Mind the Gap: A video about gender, journalism … and coffee

Talk to me.

I mean it. The issues addressed on this blog — gender roles, media stereotypes, the influence of technology on journalism– are big and complex. Making sense of them will require an open, diverse conversation. To get us started, I put together a  video that ponders one of the bigger questions on my mind lately: If most journalism students are female, why are women chronically underrepresented in newsrooms?

For more on the statistics referenced, read this post from earlier this year.

Thank you to the students who sat for interviews… and to the campus Dunks for handing over an extra plastic cup without any questions.

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. Jezebel.com 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.

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.

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?