When we consider the history of women in journalism – we are confronted with many contradictions. For more than a century, countless women have made significant contributions to the profession, and society, through their reporting. From Margaret Fuller, the first female American foreign correspondent, to Ida B. Wells, one of the nation’s most influential investigative journalists, to Nellie Bly, who courageously went undercover in a mental institution for 10 days in the 1880s to uncover inhumane treatment. While women’s role in journalism and the media has been crucial to understanding and investigating the world we live in – the world of journalism and media has largely fallen short when it comes to gender equality. Yet, in this moment of increased support for equal treatment and representation of women in media – there is also cause for optimism and hope.
The USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP) brought together a brilliant group of leaders in journalism and media to tackle these contradictions through a panel, “Media’s Gender Revolution.” The panel, moderated by Cindi Leive, a Senior Fellow at CCLP and former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, also featured speakers Willow Bay, Dean of USC Annenberg, Marsha Cooke, SVP of Content Strategy & Community at Vice Media, and Kim Masters, Editor-at-Large for The Hollywood Reporter. More than one hundred guests gathered in the Wallis Annenberg Forum to learn about the state of women in media – covering a range of topics including reporting on sexual harassment, finding mentorship in unexpected places, and the importance of women in positions of power.
Leive opened the panel with some grim statistics: The percent of women in newsrooms has risen only one point since 2001, men report three times as much news as their female peers at major TV networks, men even wrote a majority of bylined pieces about reproductive issues in 2017, the percentage of people of color at news organizations decreased last year, and two-thirds of all women journalists globally report experiencing abuse or harassment. Turning to the panelists, Leive asked them to give the media a grade on gender equality. Cooke responded, “For me, personally, in the newsroom where I work, we are doing a good job in being accountable in changing the narrative, but I have to give a failing grade when I think of the general media. There’s just not enough women of color given opportunity in newsrooms.” Dean Bay had a slightly more optimistic take, which she also recognized is influenced by her daily interactions with the next generation of journalists at Annenberg. “Let’s be hopeful! I see doors opening in a way that I have never seen before and a small army of qualified, talented women ready to succeed.”
Conversation then turned to the importance of having equal representation in the newsroom. “These pervasive, sexist cultures won’t change if there’s only one woman represented. It has to be a group of women, coming together to demand that they will not be excluded,” said Masters. Cooke agreed, commenting on the crucial role women have played in her own career. “If I didn’t have women in positions of authority who said, ‘That kid’s worked really hard, let’s give her a shot,’ I don’t know if I’d be where I am today.”
Masters also spoke at length on her experience as a journalist working to investigate many of the sexual harassment cases that have gone public over the course of the last year. Perhaps surprisingly, Masters divulged that many of her sources for these stories have been men acting as whistleblowers.
Students had numerous questions, about career advice, setting boundaries, and investigating abuses of power. One powerful piece of advice Cooke left students with: “Never say no to an opportunity. It is only going to help you by exploring.”
Leive had started the evening by saying, “We are in the middle of a new women’s movement across industries.” By the end of the panel, it was clear that there is a real hunger for lasting change for women in media and journalism.
You can visit CCLP’s Facebook page to watch a recording of the event: https://www.facebook.com/USCAnnenbergCenter/videos/878888482304985/