Giving the “women’s page” (some) credit

When I still worked for a newspaper, one of my favorite things was digging through the morgue. Each overstuffed filing cabinet held decades of old news, including stories from the paper’s long defunct women’s section.

I often dismissed such stories as misogynistic, old-fashioned fluff — something I’m rethinking after reading this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review. As it turns out, women’s pages have an important — if complicated — place in feminist history.

reserving a separate space for “women’s issues” meant that things like parenting, fashion, and the beginnings of the feminist movement got column inches, the separation also demarcated the women’s page as the site of less newsy content, a “pink ghetto” that still persists.

Women’s sections debuted in American newspapers in the late 1800s, and were often the only place willing to hire female journalists. Although these sections were often devoted to lighter matters like housekeeping, society happenings and fashion, they slowly became an arena for serious topics like birth control and workplace equality.

Most newspapers have turned the women’s pages into style sections, but not, alas,  because the front pages are giving equal space to female voices — even in stories focused on women’s issues.


Part of the society page from the Grand Rapids Herald. The woman pictured, Betty Bloomer, is better known a former first lady Betty Ford. Source: WikiMedia Commons
Part of the society page from the Grand Rapids Herald. The woman pictured, Betty Bloomer, is better known a former first lady Betty Ford. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Women are still in the minority at the NYT

Journalist John Surico attended a talk yesterday by New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. While she spoke, he tapped out a few tweets. One, about the gender breakdown in the newsroom, caught my eye:

(The Times has, however, increased the number of op-ad pieces written by women in recent years.)

Here’s more on the difference between the number of women in the classroom and in the newsroom.

At Duke, the feminist writers of tomorrow

Duke University is now a training ground for feminist bloggers. reports that “22 women and 1 dude” will take part in the Write(H)ers program, which is designed to help student writers explore gender issues.

The campus paper, the Duke Chronicle, explains that students “will participate in personal blogging and workshops with professional journalists to discuss gender issues in society and on campus.” One of those journalists is Rebecca Traister, the author of Big Girls Don’t Cry, a book about gender in the 2008 presidential election.

Duke’s Women’s Center is organizing the training and has been linking to student work on its Twitter feed. Here are a few recent posts:

Duke’s project, by the way, is the exact opposite of what Beliefnet did last week.

Some bloggers like me

The web is full of sassy, smart publications focused on feminism, gender and the portrayal of women in the media, but the most useful resource I’ve found so far is a subdued blog maintained by a California graduate student and a high school teacher in Baltimore. It’s called The Gender Report, and it’s focused on studying the role of women in digital media.

The site launched in 2011 after its founders attended a talk on gender inequalities at a college journalism conference. They left wondering what role women will play in digital news:

Where was the woman’s voice? The woman’s byline? Or for that matter, where were the men in family leave policies, or stories focusing “women’s issues”?

The site mixes original research with aggregation for page after page of useful information. During its first full year of operation, The Gender Report found that women were routinely underrepresented as sources and writers in online news stories. There’s also a directory of outside research on related topics and a weekly list of suggested readings.

The Gender Report is also part of a trend in academic research, one that’s merging the strengths of the social web with the rigors of scholarly research. This practice is common in the digital humanities, where researchers use high-tech tools to collaborate and to present their findings.

All along the Orange Line


All along the Orange Line, a set on Flickr.

In the six months since I started grad school, the Orange Line has become a big part of my life. It’s dirty, loud and often delayed, but I still enjoy my commute. The architecture is interesting and so are the people.

As part of my ongoing quest to take halfway decent photos, I used my iPhone to document a few scenes from early February. The results are in the gallery above.

Pastor banned from using the word “feminist” in her blog

A blogging contract between a minister and the spiritual website BeliefnetBeliefnet fell apart recently because the minister wanted to use the word “feminist” in her blog, according to

Kristine Holmgren, a Presbyterian minister, suggested two titiles for her blog: “Feminist Pulpit Notes” and “Sweet Truth – Thoughts of a Faithful Feminist.” But Beliefnet had a problem with that, Romenesko reports:

The pastor/writer says she asked (a Beliefnet employee) over the phone why she had a problem with ‘feminist.’ The Beliefnet marketer said she didn’t, but that ‘we know our readers are offended by the word.’

In case you’re wondering, Merriam Webster defines “feminist” as the adjective or noun version of the word “feminism.” Here’s what that word means:

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

What’s so offensive about that?

From sob sisters to girl bloggers

Rosalind Russell plays reporter Hildy Johnson in the 1940 film 'His Girl Friday.' Souce: Wikimedia Commons
Rosalind Russell plays reporter Hildy Johnson in the 1940 film ‘His Girl Friday.’ Souce: Wikimedia Commons

Hildy Johnson chased down stories for a newspaper. Murphy Brown worked out of a cable station. And, as Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore wrote in this piece, today’s fictional, writerly heroines tend to toil away on blogs.

Tenore’s story reminded me of The Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture, a project by USC Annenberg to document fictional journalists through the ages. The backbone of the project is a searchable database full of fun tidbits, but it also makes for an interesting study in how technology and evolving gender standards are changing perceptions of female journalists.

One of the first female characters in the database is a woman who dresses as a man to work as a reporter in a 1874 novel. It wasn’t long, though, before women were working openly as journalists in books, movies and TV shows. As USC journalism professor Joe Saltzman writes, fictional female reporters were more socially acceptable than the real thing during the first half of the 20th Century:

Practically every major actress of the period showed up in tailored coat and pants to fight the males in the newsroom, to assert her individualism and independence… and to become one of the few positive role models working outside the home.

Saltzman goes on to describe the origins of the term “sob sister” — a label given to female reporters because they were often handed tearjerker assignments as opposed to hard news. The sob sister concept, he says, has persevered over the decades:

The 21st-century images aren’t all that different from the images of the sob sisters of the past – if a woman is successful, it means she has assumed many of the characteristics of the newsman, losing her femininity in the process. Or, in most cases, she stays tantalizingly female and uses her womanliness to get to the top. It’s still mostly a no-win situation. For every positive image of a successful female journalist in film, TV, novels and short stories, there are a dozen stereotypical clichés.

Rethinking Storify

A few years ago, I received an invitation to beta test Storify. I still don’t know why I was chosen, but it probably had something to do with my job as web editor at a paper known for covering New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. It wasn’t long before Storify projects became mainstays on our political blog.

Storify makes it easy to capture a cross section of community sentiment or cover a major event in real time. (It’s also fantastic for reporting bits of social media culture, like the birth of the New Hampshire primary’s hashtag.)

One of the coolest parts of experimenting with a new tool is seeing how other journalists use it to tell the stories that are important to them. I never thought of maintaing a Storify that grows over the course of many months, but that’s exactly what Josh Stearns has been doing since the fall of 2011. Stearns, a media reform advocate with Free Press, has used Storify to track the arrests of journalists covering Occupy protests. (See how the story’s introduction fosters conversation by including ways to pass along tips? Brilliant!)

Last week, Stearns spoke via Google Hangout to one of my classes at Northeastern University. He had some other ideas for using Storify that go beyond basic curation: The slideshow tool, he said, is good for photo galleries. And an unpublished story can serve as a sort of social media notebook because Storify archives tweets even after they’ve been deleted from Twitter.

Stearns also talked about taking a “slow-news approach” to social media journalism. That means carefully selecting the best story elements and using verification techniques to make sure the information is accurate.

Men still dominate in lit mags, but women are experimenting with longform online

Literary journalism will have a digital future. Exhibit A: Snow Fall. Exhibit B: The Atavist.  Amazon and BuzzFeed are also becoming major outlets for in-depth narratives.

But what kind of role will women play in telling the longform stories of tomorrow?

When it comes to traditional literary magazines, men still dominate, according to a recent survey by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Harper’s Magazine, for example, published 141 stories by men last year and just 42 by women. At the New Yorker it was 613 pieces by men and 242 by women.

It’s far too soon to take a scientific look at the gender breakdown of digital longform efforts, but women have been among those experimenting on new platforms. Seven of the stories recently posted on The Atavist were at least partially produced by women, and women wrote about a dozen of the Kindle Singles listed under the “reporting” category.

Still a minority, but a start.

Today is not “Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day”

Leigh Alexander has credentials most modern journalists would envy: A well-read blog, a devoted Twitter following and a gig as editor of the gaming site Gamasutra.

Leigh Alexander is a respected source for gaming news, but it still the target of objectifying comments.
Leigh Alexander is a respected source for gaming news, but is still the target of objectifying comments.

Google her, and you’ll learn all of this. But you’ll also find something else: Musings about how her chin resembles Jay Leno’s. (Click here to see what I mean, but be warned that some of these remarks are pretty crass.) Similar comments are routinely directed at other female journalists, particularly those covering male-dominated fields like technology.

Alexander decided to turn the tables and declared Feb. 1 “Objectify a Male Tech Writer Day.” She soon called off the event, but not before raising some valid points:

A woman who shows her face in a male-dominated space generally can’t win. If her audience does not find her attractive, she will have to hear a lot of specific criticisms of her features…It’s worse on her if her audience does like her looks: In that case they’ll say she obviously used her beauty to boost her career and is seeking attention and praise for displaying even a biographical headshot. Or she’ll be the recipient of vulgar comments and image manipulations.

The problem isn’t unique to tech writing. Just ask any political reporter — myself included — who’s been slammed for showing too little leg on election night or advised by (male) lawmakers that pretty dresses = better quotes. Online, such comments are amplified by social media and can make it hard to gain professional credibility.

That’s a big problem, especially now that a solid digital identity is vital currency for any journalist trying to build a career.

I put together a Storify about #ObjectifyaMaleTechWriter. The WordPress export tool (still) doesn’t work, so you’ll have to click here to see.