to isolate. But there’s a … correlation between the visibility of women in media and the visibility of women in other sectors.”

The Women’s Media Center acknowledges that strides have been made in this industry. I’ve seen them myself over the course of my career, but as the report shows progress has been uneven and there is still a long way to go to reach gender parity.

I have a question for all you “news” folks over at CNBC – what’s with the sharing?

Yesterday we were treated to CNBC retail correspondent Courtney Reagan’s surprise marriage proposal.  Other than Reagan, her fiancé and their families, why did this need to be shared with viewers?

I know, I know, I’m being a Ms. Grinch about this. I admit public proposals are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

This one really got under my skin for two reasons. The first is I can’t tell you how many times as a producer I’ve had to beg for 30 seconds more airtime for an actual news story. Nightly Business Report devoted two minutes to this spectacle. Anyone in television knows two minutes is a lifetime in broadcast news. It made me wonder what real news stories didn’t make the line up in order to make room for this.

My second reason is I actually felt bad for Reagan after watching this. What woman wants to be caught on camera uncontrollably sobbing in her place of work? I don’t think this is an image her colleagues will soon forget. Or her viewers.

I know I won’t.

Amy Robach announces breast cancer diagnosis after on-air mammogram

Last month I wrote about a special broadcast ABC News’ Good Morning America devoted to breast cancer awareness. My critique of the program was that it felt like a pep rally with the ultimate goal of putting a positive spin on this deadly disease.

I wrote at the time:

“…it’s not the media’s job to be a cheerleader. It’s not the media’s job to give women a false sense of security. It’s also not the media’s job to scare them. We need to give them the facts and we need to advance this story forward. This is a serious disease and we do women a disservice by wrapping up breast cancer reporting in a pretty pink ribbon and pom-poms.”

GMA delivered on that today. Unfortunately it came after an unexpected diagnosis for one of the show’s correspondents. News anchor Amy Robach, who had her first mammogram live on-air during last month’s broadcast announced today that she has breast cancer and will undergo a bilateral mastectomy.

Robin Roberts and Amy Robach / photo: Lou Rocco, ABC News

Robin Roberts and Amy Robach / photo: Lou Rocco, ABC News

What I appreciated this morning was Robach’s honesty about all the unknowns she faces at the moment.  She doesn’t yet know the stage of her diagnosis, she doesn’t know all the treatments she will need and she doesn’t know if the disease has spread.

She was joined by GMA host Robin Roberts who is a breast cancer survivor and ABC News Medical Contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton. Roberts and Ashton were supportive but at the same time conveyed important information. They talked not only about the medical aspect of the disease but also the emotional aspect. This was an honest look into what it’s like for many women who are newly diagnosed.

This is how breast cancer reporting should be done.

Robach’s appearance this morning could not have been easy for her. It’s tough enough for any woman to have to deal with this diagnosis let alone have to go public with the information. I wish her well.

Journalist Celeste Headlee is counting on a Kickstarter campaign to launch a new public radio program called “Middle Ground”. The weekly hour-long news show and podcast will focus on stories from Middle America, an area of the country Headlee believes is often overlooked in mainstream news.

Headlee and the show’s producers originally launched the Kickstarter campaign at the end of September, but the government shutdown prompted the team to put the fundraising campaign on hold.  The Kickstarter campaign is being relaunched today with a goal to raise $59,000, which will cover the first three months of operating costs. You can check it out here.

Celeste Headlee / photo: Marco Antonio

Celeste Headlee / photo: Marco Antonio

Headlee was formerly a co-host of NPR’s “The Takeaway”. She most recently has been a guest host at NPR and a reporter for the BBC and Al Jazeera America.

I recently interviewed Headlee about “Middle Ground” and the move towards crowdfunding journalism:

How did the idea for Middle Ground come about?

CH: I worked for several years as a reporter and host first in Arizona and then in Detroit, Michigan. I noticed three things. First, it was harder to get stories onto national air. If one of my pitches was successful, it was generally because it fit a narrow perception of the area, i.e., stories about Native Americans in Arizona or about the car industry in Detroit or the decay of Detroit.  People loved to get stories about poverty in Detroit, bad schools, corrupt politicians, etc. Otherwise, the only local news that made national air was about serious crime or serious weather and voters during a presidential election year.

Secondly, I noticed that I had an unending supply of great stories. Once I became a correspondent for NPR, people began to comment on “where I found all those great stories.” I found them in my backyard because there weren’t any other national reporters there.  The middle of the country is rife with surprising, compelling stories just waiting for an appreciative audience.

Third, what people on the coasts understand about the middle of America is far from the truth. Detroit was perhaps the best object lesson. The fairy tale about Detroit is that it’s dying, ruined, empty and poor. While there are elements of truth in all those things, they don’t even begin to tell the whole story and in fact are so far removed from the totality of the narrative that those things approach distortions.  Every time something happens in Detroit, the networks parachute someone in for a day or two, or they assign someone to cover it from Chicago. That’s just bad journalism.

I wanted to stop complaining about the coverage of Middle America and start doing something to change it.

How will it work? What types of stories will be covered? Who will be doing the reporting?

CH: Middle Ground is essentially a show that covers the news, politics and culture of Middle America. We want to focus on stories that aren’t heard elsewhere, but we will cover breaking news when it occurs as well.  We will make use of the thousands of great reporters who are experts on their city or region. When we have to cover St. Louis, we will call a contributor in St. Louis or go there ourselves. That’s what a large chunk of the budget will go to: paying contributors all over the country. These are reporters that have a hard time getting national airtime but have important information to relay and stories to tell.

Where will people be able to find the program? Will it only be available online?

CH: Initially, it will be available both online and as a podcast. But the purpose of the Kickstarter campaign is to make this the first national public radio show to be launched via crowdfunding. We have strong interest from several stations that would like to be the home station for Middle Ground, and interest from national distributors as well.  This show will start as a podcast and, hopefully, be eventually available on public radio stations all over the country.

Do you think it is lack of interest or budgetary reasons that many national news programs choose not to cover stories in the middle of the United States?

CH: Part of it is practicality. The headquarters are in NYC, DC and LA. Most of the reporters are there. It’s much more difficult to get approval to fly out to Nebraska and cover a story there than it is to drive a few miles down the road. There’s also the argument about population density, that most of America’s population is concentrated on the coasts. What’s more, our banking centers and entertainment industries are headquartered in those places, so some of the most powerful people in the country are served by news from the coasts. Lastly, there is a prejudice about news from Middle America, that it’s automatically less newsworthy if it comes from Utah. Making the case for covering an election in New Mexico is much harder than an election in Virginia.

Can you give an example of a recent story national news has missed in this part of the country?

CH: I think the best example of poor reporting is the coverage of Detroit. Although that was covered by national outlets, the coverage was poor at best and most of the reporters were covering it from outside Michigan. Every newspaper article was accompanied by a stock photo of some dilapidated building, usually the train station. It was abhorrent.

There’s also the issue of the rising number of hate groups in the US. A lot of attention was paid to Westboro Baptist Church (out of Kansas), but not to the trends behind groups like this. Since 2000, the number of hate groups has gone up by 50% and the number of armed militias has gone up 813% since Obama was elected in 2008.

There’s a great story about the battle over bus discrimination in Ohio, plus the drought of 2012.

I was recently reading about Lara Setrakian who started the news website Syria Deeply that focuses on news and events surrounding the crisis in that country. Now I’m hearing about your project Middle Ground focusing on stories in this part of the United States. Do you think story specific platforms are part of a shift in how journalists cover the news?

CH: Yes, and I also think it’s a reaction to the homogenization of our news sources.  How is it possible, when CNN, MSNBC and Fox have to fill 24-hours every day, that they all end up covering the same four stories over and over, filling time with pundits and talking heads? I think many people are frustrated over the endless blather and are hungry for news about the world around us. CNN spent hours covering Miley Cyrus’ appearance on SNL as if it were a news story.  If there are alternate news sources cropping up, that’s a perfect explanation of why we need them.

You are working on getting funding for this program through a Kickstarter campaign. Quality journalism is expensive to produce. Is crowdfunding journalism a sustainable business model for producing news?

CH: Short answer? No. Our Kickstarter campaign is meant to cover startup costs only. But if we reach our goal, those funds will also pay to get this show a distributor and a home station where it can be based and produced. The goal amount isn’t going to pay any salaries. Right now, Middle Ground is a labor of love and a public service. But all indications are that it can grow into something bigger.

If you are able to meet your funding goal what happens next?

CH: If we meet our goal, we immediately start producing podcasts with great stories and news from Middle America. We also reach out to our partners at public radio stations in Middle America and start the process of getting a distributor. Meeting that goal is just a first step and I hope that someday our backers will be listening to Middle Ground on their local public radio station and say, “You know, I helped start that show.”

 

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A Lacoste store window display caught my eye as I was walking down Madison Avenue today – the Blogger Bag! I thought, “Hmm, a bag for bloggers?” The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of reaching into a bag outfitted just for bloggers. Here are some of the things I imagined I could pull out of my blogger bag:

1) Inspiration for those times when either words or ideas aren’t flowing
2) A couple of catchy SEO friendly headlines
3) A pocket copy editor to improve my posts
4) A technology pass for when I’m stumped loading media
5) Gum – What can I say?

I did wonder what was behind the Blogger Bag moniker. It ends up the bags were designed by three fashion/trend bloggers as part of a Lacoste limited Blogger collection. You can watch their story here:

Unraveling the Ribbon on Breast Cancer Reporting

ABC’s Good Morning America held what felt like a pep rally this morning to kick off “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”. The show’s tag line, “Go Pink!” – and it certainly did with anchors and guests in pink dresses, fans in pink t-shirts, a studio set lit up in pink lights and reporting on this disease through rosie-pink colored glasses.

Image from ABCnews.com

Considering how much time the network chose to devote to the topic there was little real news and not much to advance this important story which affects 1 out of every 8 women in the United States. Yes, GMA had the first interview with the doctor who treated Angelina Jolie but the topic of preventive mastectomies is one that has been covered frequently since Jolie’s announcement.

Dr. Richard Besser discussed a new ABC poll that finds women are confused about what age to start getting mammograms. Is that really surprising considering conflicting reports from different organizations over the past few years? (This WebMD article gives a good overview of the debate.)

I actually thought the best insight of the morning was from Bill Nye the Science Guy who happened to be on the program because he was booted off  Dancing with the Stars the previous evening. Nye said. “It is my suspection (sic) that medical doctors are doing all they can. They’re hustling, pumping their arms, everybody is trying different things; they’ve identified the gene. But maybe we need other scientific disciplines. Maybe some chemists, maybe some physicists. Maybe it’s the supercoiling of the DNA packed in there, not just the sequence.”

This is a conversation that would have been worth exploring… but that wouldn’t have been any fun. And it was clear the goal today was to have fun.

There was a “Steals and Deals” segment – discounted items on sale with proceeds going to breast cancer charities. It wasn’t made clear if all the proceeds were going to these charities or how the money would benefit women with the disease. I personally found this segment offensive.

GMA "Steals and Deals" / from ABC News

GMA “Steals and Deals” / from ABC News

There was also a cooking segment with Ann Romney who is a breast cancer survivor and a music segment with country singer Kellie Pickler

Of course it wouldn’t be a morning show without a gimmick. A “mammovan” was parked in Times Square where correspondent Amy Robach got her first mammogram live on air. The main message of the program seemed to be if you just get a mammogram everything will be okay.

ABC News correspondent Amy Robach getting a mammogram / from ABC News

What was glossed over is that there are limitations to mammogram screenings. According to the National Cancer Institute false positives on mammograms can result in over treatment. Mammograms can also miss a cancer diagnosis. Even anchor Robin Roberts mentioned that her breast cancer was not picked up by a mammogram. This is also true for four women I know. (I don’t want to dissuade any woman from getting a mammogram but be aware the test is not foolproof – nor does it prevent cancer. If you sense something is wrong ask your doctor to pursue further tests.)

The other ongoing theme of the program was all about survivors. The music bed under this morning’s segments included Gloria Gaynor’s, “I Will Survive” and Mandisa’s “Stronger”. Throughout the morning GMA aired live shots from around the country of survivor groups cheering – sometimes even with pom-poms.  At one point Sam Champion spoke with a fan who is a ten year survivor and she said, “It’s perfectly possible to survive.”  I truly hope that is the case for this woman but the reality is it’s also perfectly possible to die from this disease. That was never mentioned this morning. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 39,000 women will die from breast cancer this year.

My takeaway from today – it’s not the media’s job to be a cheerleader. It’s not the media’s job to give women a false sense of security. It’s also not the media’s job to scare them. We need to give them the facts and we need to advance this story forward. This is a serious disease and we do women a disservice by wrapping up breast cancer reporting in a pretty pink ribbon and pom-poms.

Debora Spar and the Ivy League Women Blues

I was just thinking the other day, “I need another successful Ivy League woman reminding me how much my life sucks.”

On the (high) heels of Sheryl Sandberg and Anne Marie Slaughter, Barnard College president Debora Spar is out with her new book “Wonder Women”. You can guess from the title things still haven’t improved for us ladies.

Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books

Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books

For those keeping score, Slaughter declared women can’t have it all and Sandberg advised women to lean into their high profile careers. Spar’s take is that the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s has backfired. The expectations women put on themselves today to have the perfect family, home, career and good looks are all too overwhelming, making our lives difficult and making us unhappy.

I don’t know about you but I’m secretly hoping there is a woman out there with a SUNY diploma who has figured out this whole work / family conundrum and just hasn’t gotten around to telling the rest of us because she’s too busy enjoying her life.

Until then, for the fun of it, since Spar and I are both born the same year let’s compare our lives:

Spar is president of a prestigious women’s college, she has a doctorate from Harvard, she has written six books, she is married and has three children. I on the other hand am a freelance producer (which means I’m unemployed part of the time), I have a B.A. from NYU, I write a blog (30 followers – yay!), I’ve never been married (though I do have a long-time boyfriend) and I have no kids (but share responsibility of my mentally ill 85 year old aunt -who acts like a four year old-  with my cousin).

The similarities are startling – right?

In the words of that great philosopher Charlie Sheen – Debora Spar you are #WINNING! The only thing this outsider can see missing from your life is the letter “h” at the end of your first name.

Honestly, if Spar’s life hasn’t met her expectations I can’t imagine what she must think of mine.

Okay, here’s the deal. I need to call a time out on you Ivy League women. Can we please stop over analyzing our lives as women? Nobody ever said we are going to be happy and content all the time. You have all made legitimate points but stop with the kvetching already.  If you must, start an Ivy League Women’s Angst Facebook page or some sort of consciousness raising group.  Please, just leave the rest of us out of it.

I’m all on board with equal pay and opportunity but I just can’t handle any more of your discontent with your successful lives when all I’m trying to do is make the most of mine.

Oh and P.S. Debora Spar – you are a success. Deal with it.

Bragging rights: My niece the reporter!

I saw my niece Madeleine twice this week and both times our conversation started off with her excitement over articles she had written for her college newspaper at Manhattan College called The Quadrangle.

I love seeing her enthusiasm about writing stories. I know the feeling all too well. That’s one of the things I love most about this profession. Even after 25 years, as much as I might bitch and moan about long hours, missed holidays and the overall stress of the job – the feeling of accomplishment that comes from reporting a story you are proud of never goes away.

I don’t know if this is true for other professions. There is something about the news business that grabs hold of you and if you are destined to be a reporter it is hard to let go.

I don’t know yet if the news business is Madeleine’s destiny. (She certainly won’t get any pressure from me.) I just want her to enjoy the thrill of reporting, for the moment – and to indulge her aunt’s bragging!madeleine article

Newsweek’s New Dress Code: Dress for success… or lose your job!

When I first heard Newsweek employees will now be subjected to a company dress code, my first thought was, “Maybe that’s not a bad idea.”.

Anyone who works in a newsroom will tell you at times the fashion limits are tested. My former colleagues will attest that I spent the last few years on the job wrapped in a gray fleece blanket. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall – I wore that blanket almost every day. I walked around the office with it on as if it were my Superhero cape. I wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement. Our office space was near the studio which required cooler temperatures.

The gray blanket I regularly wore at work.

The gray blanket I regularly wore at work.

Around the newsroom jeans and chinos for the most part are the uniform of choice. Some colleagues make an effort which I appreciate but most anyone wearing a suit is either on-air talent, part of upper management or headed off on a job interview. This casual look has nothing to do with disrespect for the profession. It’s the result of long hours, odd shifts and the possibility of being sent into the field at a moment’s notice to cover a story.

The new dress code at Newsweek is part of changes being implemented by the publication’s new owner IBT Media. Politico first reported the story and obtained a copy of “The International Business Times Employee Handbook”.

A quick perusal of the IBT dress code shows bare midriffs, halter tops, micro mini-skirts and flip-flops are not allowed. That seems reasonable. I personally find flip-flops in the office annoying – not so much the look, but that constant click-clack is grating when a deadline for a story is fast approaching.

It’s not only flip-flops on the “Fashion Don’t” list. All open toe sandals are now forbidden… and denim jeans, t-shirts and baseball caps. I don’t know about you but right now I’m looking at a naked newsroom.

The part of the dress code that really loses me has to do with hair. It reads:

 … well-groomed, business style hair of natural color is required…

Whoa – what’s that? Natural color? Geez, I hope that employee drug urine test doesn’t include an exam to see if the carpet matches the drapes! But it’s this section of the hair rules that would really get me in trouble:

 Hair should be clean, combed and neatly trimmed or arranged. Shaggy, messy, and neglected hair is not permissible regardless of length.

Great, if I worked at Newsweek I would have to call in sick anytime the humidity is over 70% to spare myself the humiliation of being sent home because of a bad hair day. The dress code concludes with this final warning:

Inappropriately dressed employees will be asked to return home to change into suitable clothing… Any employee who repeatedly violates this policy will be subject to progressive disciplinary action, up to and including suspension without pay and/or discharge.

I think Oscar Madison just turned over in his grave.

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