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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The Future of Communications

NYWICI panel
(left to right) Sarah DaVanzo, Dana Points, Lisa Stone, Liz Kaplow. Photo by Jan Goldstoff.

On June 11, 2014, a panel hosted by New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) debated the shift in communications. A shift that is leading away from personal interactions toward a future obsessed with blazing-fast, always-on technology in our pockets. Is the ability to stay connected wherever we go a service or a disservice? To find out, NYWICI surveyed its members in partnership with BlogHer and discovered that 79% feel ignored when another person is using a phone during a conversation; 67% feel that multi-tasking is both a blessing and a curse; most would give up an e-reader before a phone (20% couldn’t decide). But overall, all seem to agree that technology is empowering — and disempowering them — at the same time.

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Infotainment: A Disney World of Democracy

If you have not yet seen Bill Moyers’ June 8 interview with Marty Kaplan on Big Media and the impact of money on communications, and especially broadcast news, this is a most see.

Kaplan founded and heads The Norman Lear Center, which studies politics, entertainment and commerce and their impact on us, and he discusses how broadcast media have dumbed down — and taken us for the ride.   

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Journalism ca. 1940

Headlines and Deadlines recently posted this wonderfully quaint video about newspaper journalism in the 1940s (“You Life Work Series”), probably taken from the Prelinger Archives. I posted the same video in the past and wrote about women in journalism — now and then but it is worth reposting.

Aside from the fact that the newspaper business was a man’s business, what struck me as the biggest difference between then and now was that the hierarchies were much less defined. In this video, the managing editor sits with his staff in the same newsroom, no special treatment here. I wish today’s executive editors would be less self-centered and as humble.

The video also shows footage of manual typesetting and layout, printing and the process of creating matrix molds for syndication, skills that are all but lost.

As are the jobs for journalists…


Too Old to be Online?

According to a PewResearch study, for the first time, half of seniors over 65 are online.

“As of April, 53% of adults ages 65 and older said they used the internet or email. Though these adults are less likely than all other age groups to use the internet, this represents the first time that half of seniors are going online. After several years of very little growth among this group, these gains are significant. […] One third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day.” 

The Joy of Quiet

Quote of the day (from an op-ed by Pico Iyver in the New York Times a while back, but still very much relevant):

“In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight. […] We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.” 

Digital Natives

PBS Newshour aired a fascinating segment yesterday by Miles O’Brien about the effects of multitasking and addiction to digital technology on adolescents’ brains. The gist: multi-tasking is possible and the constant, simultaneous use of technologies will rewire our brains over time. But it is very inefficient and a constant give and take.

I wrote a while ago about “Our Brains Online.” Now, here’s another take on the story: How kids and “technology addicts” may alter their brains  — for better or for worse. “The prime time for pruning is adolescence,” says O’Brien.“Connections that are used are strengthened. Those that aren’t are disconnected.”

“This is the time when human beings learn to live independently in their environment — 10,000 years ago, teens would have been learning how to stay warm, what berries to eat, or how to hunt. Today, they are learning how to drink from a technological fire hose. And, in fact, in their adult jobs, they may be doing a lot of multitasking. But the other side of that coin is, will they become less good at focusing on one task, of being able to do one thing really well?”

In a recent article in Nieman ReportsDistracted: The New News World and the Fate of Attention,” Maggie Jackson went even further:

“In our rapid-fire, split-focus era, are we able to process, filter and reflect well on the tsunamis of information barraging us daily? Are we hearing, but not listening? If this continues to be the way we work, learn and report, could we be collectively nurturing new forms of ignorance, born not from a dearth of information as in the past, but from an inability or an unwillingness to do the difficult work of forging knowledge from the data flooding our world?”

Adults, who have been using new technologies from the start, show the same brain-changes. “I can feel it, too” admits Nicholas Karr in his December 2010 article in The Atlantic Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

And it all started so promising. In 1982, The Atlantic published a very entertaining piece “Living with a computer” by James Fallows, who describes the positive and time-saving experience of working, and slowly coming to love his first computer (with a 48K memory). At the end of his story, Fallows expressed his hope “for a world in which my sons can grow up to have a better computer than their father had.”

They definitely have. But has that served them well?

Almost 30 years later, Karr is less enthusiastic than Fallows was back then: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

Much ado about nothing? Maybe. It is up to parents and teachers to introduce kids to things that they wouldn’t look for themselves or are not aware of that they need. Choices are good once you make sure that you don’t get sucked into more of the same of what you already know.

O’Brien muses at the end of his piece for PBS: “I suppose cavemen parents worried about their kids playing with that newfangled fire.”

Fire? What fire? Many of us have lost the ability to really see the glow of the flames, hear them crackle, smell the burning sap of the logs and feel the heat on our faces even if the fire is right in front of us. We watch it on Vimeo, tweet about it, Digg it, Stumble Upon it, blog and text about it and find it on Google Maps or on our iPhone app. And then we immediately forget that it ever happened.

Still, my brain and I don’t want to go back to the time where we couldn’t choose what to read, watch, learn and listen to freely, wherever and whenever.

Hmm. What was I just talking about?

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.


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 Female Bloggers; and read The End of Men from the July/August issue of The Atlantic.