Q: What are the biggest challenges facing journalists today?
BC: The challenges we hear about most are in the realm of technology and business. Digital media is revolutionizing journalism. Because of technological changes, journalism is faster and more competitive and the lines between journalists and audiences are disappearing. Today, anyone with a cell phone can capture and disseminate a news-making event, as London citizens did during the bombings in 2005, and anyone with a Twitter account can send dispatches from a repressive regime, as Iranians did during 2009 election protests. This raises the question, who is a journalist and what does it mean to be a journalist?
The proliferation in news sources has fragmented the audience and advertising revenue. The profound changes in the business model for traditional media have produced cutbacks in budgets and layoffs in newsrooms. Some newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets have even closed. Everyone is struggling to find revenue that will support journalism with depth and reach.
We hear less about an underlying challenge: how to maintain quality journalism that serves the public. In the competition to attract and hold an audience, will journalism about serious issues be replaced by junk news about celebrities? Will revenue-strapped newsrooms abandon investigative reporting that can take months and lead to costly legal battles? Will U.S. organizations pull back from expensive international coverage? Will the speed of technology diminish editorial scrutiny and lead to errors, inaccuracy and ethical blunders?
These are big challenges. But, as you’ll see in the answer below, I’m quite optimistic about the future of journalism.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing women journalists today?
BC: Women have made major gains since I first started my career and was one of a handful of women in the newsroom. Back then, the major journalism clubs wouldn’t even admit women as members. Today women are as much as 40 percent of some newsroom staffs. The recent announcement that Diane Sawyer would replace Charles Gibson as anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight means two of the three network flagship news broadcasts will be anchored by women.
The big question is how to preserve those gains and continue to make advances at a time of cutbacks and layoffs. To survive in the current environment, women and men are going to need to embrace technology, learn new skills and become versatile and flexible. Women will need to think entrepreneurially about their careers; they are much more likely to freelance or to operate their own businesses than to work for a large organization. Women will need to acquire skills in business, negotiations and marketing, in addition to the basic skills of good journalism.
Q: What is your advice for meeting these challenges?
BC: To me, all of this means it’s time not for retreat but for resolution. Technology gives us more tools than ever and a new way to break down barriers between journalist and citizen. The business models will be found. But what cannot change is the dedication and passion journalists have for accurate, ethical and meaningful journalism. Veterans need to make sure these principles are preserved. And newcomers have an unparalleled opportunity to participate in the revolution, to take part in defining the journalism of the future. I often tell journalism students (and in most journalism programs, about 70 percent of the students are women) that they are living in an exciting time when they will get to invent the next level of journalism.
Q: You were a founder of the International Women’s Media Foundation almost 20 years ago. What was your vision for the organization then? How has the IWMF met that vision?
BC: The IWMF came into being at a time when democratic movements were flourishing around the world. The Iron Curtain fell and on every continent citizens embraced free expression and “people power.” As women in journalism, we thought women should not be left out, so we created an organization dedicated to the principle that no press can be truly free unless women have an equal voice. For almost two decades, the IWMF has shone a light on the courageous work being done by women journalists around the world and has offered a helping hand to women struggling to create a free press in their own communities. I’m very proud of what IWMF has accomplished.
Q: Given all the dramatic changes in journalism, where would you like to see the IWMF go in the next 20 years?
BC: As we’ve seen, the struggle for a free press never ends. There has been great progress in some countries, but others have gone backward. The IWMF must stay vigilant and supportive and also expand into new parts of the world. The IWMF can also be an invaluable resource for helping women acquire the skills they will need to thrive in the new journalism landscape. The IWMF’s leadership training has made a huge difference in many lives, and that training should evolve to meet the challenges of the future.