A girl named Ruby

Check out this Kickstarter campaign aimed at creating a children’s book about computer code. The best part? The protagonist will be a girl named (of course) Ruby.* The book is programmer Linda Liukas’s latest bid to make technology accessible to everyone. The project has already brought in more than 10 times its original goal of $10,000, — including a small donation from me — and Liukas plans to use the additional money for a parents’ guide and a mobile app.

Creative teaching like this makes me happy, especially when it means kids around the globe will be introduced to the male-dominated world of programming through the eyes of a strong, smart little girl.

* Ruby is one of the programming languages often used by journalists

Preach it, Lily Myers

Maybe it was the Shel Silverstein tapes I listened to as a kid, but I’ve always loved poetry best when it’s spoken out loud. This performance of “Shrinking Women” by poet Lily Myers is one of the best I’ve heard.

Her delivery is great, but the message is what will stay with me. Especially this part:

My brother never thinks before he speaks/ I have been taught to filter…I want to say: we come from difference, Jonas,/you have been taught to grow out,/I have been taught to grow in.

Gone CAMPing

I just arrived in lovely Essex, Vermont for the Journalism and Women Symposium’s Conference and Mentorship Project (CAMP.)

Such an awesome group. Here’s what I saw when I walked in the door:


A really great trip to Chicago

Photo/Meg Heckman
Photo/Meg Heckma

I spent last weekend in Chicago at the inaugural conference of the Local Independent Online News Publishers, aka “LION.” (That’s the group mascot, Boot Strapper, in the picture.)  As I wrote about in this piece for NetNewsCheck, these publishers work long, solo hours covering communities across the country, but they remain optimistic about the future of local — and locally-owned — news organizations.

Also notable: Nearly half the publishers on LION’s membership roster are women. Throughout history, women have found small (and, often, rural) news organizations more welcoming than large, urban newsrooms. Are we seeing this trend repeating itself online? Or are these female publishers on their way to restructuring the demographics of the American press in a way that will help it better reflect the communities it covers?

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.

What video games can teach us about women in online news

Take a few minutes to listen to this recent segment from New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth. It’s about the troubling trend of digital misogyny.

The web is both intimate and impersonal, two factors that make it easy for jerks to harass, threaten and bully women who speak their minds online. Such was the experience of Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist blogger who produced a series of web videos questioning gender stereotypes in video games. Sarkeesian, who was a guest on the show, received death threats and emails containing images of her being raped by video game characters.

Any kind of violence towards women — real or virtual — is troubling. As I listened to the segment, though, I found myself thinking about what this aspect of web culture means for the women who are building the future of digital journalism. Although Sarkeesian focused on the portrayal of women in video games, her experiences can tell us something about gender roles and online news.

Technology is fueling the rapid evolution of both video games and journalism, making them more social and more interactive. It’s nice to think that these new arenas for interpersonal communication will develop free of the biases that exist in the flesh-and-blood world, but that’s often not the case. Threats of violence or bullying are especially troubling for female  journalists trying to build professional brands online. When women are forced to quiet their voices, even subconsciously, it can have lasting negative repercussions on their careers and the quality of discussion around current events.

There is, however, hope that shimmers like those little gold coins in Mario Brothers. The social nature of the web is allowing women to challenge misogyny and stereotypes in new ways, like this campaign that forced Facebook to crack down on sexist hate speech.

Another solution, as one Word of Mouth guest pointed out, is to include women in the creation of emerging online communities. That, too, is true for video games and journalism.