Guess who came to UNH last night?

10606387_10152365995102913_4273260175722029226_nJournalist Brooke Gladstone is brilliant, funny and brave enough to do things like create a comic book style critique of the media. Last night, she spoke at UNH. The turnout was good, especially for one of the first lovely fall evenings of the semester, and the crowd included lots of UNH journalism students.

Gladstone offered them advice on building their careers and navigating the modern information ecosystem. She shared the stage with New Hampshire Public Radio’s Virginia Prescott, and it was refreshing to hear two female voices talk about the state of the media — a conversation too often dominated by men.

Here are some highlights I posted on Twitter:

Gladstone’s visit was co-hosted by the university and NHPR, where she spoke to listeners on this morning’s edition of The Exchange. Listen here.

Throw — and code — like a girl

Back in the early days of the Internet, some feminists theorized that “computer-mediated communication” would erase the lopsided power imbalances of gender. Online, they imagined, “male” and “female” might not matter so much.That, alas, is not the case. Gender constructs still exist online and, worse, the conversation on the web — like in the physical world — often defaults to male.

Case in point: Software used by Little League Baseball to write game stories from box scores called Mo’Ne Davis “him” in a lead describing Davis’s powerhouse pitching

In case you missed it, Davis has made sure that the phrase “you throw like a girl” will henceforth be a huge compliment. She’s a 13-year-old girl from Philadelphia who’s been hurling baseballs at speeds up to 70 mph in the Little League World Series. That’s as impressive as it sounds. Most boys in the league, reports NPR, throw at 50-60 mph. 

It’s easy to blame the pronoun error on a computer glitch, but it’s not a glitch at all. Rather, the software was following directions, strings of code written by a programmer who probably didn’t think twice about assigning the male gender pronoun to all baseball players. (While boys are the majority of Little Leaguers, girls have been allowed on the field since 1974.) 

The error is a powerful example of how gender imbalance in technology fields can damage the credibility of the journalism we’re creating in the digital world. It’s likely that software programs like the ones used to generate basic game stories will become more common in the future, and it’s important that they’re created by programers from diverse backgrounds. 

More evidence of hyperlocal gender parity

The post-Patch fallout is far from over, but there’s some anecdotal evidence here in New England that former Patch staffers are launching indy news sites. As Dan Kennedy notes on his Media Nation blog, two such publications went live at the end of last month. One founding publisher is male; the other is female. Not exactly a scientific sample, I know, but it tracks with the preliminary results of my own research which show that hyperlocal leadership comes the closest to gender parity. 

Found while moving into my new office

In late 2007, Hillary Clinton visited the Concord Monitor for an interview with the paper’s editorial board. Someone – most likely photo editor Dan Habib – documented her tour of the newsroom. I’ve met plenty of people seeking the presidency, but this picture is special. It shows something unimaginable a generation ago: A handshake between a female journalist and a female presidential candidate poised to win New Hampshire’s first-in-the nation primary.


Wish I could go to this…

Alas, I did not receive that teleport device I wanted for Christmas, so I won’t be able to attend an important event this Monday the National Press Club. It’s called Ms. Quote, and it’s a panel discussion designed to tackle a tricky topic: Why women are chronically and consistently underrepresented as sources in news stories. I’m looking forward to following the talk via Twitter. 

Five more women who should have been part of ‘Riptide’

Over the weekend, the Nieman Lab* unveiled Riptide, a sprawling, interactive oral history of “the epic collision between journalism and digital technology.” The project is interesting in both its content and its design, but the  authors repeat a mistake made by too many media historians: The contributions of women are largely omitted.

It’s true that men continue to dominate the top ranks of the journalism industry, but Riptide is more lopsided than even the most depressing newsroom demographics: Of the 61 people interviewed for the project, only five are women.

Here are five others the authors should have included:

1.) Lorraine Cichowski. USA Today launched its first website just days before the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, an event the American Journalism Review called a “watershed event” for online journalism. Cichowski was in charge of USA Today’s digital operations at the time and helped develop many of the conventions of breaking news online. Here’s more from AJR.

2.) Jennifer Musser-Metz.  USA Today wasn’t the only major news organization building a digital identity in the mid-’90s. Musser-Metz played a critical role in developing She also led the effort to create one of the first major multiplatform stories — a project that eventually became Blackhawk Down. In C.W. Anderson’s Rebuilding the News, Musser-Metz describes how the traditional newsroom structure struggled to adapt to the online world.

3.) Emily Bell. Former director of digital content for the Guardian and current director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Bell is an expert on the evolving media business. There are few people better able to clearly describe the industry’s recent history and the challenges it faces today.

4.) Debbie Galant. The creator of could have provided important insight about the rise of hyperlocal digital publications. She’s also one of the founding members of the Local Independent Online News Publishers, a fast-growing trade organization that supports local news startups.

5.) Kara Oehler. As chief creative officer of Zeega, Oehler is creating the next wave of disruptive tools, ones that make projects like Snow Fall possible for independent journalists working on shoestring budgets.

Including the voices of these women or any other female reporters, editors or media entrepreneurs would have made Riptide even more innovative. It’s unfortunate that, in telling the latest chapter of journalism history in a fresh, narrative format, the authors of Riptide make an old mistake by continuing to devalue the contributions of women.

* It’s important to note that the Nieman Lab’s involvement in Riptide was limited to web design. The authors were fellows at the Shorenstein Center, which is affiliated with Harvard’s Kennedy School.  For more background, please see the comment below from Nieman Lab Director Joshua Benton.

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.

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.

What’s going on here?

About a year ago, I noticed something about the professional company I kept.

After nearly a decade as a reporter, I’d taken a job as the first-ever online editor for the Concord Monitor, a daily paper in central New Hampshire. I joined all sorts of groups — real and virtual — to learn about the practice and theory of digital news. What content management systems were best suited to the needs of a community publication? How could we best use social media to engage our audience and tell great stories? How could technology help us hold government accountable?

My new mentors had answers to these questions and many more, but it wasn’t long before I realized that most of those answers were coming from men. The gender disparity was even more apparent at conferences, where I’d often be the only woman participating in a conversation about digital news.

These observations led to this blog, which is an inquiry into the role of women in emerging news organizations. I also hope it becomes an important tool as I research a thesis on the same subject.

Existing work on the subject is limited, but there are a few good resources that I’ll consult frequently.

  • The Gender Report, a site that monitors gender representation by conducting byline surveys of online news orgs.
  • The Women’s Media Center doesn’t limit its work to the digital realm — or journalism, for that matter — but its blog is frequently updated with useful information.
  • I’ll also be consulting two databases of online news organizations, one maintained by Columbia Journalsim Review and the other by LION — the Local, Independent Online News Producers.

Any other sites I should include? You can post suggestions in the comment section below this post or send them to me on Twitter.