Why job postings could save journalism (or at least make it more diverse)

I’m talking about the gender gap in online news tomorrow afternoon at SPJ’s Boston conference, and I’ve been struggling with how to present the audience with concrete recommendations for improving a rather dismal situation.

A renewed commitment to monitoring press diversity is a good start, as are training programs and grants for underrepresented populations. Ann Friedman has another suggestion I’m adding to my list, one that’s both simple and brilliant: Post your job openings.

As Friedman writes on CJR.org, it’s all too common for hiring editors to seek private recommendations without ever publicly announcing open positions:

They want specific names, not exposure for their listing. This makes me want to scream. Is your hiring process really that top-secret? Are you too busy to consider applications from people who haven’t already been vetted by someone you know? Or are you just lazy about spreading the word? And if any of these things are true, why are you surprised that you’re not getting a diverse group of applicants? 

Mandy Jenkins made a similar suggestion on her (always awesome) Zombie Journalism blog, and she offers some specifics on how to spread the word about open positions:

Post your jobs early on and spread them to your social networks, your real-life networks and email lists for organizations like ONA, NABJ, AAJA, NAHJ, JAWS and many more journalism organizations. Treat the process earnestly. You never know who might be quietly looking for work that you know…and more importantly, you never know who you don’t know that might be perfect for your job and they just need to hear about it…When you say you are an equal opportunity employer, actually mean it. If qualified women and journalists of color don’t know about your job, they can’t apply. That isn’t an equal opportunity.

What other techniques can hiring editors use to increase staff diversity?

Talking gender, journalism and the web on HuffPostLive

The HuffPostLive set as seen on my laptop.
The HuffPostLive set as seen on my laptop.

A big thanks to Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani and HuffPostLive for including me on a panel discussion about the online gender gap. My co-panelists were Madeline Earp from Freedom House, graduate student Tanya Lakot and Dr. Syb Bennett, a journalism professor at Belmont University. The full segment is archived here.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, take a few minutes to read Earp’s summary of the staggering gap between men and women when it comes to Internet access worldwide.  In addition to barriers to physical access, women are more likely to face censorship or harassment online.


‘Not just a battlefield story’

I stumbled across this trailer on Twitter earlier this week, and I’m hoping to watch the full documentary sometime soon:

The correspondents featured are remarkable for their courage, but their work is also a reminder of why a diverse press corps matters. Women, the film argues, see war differently — and that’s important when we’re trying to fully understand complicated geopolitical events.

Women were digital media pioneers, but there’s still a gender gap online

USA Today launched its first website just days before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and its staff helped create a new kind of crisis storytelling in the aftermath. Rapid updates, photos, and story indexes made the Web, for the first time in human history, a significant source of information for understanding national tragedy. Two years later, another major paper continued to shape our understanding of online news when a Web producer at Philly.com assembled the multimedia version of Black Hawk Down. On the West Coast, meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News unveiled Good Morning Silicon Valley in the mid-1990s, and it quickly became a popular proto-blog focused on the booming tech industry. (Read more at The Columbia Journalism Review.)

Signs of progress

Thanks to Stony Brook journalism Prof. Barbara Selvin* for pointing out something remarkable on the front page of today’s New York Times: The four top stories were written by women, and there are two photos of female leaders. Michelle Obama (whose birthday is today) is pictured in the lead image; Katie Couric and Marissa Mayer are in a smaller pic on the bottom left.

We’re a long way from gender parity in bylines or sources, but this front page is reason for hope. It also hints at something else: Female leadership in newsrooms matters when it comes to treating women as full-fledged civic players, not pretty things tucked away in the style section or, perhaps worse, manhaters out for world domination.  It’s been more than two years since Jill Abramson became the first woman to lead the Times newsroom and, she told public editor Margaret Sullivan, newsroom diversity in terms of race and gender is one of her focuses. Diversity in staffing often translates into coverage that’s more fair to all segments of the community.

Sure, there’s a long way to go, but this front page is worth a few moments of pause — the same sort of pause I take each Election Day to remember that, when my grandmothers were born, women were not yet allowed to vote.

*Selvin and I are both members of the Journalism and Women Symposium. She shared her observations on the group’s fantastic members’ listserv.

Gender tracking software in the wild

Hat tip to Dan Kennedy and Tory Starr for passing along this story about a (very brave) journalist named Adrienne LaFrance who submitted a year’s worth of her work for review by Open Gender Tracker. The results weren’t surprising: Men outnumbered women as sources.

But LaFrance’s must-read discussion of why these these trends persist is an example of why projects like Open Gender Tracker are so important. I wrote about gender-tracking software earlier this month for Poynter, and it’s awesome to see how journalists like LaFrance are putting it to use.

I was getting ready to write something about this…

… but Josh Stearns from Free Press beat me to it.

Numbers like these are frustrating and bad for democracy. A press corps that’s diverse in terms of race, gender and socioeconomic background is crucial for the kind of dignified but dogged journalism Thomas exemplified for so many years. Different backgrounds means different — and, hopefully, difficult — questions about topics those in power would rather ignore.

One of the better pieces about Thomas that I’ve read so far today is this obituary from the Washington Post. Among other great details, it includes this quote:

“I respect the office of the presidency,”  (Thomas) told Ann McFeatters for a 2006 profile in Ms. magazine, “but I never worship at the shrines of our public servants. They owe us the truth.”

And that truth must reflect the realities of all segments of the population.