Blurred (head)lines: minding the gap within the business journalism
In their original role, newspapers and the media in general have always been seen as current “watchdogs” of democracy, instruments to guarantee equality and freedom. Accordingly, the debate has always concentrated on the content produced by these channels and people have generally focused on the impartiality and transparency of articles and columns.
But what if, instead of considering what is written, we shift the attention to the creators of that content – the journalists? Is the media – which has traditionally supported positive causes like equal opportunities – really promoting and encouraging its staff to be equally gender diverse? And, finally, what does it take for women to succeed in this industry and in particular, business and financial journalism?
To discuss this burning matter, a fierce audience of business and financial industry female editors, reporters and freelancers gathered on a warm London Monday night at Bloomberg headquarters. A panel of prestigious female journalists, who have already achieved remarkable careers, and a celebrated businesswoman, provided guidance to this uneasy debate and tried to give an answer or, at least, to define the current status of the condition of the professional.
Sadly, not only are women under represented within public bodies and private company boards, but also their role within the media industry is still pretty marginal. And it is not purely a matter of numbers, as various data highlight: women outnumber men in journalism training and enter the profession in (slightly) greater numbers. There are also plenty of women working especially as correspondents and reporters, who on average blog more than men and make up more than 50% of Twitter users. The key issue is that senior positions and in particular the ranks of column writers remain mostly male (and mostly white). In 2013, the blog Gawker.com analyzed newspaper editorial pieces and counted 38 women among the 143 columnists at the three most prestigious newspapers in the US and four syndicators of opinion columnists.
Out of the overall number of bylined front page stories in our favourite newspapers here in the UK, on average we can expect that 78% of them were written by men, and of those quoted as experts or sources in lead stories, 84% were men.
Similarly, in the United States research carried out by The Women’s Media Centre revealed that during the 2012 presidential election, 75% of front page bylined articles at top newspapers were written by men and that women made up a mere 14% of Sunday TV talk show interviewees, and 29% of “roundtable” guests.
Does this also trigger a vicious circle in regards to the choice of sources? Apparently yes, if we consider that major news outlets don’t tend to consult women as primary news sources even on topics directly pertaining to the female sex, such as abortion, birth control and planned parenthood. Let alone business and economics subjects.
“Women can be their own worst enemies”— the sentence echoed vividly in Bloomberg’s conference room. The “Queen Bee” syndrome for example, is mentioned as one typical, self-destructive way women bully their subordinates, and as Peggy Drextler described in a 2013 article in The Wall Street Journal, “women who reached positions of power were supposed to be mentors to those who followed - but something is amiss in the professional sisterhood”.
Bullied by women, and often attacked by men, as the 30 Percent Club recently discovered in a survey, saying that more than 60% of female journalists experience harassment (physical or verbal) in their workspace.
Undoubtedly, it is a hard knock life for ladies in such an environment. But women own powerful, (pacific) weapons they can use. “Never underestimate the potential of a weird beat and what you can learn from it”, as Emma Ross Thomas at Bloomberg News highlights. Specialization is indeed one of the best resources to compete with other male colleagues
“If you find yourselves dealing with sexist comments, just point out that this makes you uncomfortable with your interlocutor, and do it with grace.” suggests Helena Morrissey. In any battle, surprise is crucial: people still sometimes underestimate women – who can use this to their advantage to get better stories.
Self-confidence is key too: it is important to put aside doubts that “I am not good enough”. Be patient and believe in yourself to get the job you aim at. And, why not, be a bit bolshy.
Knowledge is also a powerful resource, you can build it day after day, as Kiki Loizou at The Sunday Times claims: “When I started, I had no idea what a share price was but if there was a chance to write, so I thought ‘what the hell I’ll take it’ ”. And it’s not all about knowing the industry, but also the organization you work at, learning it “top to bottom and inside out, and everyone’s names”.
And if you are still struggling to establish yourself, consider quitting and moving elsewhere where you will be appreciated – resolutely suggests Eleanor Mills, Editorial Director from The Sunday Times. And, why not, also be better paid: in fact the pay gap between male and female journalists remains wide and the recent episode of executive director Jill Abramson fired by The New York Times has added fuel to the fire of remuneration differences.
Given that there is no secret formula to resolve the long-standing imbalance of gender within journalism, and in general within nearly every business sector, it is clear that the gender gap undermines the media’s credibility, and deprives public opinion of sharp, witty comments and stories from the feminine world. The controversy remains but it is very likely that over the next years phenomena such as the digitalisation of media, the multiplication of news sources and the democratisation of access to information will increase the chances for women to raise their voice – and their pens.
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