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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And the top job goes to....?

...Another guy.

Yep, that's right. Women are remarkably absent from any discussion of replacements for Leonard Downie or Meet the Press or NBC Washington Bureau Chief . The ME of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has announced his resignation, so I wonder what names will circulate to replace him?

I have no problem with men holding powerful positions in journalism. I have a problem with them holding virtually ALL the powerful positions in journalism. If you want to know why our mainstream news coverage resembles a middle-aged white guy, you need look no further than the newsrooms of most major newspapers.

As it happens Len Downie, a hometown boy, happens to be one of the greatest editors of one of the greatest newspapers. I would have worked for him in a heartbeat. You don't get 25 Pulitzers without fostering a sense of possibility, creativity and high expectations in a newsroom. Likewise, Jim Amoss at the New Orleans Times-Picayune is another I'd work for in a snap because of his commitment to fulfilling the promise of the press as a watchdog for the public.

But seriously...how far do newspapers in particular have to decline before news organizations start looking a little differently at who is at the helm? This isn't an anti-guy rant, but more an anti-establishment rant. You know the old definition of insanity? Yeah, well, I think it applies to newspapers by the bucket loads.

Check out the numbers: According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors 2006 census: 38 percent of journalists working in daily newspapers are women; 65 percent of all supervisors are men.

Only 3 percent of women hold clout positions in journalism, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

All this is despite the fact that women have been the majority of college journalism majors since 1977. (Ah, yep, that would include me.)

AN-ND... newspapers that enjoy growth from innovation and development are more likely to have a diverse set of leaders at the top.

But, hey, we don't pull our weight, right? Women correspondents report ONLY 25 percent of the stories on television, and women comprise 25 percent of contributors to "general interest" magazines.



Maybe THAT'S why we leave journalism in droves. Or maybe it's because the longer we work in this business the less we get paid compared to our male counterparts.

These statistics are helpfully gathered at McCormick Foundation's New Media Women Entrepreneurs, where they encourage and yes reward us for our knack with new media, social networks and our broader network of contacts and insatiable curiosity.

C'mon! We've got the data, now let's do something about it. And then maybe we can stop mourning for what was and start reaching for what's next.

9 comments:

Jill said...

I hear ya, lady - you are going to hate this (I know I did):

Study finds imbalance on op-ed pages

Wendy A. Hoke said...

Yuck! This has got to change.

John Ettorre said...

I've said it before, and I'll no doubt say it again: these dynamics will only change when a critical mass of female professionals are professionals first and moms second. Since that's rather unlikely to ever happen, I think the dynamics are unlikely to ever change. For thoroughly understandable reasons, or at least I would hope they're understandable, these jobs (like CEOs of Fortune 500 companies) only go to people who have put their career first for decades, including when their children are very young, which obviously means generally at great emotional cost to the family. The hard fact of biological imperative is that a LOT more men are willing to do that than women. It's politically incorrect to say. But it happens to be the truth. And we should, after all, be in the truth business.

Michelle O'Neil said...

"If you want to know why our mainstream news coverage resembles a middle-aged white guy, you need look no further than the newsrooms of most major newspapers."

I laughed at this line, until I thought about how un-funny it is.

As per John's comment. It's a chicken/egg thing. We can't possibly know how many women would put careers first if the financial rewards were enough to sustain a family,and if the men stepped up enough to manage the homefront. If she could relax and leave the kids in competent hands? My husband would be a great stay at home dad, but he makes a whole lot more money than I am able to, so I am the one home with kids.

John Ettorre said...

Michelle, that's a hell of a great point. I never thought of it that way, but then that's why discussions are so valuable. Ironically, I just came across a good essay about one of those points (only can't remember where), the issue of whether the average dad is so lame as a primary caregiver because he's merely responding to the low expectations of his wife, transmitted in dozens of ways, or if there's more at work. It's complicated, of course, and like everything else it utterly resists generalizations.

And by the way, one obvious candidate who will no doubt soon rise to one of these top newsroom jobs is the formidable Jill Abramson, managing editor of the NYT, who earlier spent years at the WSJ, and who with her colleague Jane Meyer, now at the New Yorker, demolished Clarence Thomas' flimsy case in a memorable book about the Anita Hill case. She famously got hit by a car not long ago, but even that didn't slow her down. We need about 300 more like her.

Wendy A. Hoke said...

Michelle, there are usually two other adjectives I insert in between middle-aged and white guy and they involve facial hair and girth. I agree that the financial rewards for women are not generally enough to justify women staying on the fast track.

Wendy A. Hoke said...

John,
I think it's a sad commentary on American life that success has to be an all or nothing proposition. I will always be a mom first and that's a choice I happily made. But I'm also a damn fine journalist and leader and I have no doubt I could manage a news organization.

But here's another point worth considering:

In the next five years of my life, I will have two children in college and one in high school. I am looking to devote more of my time to my career. I may be an expert at managing my household, children and my own freelance business, but I will not be considered seriously for management or leadership positions because I haven't followed the "traditional" track toward that end.

It's short-sighted thinking in my view. There is no dearth of qualified females to take on these positions. How many more women of a certain experience level are in a similar position?

My point is that if news organizations continue to turn to the same kind of individual—male or female—to run their organizations, they will continue to get the same results. That doesn't bode well for the industry right now.

Jill Abramson and Jane Meyer are not enough.

John Ettorre said...

Granted, life often isn't fair. But I think it pays to deal with it on its own terms rather than how we imagine it should be.

TLC said...

A terribly sad commentary and very sobering statistics.

When I graduated from J-school I had all these aspirations and dreams about my career as a reporter. Sadly, the reality was not that great. I worked for a sexist pig editor who soured me to everything that had to do with reporting, and I left my reporting gig after 6 months to attend law school.

So now I have a law degree. That's all.

The thing is: I love to write. It is my first and forever love.

To that end, I have taught journalism, hoping to make an impact.

And now, I am an editor in a marketing department - not what I planned to do so many years ago.

On the upside, I am writing and editing...but those dreams and aspirations of that college-aged journalism student are long gone.

And that's just sad.