Questions of identity

Women’s studies was one of the best classes I took as an undergraduate, so it was a treat to spend my lunch hour listening to a presentation about LGBTQ identities among students at Mount Holyoke College.

Interesting, sure, but what does it have to do with the topic of this blog? A lot, actually. Journalism is, at its most basic, a snapshot of who we are now — or, as Jack Fuller calls it, a “provisional truth.”

It matters who is framing those snapshots and reporting that truth. Not every headline comes down to gender or sexuality or race, but those things do influence the way journalists see the world. That’s why so much time and effort is devoted to tracking newsroom demographics — and why it’s important that all kinds of people have a hand in hardwiring the future of news.

During the lecture, I tapped out some tweets. Here they are:

Between classroom and newsroom, the women disappear

The lone male student in this Northeastern University journalism class is seated in the back right corner. (Credit: Meg Heckman)
The lone male student in this Northeastern University journalism class is seated in the back right corner. (Credit: Meg Heckman)

This blog started as a project for a class I’m taking at Northeastern University, where I’m pursuing a master’s degree in journalism research. The course, called Reinventing the News, ponders how technology is shaping journalism.

Despite our 8 a.m. meeting time, the room is packed with about 15 students. And only one of them is male.

This bodes well for the numbers of women who will help shape journalism’s digital future, right?

Maybe not.

Women are, in fact, well represented in journalism schools and mass communication programs, according to a recent report from the Women’s Media Center. Since 1999, about 70 percent of students have been female.

Women have outnumbered men in college journalsim and communications programs since 1999.  (Source: Women's Media Center.)
Women have outnumbered men in college journalsim and communications programs since 1999. (Source: Women’s Media Center.)

That same report found a far different scenario in professional newsrooms:

women have consistently been underrepresented in occupations that determine the content of news and entertainment media, with little change in proportions over time.

In 2011, about 40 percent of newspaper editorial employees were female, just 3 percent more than in 1999. The same percentage of TV news staffers were female, although they made up the majority of producers, reporters and anchors. In radio, just 29 percent of the workforce is female.

What’s going on?

More resources from Twitter

Since leaving my staff job at the Concord Monitor last summer, I’ve struggled with how to reshape my use of Twitter. At the paper — where I helped maintain a couple of political blogs — it was easy: All presidential primary. All the time.

Launching this blog has forced me to reconsider who I follow and to organize my connections into lists — including this one focused on women and journalism. Some feeds, like @GenderReport and @womensmediacntr, deal directly with the topics addressed by this blog. Other accounts, like the one maintained by Ms. Magazine and this one from Bitch Media, deal with broader cultural questions of gender.

I’ve also included some smart, insightful writers like Soraya Chemaly who, according to her bio, says “feministy things about gender absurdities in media, religion, pop culture & politics. Out loud.” Other pithy tweets come from media critic Jennifer L. Pozner and author Jessica Valenti.

The most useful feed, though, belongs to the Journalism and Women Symposium. Many tweets are focused on the group’s activities, but there’s also a fair bit of pertinent industry information.



What I’m reading

Preliminary thesis reading.
Preliminary thesis reading. (Credit: Meg Heckman)

As I said in the previous post, there aren’t many websites focused on gender and online news. There are, however, plenty of organizations that monitor women and media. Quite a few communications scholars have also written journal articles and — as you can see in the accompanying photo — some books on the topic.

I’ve already mentioned The Gender Report and the blog maintained by the Women’s Media Center. Here are a few other sites I visit regularly:

These sites are listed in the blogroll on the right side of the homepage. As I find more worthwhile sources, I’ll add them there.

What’s going on here?

About a year ago, I noticed something about the professional company I kept.

After nearly a decade as a reporter, I’d taken a job as the first-ever online editor for the Concord Monitor, a daily paper in central New Hampshire. I joined all sorts of groups — real and virtual — to learn about the practice and theory of digital news. What content management systems were best suited to the needs of a community publication? How could we best use social media to engage our audience and tell great stories? How could technology help us hold government accountable?

My new mentors had answers to these questions and many more, but it wasn’t long before I realized that most of those answers were coming from men. The gender disparity was even more apparent at conferences, where I’d often be the only woman participating in a conversation about digital news.

These observations led to this blog, which is an inquiry into the role of women in emerging news organizations. I also hope it becomes an important tool as I research a thesis on the same subject.

Existing work on the subject is limited, but there are a few good resources that I’ll consult frequently.

  • The Gender Report, a site that monitors gender representation by conducting byline surveys of online news orgs.
  • The Women’s Media Center doesn’t limit its work to the digital realm — or journalism, for that matter — but its blog is frequently updated with useful information.
  • I’ll also be consulting two databases of online news organizations, one maintained by Columbia Journalsim Review and the other by LION — the Local, Independent Online News Producers.

Any other sites I should include? You can post suggestions in the comment section below this post or send them to me on Twitter.

Visualizing the state budget

Like many states, New Hampshire is in the thick of a high-stakes, high-profile budget season, with jobs, programs and political careers hanging in the balance. Imagining $10 billion is tough, so I decided to help our readers with this interactive graphic, which is built using an IBM program called Many Eyes.

Click the image below to see the graphic on Many Eyes. And here it is again, anchoring a special budget section on

Proposed 2012-2013 state spending in New Hampshire

VuVox: My new best friend

Last month, I heard about VuVox… and it’s kind of changed my life.

VuVox is a free product that allows users to layer photos, text, videos, audio slide shows and links in a lovely, linear format. The finished product can be embedded pretty much anywhere. It was the perfect tool to tell the story of the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.

The Monitor has a comprehensive archive of Christa McAuliffe’s rise to fame and the aftermath of the disaster that ended her life. VuVox allowed me to tell the story in what I hope is a new and sensitive way:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Fun with weather

The storm that barreled up the East Coast kept plenty busy the Monday after Christmas.

We started our coverage Sunday night with a live map of the system, links to cancellations and a rolling feed of weather-related tweets from our staff and readers.

The home page this morning

As the morning went on — and snow continued to fall — I curated a feed of blog posts, tweets and wire bulletins:

Storm feed
More storm feed

Around lunchtime, our photographers returned to the newsroom. I rearranged the home page to feature a slide show of their work and a Storify piece I pulled together during the morning.

The home page after lunch

Not bad, especially considering that most of our reporters were stuck in airports out of state.

Overwhelming response

Logo by Clay Wirestone

E-mails, phone calls, tweets and Facebook posts continue to pour in from people who have read My Epidemic, a serial narrative I wrote for the Monitor. The stories chronicle my struggle with hepatitis C, or HCV, a common but little-known virus that afflicts millions of Americans.

The Monitor published the series during the week of Dec. 12. The Union Leader and the Valley News are running the stories this week.

I designed the web page devoted to the project, and the always-talented Clay Wirestone designed the logos and print pages. I hope to upload PDFs of his work here soon.