The voices of the panelists all belonged to women, but the subjects they discussed weren’t defined by gender.
Instead, the stellar lineup of seven U.S. executives from the Associated Press, CBS News, Knight Ridder Digital, National Public Radio, Newsday, NBC and the Missouri School of Journalism covered broader terrain: their roles as media leaders and the trends and challenges facing the profession. They were brought together by the International Women’s Media Foundation for a panel, Voices of Women Media Leaders.
The panelists voiced insights and opinions on numerous issues: the disconnect between journalists and the public they serve; funding pressures and how they foster myopia among media professionals; and the lack of adequate training for up-and-coming reporters. They discussed the impact of emerging technologies, such as blogs, on shaping and delivering news, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of partnering with other news outlets (convergence). They also emphasized the need to attract and retain a young audience as well as a diverse newsroom, with diversity defined to include not only different races and cultures, but also different ages and political and religious persuasions.
Fewer Backseat Drivers?
During the program’s question and answer session the discussion touched on gender-specific topics, such as the number of women on-track for high-level jobs and the importance of women supporting women.
In her opening remarks, longtime IWMF board member and panel moderator Susan King remembered when the IWMF was planning its first conference in the early 1990s. King said that organizers were hard pressed to find a preeminent woman leader in the news business to be the keynote speaker. The only name that cropped up, recalled King, was that of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.
King, who is vice president of public affairs at Carnegie Corporation of New York, which hosted the event, is convinced that wouldn’t be a problem today. “If we were putting that conference on right now we could say, Kathleen [Carroll of the Associated Press], Charlotte [Hall of Newsday] , Paula [Madison of KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, NBC and Telemundo] and on and on. We have so many more women in top leadership ranks, and I think we’re all very lucky for that.”
(Carroll, Hall and Madison were panelists. For short bios on all panelists, go to www.iwmf.org/press/rndtbl_bios.php.)
Still Waiting for Prime Time
While anecdotal evidence shared at the roundtable supports tremendous progress for women in the media, Geneva Overholser, endowed chair at the Missouri School of Journalism, cautioned that the “statistics are not good.” She cited a 2001 study by Northwestern University’s Media Management Center that found fewer women holding top editorial positions at newspapers than they did a few years before.
“There are fewer women editors and managing editors now, apparently, than there were 12 years ago when I was the top editor of the Des Moines Register,” said Overholser. “[This] is remarkable to me because I do feel like we’ve made progress.”
Overholser mentioned that commentary at major newspapers is an area where much improvement is needed for women: “I did a piece after 9-11 about where are the women’s voices. I was just astonished to see how little women’s commentary we had [on this subject].”
In addition to the prominent panelists, the roundtable attracted a diverse audience of 40 women. One of them, pioneering newswoman Marlene Sanders wrote a book, Waiting for Prime Time, that was published by University of Illinois Press in 1994. “I’m one of the few from the early generation of women activists here today,” quipped Sanders, who holds bragging rights as the first female network news vice president. Today she serves on the NYC Commission on Women’s Issues.
“How To” Media Issues
The panel discussion opened with King asking the speakers to identify “the most riveting issue” now facing them.
“I worry about the quality and level of skill, preparation, and education that I’m seeing among what I call the indoor people, those who stay inside the newsrooms 18 hours a day,” responded Paula Madison, president and general manager at KNBC-TV and an IWMF board member.“[They] don’t interact regularly with the public as part of their profession, but are expected to set a news agenda and think and put themselves in the mindset of the people.” Madison said that “major disconnect” frightened her.
Charlotte Hall, vice president and managing editor at Newsday, expressed two concerns. She stressed how important it is to “deliver journalism” and keep it at a “consistently high level, regardless of what platform it goes out on.” She also emphasized how essential it is to keep newspapers relevant in the midst of the country’s ever-changing demographics.
King’s opening question generated discussion on other concerns as well. Many of them could be characterized as “how to” issues: how to keep network news relevant; how to bridge the gap between “the journalism academy” and the practice of journalism; how to move a media outlet that has historically focused on analysis to cover more breaking news; how to adequately train journalists; and how to integrate Internet blogs with other traditionally edited copy to create richer Internet content.
Questions and Answers
Following the formal panel presentation, King invited the audience to ask questions. The hour-long Q and A session that followed ran the gamut of issues, from an in-depth discussion of the current climate for women working in media to the coverage (or lack thereof) of international news by U.S. media outlets to the level of public trust in the media.
In her concluding remarks, Charlotte Hall reminded the audience that no matter what new issues emerge in journalism, the news industry will survive or die based on how relevant it is to its audience. And that survival, she said, depends on journalists.
“We’re not going to be able to do our journalism right unless we have the kind of broad diversity of voices in our newsroom that everyone has alluded to. That means women and it means people of color and it means people of different religious and ideological backgrounds -- that’s what’s going to enrich journalism,” said Hall. “At our core, we need to keep reminding ourselves we are journalists. Bringing that passion [to our profession] and figuring out how to do journalism right will make a lot of these other problems not go away, but make them solvable.”
Evantheia Schibsted is a New York City-based freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Business 2.0, Forbes ASAP, Wired, San Francisco , The New York Times and other publications.
The IWMF is preparing a report on Voices of Women Media Leaders, to be published in 2004. For further information on the workshop of the upcoming report, please contact: email@example.com.