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
chart

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.

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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.

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.

If 40 is the new 30… 50 is the new “kiss of death”

I have discovered the fountain of youth and it’s called LinkedIn.

I recently took a course through MediaBistro on how best to use this job networking website. My main takeaway – under no circumstances am I to reveal my age. That’s right. No graduation dates, no laundry list of work experience dating back 25 years and make sure you use a damn good photo!

50 glasses 1

Apparently all those years of work and life experience aren’t worth a thing in today’s job market. The job recruiter leading the course told us, “Your age will be used against you.”. It’s all about youth, youth, youth! Screw it up and you too could become part of the fifty-something and over group a Boston College study has dubbed the “new unemployables”. (I’ve previously posted about how this age group is also seen as irrelevant in the eyes of the media.)

Scary stuff but the problem is once you tell me not to do something I can’t stop doing it.  I almost feel like I’m on a single-handed mission to break this youth obsession. My Facebook page is now covered with images of me celebrating turning fifty. To top it off, this past weekend I marched in the local town parade with a few high school classmates holding a banner celebrating our “50th Birthday Bash Weekend” for all the world to see.

Cow Harbor Parade class of 81

The job recruiter from the LinkedIn course would tell you this is tantamount to a twenty-something posting photos of herself on Facebook doing bong shots. We might as well have streaked down Main Street. Yup, there will be a price to pay if a potential employer stumbles upon these photos.

What’s a middle-aged person to do? Do we really think we’re kidding anyone by shaving decades off our resumes? As my sister said to me this weekend, “Some days I wake up in the morning and I have fifty written all over my face.” She’s right. Okay, sometimes that’s because of a bad night’s sleep, but more often it’s because of where we are at in life and what we know. Guess what? You can’t hide this stuff, nor should you. I don’t need to have a Oprah Winfrey “Aha” moment to tell you I’m at the top of my game and raring to go and oh yeah, as of today I’m 50. (I guess that was obvious by the fact I used the phrase “raring to go”.)

50 glasses 2

My question is why are we all buying into this fallacy that our work and life experience isn’t worth anything? Even worse, it’s being held against us.  Are you seriously telling me some Millennial in the midst of a quarter-life crisis has it more together than I do? I don’t think so.

A recent article in Forbes magazine addresses the swift turnover of Millennials in the job market. Their discontent has to do with the typical work model of having to gain experience and earn respect in order to climb up the ladder. According to the article, “60% of Millennials are leaving their companies in less than three years. With 87% of companies reporting a cost of between $15,000 and $25,000 to replace each lost Millennial employee…”. The article goes on to explain things employers can do to keep Millennials from leaving the job.

Here’s a thought. Let them go. Trust me, they’ll be back in a few years when they have a mortgage to pay and a couple of kids to raise. In the meantime, you can fill the positions with a few fifty-somethings. Honestly, we’ll show up on time with a good attitude and believe it or not plenty of talent. Heck, if you’re willing to put up with some 50th birthday bash photos on our Facebook pages, we’ll even stick around!

Last night I attended the launch party for the new web video channel “Lives with Meredith Vieira”. I previously posted about the channel when it premiered on YouTube.

Launch party for "Lives with Meredith Vieira".

Meredith Vieira, Sarah Bernard and Jessie Cantrell at the launch party for “Lives with Meredith Vieira”

I had the opportunity to speak with Vieira about her new project. Our conversation focused on the differences between working in new media and traditional media. This is a topic I hope to return to often in future posts.

I asked Vieira if she thought web video channels are the wave of the future and she told me, “I still love traditional media and I think it has a role. But I can’t ignore this anymore. I was really kind of being prehistoric about it and it’s there. And I’m meeting some women who have huge footprints in the internet world and I didn’t even know they existed.”

Meredith Vieira

Meredith Vieira

You can see the full conversation here. (My apologies for the less than stellar video. Hildy must fix this problem stat!)

I also spoke with Mary-Liz McDonald who is the Executive Producer overseeing “Lives”. McDonald started her career in traditional television and in recent years made the switch to digital. “I don’t think there has been a day in the last year and a half when I haven’t learned something new because the landscape is constantly changing”, she told me. ” There are new platforms and new devices and learning how to drive an audience to the content.”

Meredith Vieira and Mary-Liz McDonald, EP "Lives with Meredith Vieira" / photo: Luis Antonio Ruiz

Meredith Vieira and Mary-Liz McDonald, EP “Lives with Meredith Vieira” / photo: Luis Antonio Ruiz

McDonald says web video channels don’t have the same limitations as traditional broadcast channels. “There’s not a big price to admission in digital because you can fail. You can try things in digital and if it fails you can scrap it and move on partially because our costs are lower and partially because things can come and go in digital. It’s not programatic yet in the way I think broadcast television is.”

Hildyshub will continue watching where “Lives” is headed. As they say in the business, “Stay tuned!”.

 

“I don’t believe at all the road you travel in life is straight. I think there’s constant deviations. There’s all these little side roads. And you can’t be afraid to go down the side road just because you think the straight roads are probably a little more secure . The side roads are where you find the most interesting things.” Meredith Vieira

As broadcast careers go Meredith Vieira seems to have something akin to nine lives. She has never boxed herself into one format. Over the course of her career she has been a local news reporter, a correspondent for “60 Minutes”, a panelist on “The View”, a game show host for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, and a co-anchor of the “Today” show.

Vieira’s latest project takes her outside traditional broadcast television into the world of web video. This week she launches a YouTube channel called “Lives with Meredith Vieira”. You can see her first segment below which is part of a series she calls “Overshare”.

Vieira has said about “Lives”:  “What I hope to do with this channel is give women a sense of community, a place they can go to learn about what other women have dealt with in their lives, and hopefully to leave feeling more connected and empowered.”

Future segments will give us a better idea of what “Lives” hopes to be.

The question is how many women will be willing to tune in? YouTube is more popular than ever with four billion hours of viewership a month, but it’s anyone’s guess how many of those people will choose to watch “Lives”.

A tech column in Time magazine earlier this year said the video sharing website is evolving beyond the popularity of bite-sized videos and that individual channels like Vieira’s are the wave of YouTube’s future.

Update / Sept. 11, 2013:

I have additional information about “Lives with Meredith Vieira” from Suncera Johnson who works on Digital PR for the channel. Johnson says “Overshares” will initially be programmed twice a month. The channel hopes to increase to weekly segments in 2014.

“Lives” also wants to make viewers a part of its programming. Johnson says the channel wants to share stories from viewers through user generated content including comments, tweets, posts and video. Vieira will be curating the submissions.

Al Jazeera America launch: 3, 2, 1… Liftoff!

Kate O’Brian has a daunting job ahead of her. She’s at the helm of Tuesday’s launch of Al Jazeera America, the latest entry into the 24 hour news market. O’Brian, as I previously posted, is one of two women recently named president of a television news organization. (The other is Deborah Turness at NBC News.) Unlike Turness,  O’Brian is tasked with introducing an American audience to a whole new brand of news which will include 14 hours of live programming.

NPR’s “On The Media” spoke with O’Brian and other members of her team about the new channel’s programming and the hurdles it will have to overcome in order to gain an American audience. The network plans to focus its reporting on under the radar stories here in the United States. At the moment, budgetary costs do not appear to be of concern as the new cable news channel is financed by the government of Qatar.  O’Brian says,  “We will be able to tell stories from places that our competitors will not be able to.”

We will see in the coming weeks and months how the new network will differentiate itself from other cable news channels. There already is one notable difference. In addition to O’Brian,  Al Jazeera America has hired several women for key positions including Marcy McGinnis as senior VP of news gathering, Shannon High as senior VP of documentaries and programs and Kim Bondy as senior executive producer of the network’s flagship prime time news magazine show “America Tonight”.

Stay tuned…

Look!

IMG_0292

I’ve been doing a lot of this lately. I look back on my 25 year career as a television producer and wonder has my work made a difference? How do I keep up? Is there a place for a middle-aged woman like me?  I look at female colleagues, those who have stuck it out and those who have moved on. Why did they stay? Where did they go? What can they teach me? I look at young female interns filled with enthusiasm and remember when that was once me. What’s their future like? What wisdom can I impart on them? What questions do they have for me? I look at television news, newspapers, websites, blogs and social media and wonder what influence will women have on this industry as it evolves? I hope other women will join me as we look to each other to find answers and make our way forward.

 

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