The Medium Is Delivering a New Message
Women’s Campaign Fund
We heard the news today, oh boy. And for those of us who are striving for #5050x2028 — using all of America’s talent, wisdom, and skill to the benefit of all — we have reason to cheer.
Kim Godwin, a CBS News executive since 2007, has been named president of ABC News. She is the first African-American person — and the first African-American woman — to lead a major network’s broadcast news division.
Godwin’s appointment puts women in lead roles at four national TV news operations. Suzanne Scott has headed Fox News Media since 2018. Susan Zirinsky has served as president of CBS News since 2019. Rashida Jones became president of NBCUniversal’s MSNBC cable channel earlier this year, making her the first African-American woman to lead a cable news network.
“Women’s points of view are rarely heard in the topics that dominate the news agenda.”
- The Global Media Monitoring Project
To paraphrase media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the medium is becoming the message. And not just in television. Reuters News announced in April that one of its top staff, Alessandra Galloni, will be its next editor-in-chief. She’s the first woman to lead the globe-spanning news agency in its 170-year history.
Bringing more women into the picture
Progress, yes. But still a long way to go. We are mindful of the experiences of women journalists on the front lines who haven’t had the power of position. Like others in the profession over the years, they have paid the dues of long hours, tough assignments, poor resources, unequal pay and sexual harassment, and the favoritism of cliques where those not wanted were dubbed outsiders and made to feel that way.
Each year, women comprise more than two-thirds of graduates with degrees in journalism or mass communications, and yet just one-third of employees in the media industry today are women.
For example, a 2020 Reuters Institute study looked at a sample of 10 top online news outlets and 10 top offline news outlets in 10 markets across four continents. On average, women represent 40 percent of the journalists in these markets, yet only 23 percent of the top editors across the 200 major outlets in the sample.
Women continue to be underrepresented not only in media industry management but also in the messages delivered. Studies show that as subjects of stories, women appear in only a quarter of television, radio, and print news.
“Women’s points of view are rarely heard in the topics that dominate the news agenda,” the Global Media Monitoring Project reports. “While the study has found a few excellent examples of exemplary gender-balanced and gender-sensitive journalism, it demonstrates an overall glaring deficit in the news media globally, with half of the world’s population barely present.”
Top editorial positions in major news outlets carry power — substantively and symbolically. Substantively, editors make critical content decisions every day, infused in part by their personal experiences. They also represent their outlets and contribute to the collective perception of the industry. The diversity (or lack thereof) of top editors is thus important symbolically and likely to shape our confidence in how accurately our media reflects the fabric of our nation.
The quest to make journalism more inclusive stretches back for many decades. In 1979, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) pledged that, by the year 2000, the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in newsrooms would match that of the population at large. Noting that this was “the right thing to do” and in the “industry’s economic self-interest,” ASNE stressed the particular importance of lifting people of color into management.
The failure to reach that target by 2000 — and even by 20 years after — is clear. Today, racial and ethnic minorities make up almost 40 percent of the U.S. population, yet less than 17 percent of newsroom staff and only 13 percent of media leadership.
With today’s plethora of “fake news” and tactics designed to divide and conquer, we need more than ever a diverse, 50/50 media industry that tells the true story of who we are.
The time is now. The place is here. Start the presses.
©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund
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