Meet Nellie Bly

Nellie BlyLong before the 1970s, the golden era of investigative journalism, when all those cool male undercover reporters made long-form reporting fashionable — there was Nellie Bly. She was the pioneer in investigative reporting. She was a woman. And the year was 1880.

Nellie was born in Pittsburgh on May 5, 1864, as Elizabeth Jane Cochran. Known as the “most rebellious child” in the family — maybe because of her curious mind and her wit — she dared to dream of becoming a writer at the Pittsburgh Dispatch, whose star columnist Erasmus Wilson (and most probably all of the readers agreed with the man) believed that a working woman was “a monstrosity.”

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Women Design the Future

techpanel

Right to left: Stephanie Ruhle, anchor, Bloomberg Television; Laura Merling, vice president, Ecosystem Development and Platform Solutions, AT&T Business Solutions; Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO, littleBits (electronic blocks, light, sounds, motors, that can be snapped together to create electronic prototypes); Meredith Perry, founder and CEO, uBeam (Wi-Fi device charging); Eesha Khare, developer, Quick Charging

According to research from the Harvard Business School, 56 percent of women in the tech industry leave by mid-career, double the rate than men (see a comparison chart below with women in India). Many women who enter the tech field encounter rampant misogyny, blatant sexism and sneering skepticism. And many more never see themselves as tech innovators in the first place, or they are held back by parents and peers in entering the sciences.

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New Media’s Lack of Diversity

In “New Media—but Familiar Lack of Diversity” (Fairs EXTRA! June 2012), Janine Jackson writes that women and people of color are still marginalized online.

“Traditional outlets, of course, did not and do not report ‘for everyone,’ but demonstrably exclude and marginalize many people and perspectives, particularly the less politically and economically powerful. Progressive critics and activists, seeing corporate journalism’s ‘crisis’ as an opportunity, hoped that newly emerging outlets would avoid repeating those myopic patterns, forging not just new pay structures, but a new definition of news as something more than what powerful people say and do.”

It seems New Media have failed women miserably.

The Op-Ed Report features on its homepage an interactive count how many women are represented each given month at various new and old media outlets. At last count (May 22-28), 69% of posts in the Huffington Post were written by men and 31% by women. Salon had an even larger gap: 79% of its stories were written by men and only 21% by women.

The Op-Ed Project published a survey in May that states that women tend to write a lot of stories on ‘pink topics’ — food, fashion, family and furniture. Among the new media organizations surveyed, 34 percent of the stories women wrote were on pink topics.

But to be fair, many women writers tend to pitch their editors pink stories that they think other women want to read and they don’t submit enough op-eds on heavier topics. A classic Catch 22 that only we can resolve.

Ladies, get your pens out, err, polish your keyboards and get to work.

Gail Collins on Women Journalists

New York Times columnist Gail Collins was the keynote speaker at New York Women in Communications annual meeting on May 17, 2011. She spoke about the evolution of women journalists — from being denied entry to the National Press Club in the 1970s, where even the restrooms were off-limits to them, to covering world events today.

Collins credited her success in journalism to the trailblazing women that came before her, who paved the way so that her own fight was made easier.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-itrDSRrh0E?rel=0&hd=1]

Yes, women have indeed come far. But not far enough. As a reminder, read Mika Brzezinski’s account (“Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth”) on why we value our work less than our male colleagues’ and how to get equal pay for equal work.

Listening to Collins’ speech was heartwarming, not only because of her wit and intellect but because of her down-to-earth, unpretentious demeanor that is lacking in too many media personalities and stars.

And I was reminded again how complacent many young journalists and almost-media-starlets are. I don’t see many who have Collins’ inner strength and determination to fight for women’s rights.

“A feminist? Me? Hell no.” Their dream jobs are working for Lifestyle or editing Cosmopolitan or Vogue — not covering Washington politics or the Pentagon. They want to work for Lucky and Us Weekly, not Wired or Foreign Affairs. At New York Women in Communications, I have met many a student and young professional who yearns to be the next Oprah and gets weak knees when coming face-to-face with senior fashion and beauty editors at NYWICI panels.

As broadcast journalists and magazine editors, they, too, will get caught up in superficiality in the hunt for the lowest common denominator, pleasing advertisers to get ratings or ads.

And as copy writers at advertising agencies, they, too, might come up with sexist ads like this one (why did the woman agree to take part in the ad, I wonder. But ladies, that is another story that you should investigate).

Soon, we’ll be back in the 1970s. Gail Collins will tell you what that was like for women journalists. You’d be surprised.

That could happen, because trailblazers like Collins, Helen Thomas or Carole Simpson can, and could, do only so much. You will have to pick up the torch someday if you want to have an impact that lasts beyond your career, even if it is just for your own dignity. Because even on a really bad hair day, there are more important things to worry about.

Remember Lara Logan? Get out there and be heard. Don’t sell yourself short.

Good Old Days?

Here is a video find “How to Be an Old School Journalist.” A real gem from the late 1930s/early 1940s that teaches kids what it’s like to be a journalist. Especially watch minute 5:06 and on. What journalism is like for women. Society pages and balls.

If only they could see us now.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9E4xDq8IR4]

But don’t gloat. We still have a long way to go in print media, especially book publishing: According to She Writes, under the headline “Not A Balanced Breakfast: Gender Stats in Publishing for…2009?” you’ll read this:

“There are more women writing today than ever before, but what kind of recognition are they receiving? Well, not as much as you might think: in terms of prominent book awards and “best of” lists, gender equality hasn’t changed at all.”

The Glass is Still Half Empty…In New Media

I just came across this picture of the New York Times’ copy editing team hard at work at the paper’s foreign desk, ca. 1942.

Notice the amount of editors working. White men and All the News That’s Fit to Print. Don’t sneer. In that regard, not much has changed, because mostly white men are still deciding what is considered newsworthy to print or broadcast.

But if you take a good look at new media, there, too, the good old times are still with us: Most influential political bloggers are male.

You want to change the media landscape, ditch the old ways, be all new and trendy and interactive and many to many while wagging a finger at mainstream media/old media/dead media? Why not shatter the glass ceiling once and for all in your approach to citizen journalism, counter the indifference toward women writers, put the social in social media and hire female executives while you’re at it.

I am not holding my breath though.

So ladies, take the matter in your own hands. Start writing about hard news. Submit op-eds. Analyze and comment and be heard. And don’t take no for an answer.

The McCormick Foundation New Media Women Entrepreneurs has more facts to consider. Among them:

  • Women comprise nearly two-thirds of journalism school students but only make up one-third of the full-time journalism workforce. That proportion has not changed for more than 25 years.
  • Only 3 percent of clout positions in mainstream media are held by women.

“What we don’t know – and aim to find out is how the explosion of new media is changing the news landscape for women,” states the foundation. “In the face of media consolidation and mega-buyouts, the rise of citizen journalism and multimedia reporting, are more women journalists leaving traditional news operations to launch and lead their own news businesses? Is cyberspace a more welcoming place for women journalists? Are women bringing different news judgment as they conceive new Web sites? What do these trends mean for women consumers of news?”

Here’s another disturbing trend:

“Women are used to being paid less, doing more for less. Men want more. And unless you’re on staff, the pay [in new media] is miserable,” writes Luisita Lopez Torregrosa in Politics Daily under the headline Women in New Media: At the Top or in the Trenches? “The highly prized jobs of web developers — the thinkers, the innovators, the ground breakers — are all held by men.” And Torregrosa points to a NYTimes article in the Sunday Magazine a while back that ran several pictures of the people it chose as the 21st century leaders at The Times: They were all young, all of them new-media whizzes, and all were men.

Indeed, according to another NYTimes article, “Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley” (April 16), according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women account for just 6 percent of the chief executives of the top 100 tech companies, and 22 percent of the software engineers at tech companies over all.

Even The Huffington Post, launched and run by a woman, Arianna Huffington, is not immune. FAIR Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting discovered in a 2008 study that the Huffington Post had far fewer female bloggers than one would think.  FAIR discovered during a 9-week period that only 23 percent of the “13 featured blog posts” on the home page belonged to women.

When I interviewed Arianna Huffington in 2009, she told me, “The caricature that women just want to sit around reading People magazine and watching soap operas is very moldy. And as we move forward, I believe more and more women will challenge our cultural labeling and speak out more.”

Let’s take her by her word and send blog post pitches her way and speak out more.

For more info, visit the Op-Ed Project; get more facts from my post on the glass ceiling in media; read this 2007 study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology; take a look at this listing of Top 100 Female Bloggers; and read The End of Men from the July/August issue of The Atlantic.

We Did It! Not So Fast.

“We Did It!” announced the Economist on its cover recently, and continued, “What happens when women are over half the workforce?” The magazine went on and flatly declared: “The rich world’s quiet revolution: women are gradually taking over the workplace.”

We did?

I tell you what would happen if women really were half of the workforce: Even more women would be underpaid and even more employers would save a buck. Maybe that’s the trend post-Great Recession: Lay off the higher-paid men and hire us. And that, sadly, includes the communications industry and its giant corporations.

If other industries serve as an example, rampant pay inequality in media is a reality. Reuters reported in October 2008 that the year before, “female chief executives earned just 58% of what their male counterparts did, and their compensation packages were slashed three times as much as their male peers.” Granted, most women CEOs work in smaller companies. But also that in itself is telling.

People don’t like to talk about their salaries, and especially women don’t feel comfortable haggling over compensation (like most men do) before accepting a new position. According to a PINK Magazine study, women don’t ask for pay rises nearly as often as men. Consequently, many women start off on a lower pay level. And this inequality stays with them until they reach the top. Regardless, of the 2,000 world’s top performing companies, 1.5% of the CEOs are women. And in media, name one woman who has clawed herself to the top of a media empire and become a Murdoch in a pantsuit.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center published a study in 2002: “The Glass Ceiling in the Executive Suite.” Guess what they found? The number of executive women in the major communication and entertainment conglomerates is barely in the teens. A year later, a second study revealed that the glass ceiling in media had barely budged. And with it, the prevalence of lower paychecks continued. “Women made no progress in the past year,” the report concluded. That was in 2003. And in 2009? Women in the United States in full-time positions still make only 78 cents on the dollar compared to the typical male worker — more than 45 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963.

According to the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans believe that “women who try to rise to the top [where they would get paid more] get held back by the ‘old-boy network’.” Women “aren’t supposed to be aggressive and self-promoting, even though it’s often rewarded,” writes Kathleen Deveny in Newsweek (Nov. 30, 2009). She declares that “when women are finally sufficiently represented in the executive suite, we will stop viewing them as proxies for their entire gender — superior or not.” But the magazine also predicted in the same issue that “working women are poised to become the biggest economic engine the world has ever known.” Apparently while clutching their lower paychecks with a smile.

Even so, Gail Evans, who retired from CNN in 2001 as the network’s first female executive vice president, told me she dislikes the term “glass ceiling” because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “It’s about a general power shift that hasn’t happened yet,” says Evans. “Women need to learn how to play the game. We all buy into the same stereotypes: Women take care — and men take charge. Women have to start supporting each other more. Their success is connected. Women think it’s all about ‘I can do it.’ They think that ‘if I try hard, it’ll change.’ We have to go from ‘I can do it,’ which gives isolated success, to ‘we can do it.’ ”

So, no, we haven’t done it — yet. “Equal rights for the sexes will be achieved when mediocre women occupy high positions,” the French writer and feminist Françoise Giroud (1916-2003) once said. Maybe she was on to something.