Christiane Amanpour makes headlines just by speaking up

An interesting on-air exchange took place yesterday at CNN between chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and anchor Wolf Blitzer.

Of course what followed were these headlines:

Christiane Amanpour Snaps At Wolf Blitzer Over CNN Ukraine Coverage

 

Christiane Amanpour Scolds Wolf Blitzer: ‘You Have To Be Really Careful’ About Ukraine Facts

 

CNN’s Amanpour Battles with Blitzer and Guest over Allegations of Anti-Semitism in Ukraine

Snap? Scold? Battle? Oh my. That doesn’t sound very ladylike.

I don’t mean to get all Sheryl Sandberg on you here… oh hell, maybe I do…

It’s worth pointing out to all of us women that what Amanpour did was assert herself in her area of expertise. Amanpour reminded her colleague of CNN’s journalistic responsibility in reporting on events in the Ukraine. Yes, she raised her voice as did Blitzer, but it never got unprofessional.

I know for many women, including me, speaking up to a male colleague is not always easy.  I’m going to keep this exchange in mind the next time I find myself hesitating to speak up. I hope you will too.

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.

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.

Ifill and Woodruff: America’s Newest Evening News Team (2013)

Thirty years ago this was the print ad promoting the launch of PBS’  The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. The program was the first and  only hour-long nightly news broadcast in the nation.

1983 ad promoting the launch of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour / from kpbs.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com

Fast forward to this coming Monday’s NewsHour and the introduction of “America’s Newest Evening News Team”… well,  we’ve come a long way baby.

Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill/ from: PBS, Robert Severi/Associated Press

What a novel idea! Two smart women of a “certain age” co-anchoring a nightly newscast. AP’s David Bauder interviewed the new team. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff say they were surprised by the response to the milestone pairing of two women heading up a nightly news broadcast. Strangers have been offering their congratulations.

“I’m most touched by young women who stop me on the street and tell me how happy they are about this. I’m amazed at the investment people have in this.” Gwen Ifill / AP interview

In addition to co-anchoring, Ifill and Woodruff have also been named managing editors of the broadcast along with their EP Linda Winslow. Did I forget to tell you? Yup, she’s a woman too.

 

Kevin Spacey: What’s happened to broadcast journalism?

New York Times political reporter Mark Leibovich did a Times Talk last night with actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and producer Beau Willimon about the hit Netflix series “House of Cards”.

Kevin Spacey as character Congressman Frank Underwood in Netflix’s “House of Cards” / photo: collider.com

If you haven’t been watching, Spacey plays a democratic congressman from South Carolina who gets involved with a political journalist. The conversation turned to the state of broadcast journalism and Spacey gave his thoughts about what has happened to the news industry.

“What happened when the news had to make money and when ratings became important? And when the conglomerates that looked at the publishing firm that they owned and the movie studio that they owned and looked at the news division and said “Well why shouldn’t that just be as profitable as a profit center as all these other divisions?” And I believe perhaps Edward Murrow might have said better than anybody, the moment you have to make the news compete with entertainment it’s no longer the news. It’s entertainment. And that that aspect of the news disappoints me. That it is now, they have to compete with entertainment. And I think that that as a knock on effect has perhaps changed the style in which journalists are forced to report the news.”

I think there is a lot of truth in what he says.

As a side note, there were sound issues with the interview. If you choose to watch you’ll hear better if you wear headphones.

Reality Check: Dream on…

I hadn’t planned on writing a post about today’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, but then I read a tweet that got under my lily-white skin.

March on Washington, 1963 / photo: abcnews.go.com

I’m not going to call the reporter out but she too is white and works for one of the news networks. The gist of her #DreamDay tweet was that her family’s Washington, DC vacation coincided with today’s celebration and what a great moment for her kids to experience.

I wonder what exactly it is she hopes her children take away from today’s events? Yes, I’m sure it’s some message about equality and opportunity for all. They’ll spend the day feeling good about themselves, hanging with a predominately African American crowd on the mall at the Lincoln Memorial… and tomorrow they’ll head back to their segregated existence.

Okay, here’s where I have to say I don’t know this reporter personally. I’ve never worked with her but I’ve worked with many other women and men like her. I may be making assumptions. Perhaps her kids are enrolled in a public school, but chances are they are attending an exclusive private school where the student body both white and minority has been pre-selected to fit some income and/or test score criteria. Chances are likely if you asked her children to list their three best friends not one is black. I’m going to say it’s probably the same for her and her husband.

I can’t just put this all on her. I’m no better and neither are most of my white friends.

“The Butler” / photo: insidemovies.ew.com

My sister recently told me about going to see the movie “The Butler” at a theater in Connecticut. At the end of the film the crowd was clapping and teary eyed in that self-serving way that a mostly liberal leaning audience can be. The problem was they also all happened to be white. There’s a disconnect here folks. Yes, I’m going to celebrate your blackness today – but only at a safe distance.

Of course this reporter is not the only one who tweeted about today’s commemoration. The entire news media have also hopped on the bandwagon. In fact, they have devoted a number of stories and interviews over the past week about the importance of this day and where we as a nation stand when it comes to equality and opportunity for all. Some of the news organizations have even decided to air Dr King’s speech from that day. To what end I ask?

I’ve been in enough newsrooms to tell you it hasn’t escaped my notice that there are a whole lot of white people working there. And most of them with the big jobs are white men.

A recent article in the Atlantic confirms this saying progress has halted for women and minorities working in media. The article breaks down stats for newspapers, television and radio and includes this quote from Dori Maynard, President of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education:

“The news media and the nation are moving in two different directions,” she says. “News media is getting whiter as the country is getting browner.” Journalists of color “feel their voice is not heard, their story ideas are not validated, and they don’t see room for advancement.”

Whoa, what’s that? Any of you news organizations want to start a #DreamDayFail hashtag? Didn’t think so…

We can all make ourselves feel good by posting 140 characters promoting equality and opportunity for all. We might even convince ourselves we’re advancing the cause but it doesn’t make a difference if we don’t acknowledge the situation right in front of us.

It takes more than re-airing a speech. News organizations have to learn how to live it. Here’s a thought – want to really feel good and make a difference today? Hire or promote a few more minorities and while you’re at it give them equal pay.

I guess, in the end, what I want to say to that reporter is yes, I hope today is a  special moment for her children and everyone else, but let’s not forget about tomorrow. There are special moments and opportunities everyday for both whites and minorities to bridge the divide if we are only brave enough to be open to them and to each other and be honest about the realities of our lives.

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