ICYMI: Worried about bias at Facebook? Then worry about this, too.

I wrote a column for USA Today last week exploring why Facebook’s political leanings should be one small part of a broader conversation about the demographics of the people building the social web.  Here’s an excerpt:

Anyone troubled by the notion of bias at Facebook …  should also be upset by its lack of diversity and the homogeneous workforces of many tech companies. These cornerstones of the social web play significant roles in determining what is and isn’t news. If the default worker is white, male, straight and liberal, that increases the risk that journalism’s future will repeat the mistakes of its past.

Read the whole thing here.

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.

On Twitter, a hashtag for female editors

Here’s another example of how Twitter and other forms of social media are boosting feminism: After Port magazine declared an all-male golden age of magazine publishing, it wasn’t long before a hashtag emerged to celebrate the work of female editors.

Amy Wallace,  editor at large of Los Angeles magazine, launched the effort yesterday, and it wasn’t long before it took off:


(Full disclosure: Tim Fernholz and I are old friends. He rocks.)

And here are mine:





A first-hand account from the ‘golden hour’

One of the many photos taken by Northeastern University journalism student Taylor Dobbs after the Boston Marathon bombing. Photo/Taylor Dobbs

I was home in New Hampshire on Monday, so when I heard about the Boston Marathon bombing I turned to Twitter to find out what was happening. One of the first things I noticed was a string of tweets from Taylor Dobbs, an undergraduate student I’ve gotten to know through Northeastern University’s journalism program.

Taylor lives fairly close to the marathon course, and he sprinted out the door when he heard the explosions. In the hours that followed, he became a textbook example of how a modern journalist should behave in the hours after a disaster. He got close, but not close enough to jeopardize his safety or block emergency response teams. He shared only what he saw or was able to confirm. No rumors, no speculation. He thrived in what Mark Little calls the “golden hour” — “the time it takes social media to create either an empowering truth or an unstoppable lie.” With photos and 140-character dispatches, Taylor told the truth of the chaos around him.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed his good work. The BBC interviewed him several times Monday afternoon and, by Tuesday, he’d agreed to produce a piece for Medium — a new digital publication led by one of the founders of Blogger. You can see it here. (More photos are available on Taylor’s blog.)

Taylor calls this style of story a “photo/essay” — a term I hope will catch on.  The idea is simple: large photos, a few tight sentences and white space. Think of it as a more elegant, more serious and more structured version of those “15 faces your cat makes” features on BuzzFeed. It’s the perfect use of the web really, one that capitalizes on its visual strengths while remaining clean, tight and readable.

It’s not unusual for major news events to bring new storytelling tools to the forefront.  If they’re used with the same care and professionalism Taylor applied to his photo/essay, I think that’s a good thing for the evolution of journalism.

On Twitter, be suspicious of eggheads

Social media curation tools like Storify are great for some types of digital journalism — but they also create a host of potential ethical pitfalls.  I’ve written about social media verification at length here, but was reminded this weekend that, sometimes, the simple tricks are the best.

This tip — and many others — came from Hoftra journalism professor Kelly Fincham at the conference I attended last weekend. Fincham explained that modern copy editors are as likely to handle tweets, Facebook posts and other pieces of social media as they are traditional content. Here are the slides from her presentation:

And here’s a list of some of her work on social media and ethics.

Vine for journalism (or time travel)

Last night I got a tour of the Globe Lab, where researchers, journalists and programmers are developing tools for tomorrow’s newsroom. One of the lab’s newest projects aggregates Vine posts from the Boston area and plays them on a giant TV screen. The results were interesting to watch, but I found myself wondering if Vine — which allows users to post six second, looping videos — had any real journalistic use.

The answer is yes, as proved by Concord Monitor reporter Kathleen Ronayne, who spent her morning watching some local kids reenact life in the 1800s:

What do you think of Vine as a tool for journalism?

Some of my favorite #edgyheadlines

I’m utterly obsessed with a new Twitter hashtag designed to show the stupid things headlines say about women. The tag — #edgyheadlines — got started last week after feminist author Kate Harding poked fun at a New York Times story that asked, “Do women have what it takes to lead?”


Other Twitter users have suggested dozens of #edgyheadlines over the last few days.Here are a few of my favorites:


TIME’s list of top Twitter users is basically a boys’ club

On Twitter, science and politics are topics best left to men. At least that’s the message TIME is sending with its list of “140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013.” The annual roundup of top tweeters is overwhelmingly male, with women dominating just four of the 14 categories.

Female Twitter users are especially scarce in areas of the list devoted to science and politics, but they outnumber men when it comes to traditionally “pink” topics like fashion and food. The genders were evenly represented in a category devoted to activists. In all, the list included 71 men and 46 women, plus a couple dozen institutional accounts.* Here’s a full breakdown:


Does all this really matter? Probably not, but inclusion on a list like this creates buzz and a certain amount of pop-culture legitimacy. The fact that vast swaths of TIME’s selection are so male heavy is weird, especially when you consider that 60 percent of Twitter users are female.

TIME editors admit the list is “not comprehensive” and invite Twitter users to weigh in with their own favorites using the hashtag #Twitter140. But I can’t help wondering if they could have pushed a little harder to highlight women who meet the criteria of standing “out for their humor, knowledge and personality.”

There’s no dearth of smart women offering pithy political tweets. This crew, for instance, or any of the fine journalists suggested by Carrie Dann of NBC News:

As for science, I’ll bet this spunky social media user has some ideas.

(*A note on my methodology: I broke TIME’s list into three categories: male, female and other. The first two groups are self explanatory. I applied the “other” label to non-gendered accounts, most of which represented institutions. Careful readers will notice that 141 accounts appear on the graphs. That’s because one of TIME’s picks included two names, one male and one female.)

Why I love Zotero and you should too

Source: Zotero
Source: Zotero.org

Career adjustments are almost always laced with stress, especially when they’re made within the context of modern journalism. So when I started grad school last fall, my list of worries was long: figuring out the T, finding enough freelance clients to pay the bills, taking tests and — when it’s all over — finding a job in journalism education.

The one thing I didn’t have to fret over, though, was remembering how to cite research papers. My brother-in-law’s partner is a philosophy professor, and he introduced me to a digital citation tool called Zotero.  It won’t, alas, keep track of which professors like the Oxford comma and which consider it an affront to the English language, but Zotero is a great way to organize the many books and journal articles I’m reading these days.

What sets Zotero apart from other citation managers are its social features, including one that allows users to create shared libraries. Here’s one I’m putting together about women, journalism and digital news.  You should be able to see a list of publications — it’s short now, but there are more titles to comes — add comments, and download documents. It’s also compatible with most RSS readers.

What other publications should I include?

‘Can I be your Clark Kent?’ and other stupid comments made to female journalists

The real Clark Kent would never be such a jerk to his female colleagues. Photo Credit: Wikimedia
The real Clark Kent would never be so rude to his female colleagues. Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I’ve written a lot on this blog about the persistant underrepresentation of women in all kinds of journalism. There are myriad reasons why, but a new Tumblr called “Said to Lady Journos” illustrates one part of the problem: Women who ask tough questions tend to bring out some people’s inner jerk.

A sampling of comments on the Tumblr:

“Can I be your Clark Kent?” — said to female reporter at a Republican victory party.

“Well, what about being a publicist? Have you thought about that?” — male reporter giving career advice to a female intern. (This guy may explain statistics like these.)

Here’s one that’s misogynistic and racist:

“Cute little thing, but shouldn’t you be running a 7-11 or something.” — said to a female reporter of Indian descent.

Thanks to Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore for pointing out the Tumblr. Her must-read piece includes a fantastic Storify of reactions from Twitter users.

(For the record, most of the people I’ve dealt with as a reporter have been utterly professional, but there have been exceptions — like the cop who once told me I looked like “a kindergarten teacher with a notebook.”)