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Covering today's woman: mistreated by the media? Or not treated at all.

During Campaign '92, women watched and read as Hillary Clinton -- a heroine to job-and-family jugglers -- was demonized for her devotion to her career. For her devotion to her husband. For not baking cookies. For baking cookies. For her hairstyle. For her clothes. U.S. News & World Report called her "an overbearing yuppie wife from hell."

Clinton is just one example of the rough treatment of women by some of the media. If you believe what you read and hear, women's bodies are ruled by PMS. Their minds are deficient in "math genes." If they work and want children, they're sentenced to the "mommy track." They fear success at work. They fear failure at home. They're smoking more. They're having more heart attacks.

Women were advised that Anita Hill was not a harassment victim but a vengeful vamp spurned by her pretend paramour. They were assured that the fictional Murphy Brown was a selfish sinner for choosing single motherhood over more virtuous values,

Why are women getting a bad rap from the media? The Freedom Forum recently sponsored two forums and a symposium and published a special issue of the Media Studies Journal on women and the media. Viewpoints from people, mostly women, who participated in those events help shed light on the answer.

"Having just completed a political cycle dubbed by the media the 'Year of the Woman,' in which women made strong showings in congressional and state races, some whiff the scent of change in the air. But don't kid yourselves," Kay Mills, a former editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times. wrote. "The fact that one can take a not-so-deep breath and name all the women top editors of good, big U.S. news media (none editing newspapering's giants or the major newsmagazines or heading network news operations) says that the Year of the Woman has not yet arrived for those who work in the media."

Women account for 52% of the population, but only 34% of the newsmedia work force. The work force percentage shrinks to 10% at decision-making levels. These figures are surprising, media-watchers say, considering that journalism-school enrollment has been about 60% female for years and that newspapers hire about 90% of their staffs from journalism schools.

"There clearly is a disconnect between graduates of journalism schools and hiring in newspaper newsrooms," Joan Konner, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said. Ironically, faculty employment at journalism schools is only 28% female.

But does adding women necessarily mean better coverage? Absolutely, said Geraldine Ferraro, a 1984 Democratic vice-presidential candidate. Because news organizations are male-dominated, they can benefit from women's perspectives. The public gets "a fuller picture from a commentator with a different viewpoint -- something that's not so monotonal .... It's not a monotonal world."

Women are better journalists because they cover more than just the facts and they aren't afraid to personalize their coverage, Sally Quinn, a Washington, D.C., journalist and author, said. "I think women look at the whole picture more than men do, which provides more personal context, more depth and more information. And that's the point, isn't it?"

Disagreement came from Charlayne Hunter-Gault, national correspondent for "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour." "I don't think that is necessarily the case; it's not even a case that we should be making .... There ought to be women because they are qualified and capable." Simple gender equality alone is neither the problem nor the cure in news, she said.

Covering Hillary Clinton

Women do not necessarily cover women better, as the 1992 presidential campaign demonstrated. Hillary Rodham Clinton was "shabbily treated" by the media, particularly by women reporters vying for prominent story treatment and the attention of their mostly male editors, said Maurine Beasley, professor of journalism at the University of Maryland and president-elect of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

The media's standards of newsworthiness lag behind the changing roles of women. Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to fit the accepted patterns among the media for, what a First Lady is supposed to do. "Is it not the problem of the whole news industry that we don't know what to do with the changing roles of women?" Beasley said.

One of the boys

Women journalists have been rewarded in effect for playing the news game by the rules. They have been taught to be white males.

Deborah Howell, Washington bureau chief for Newhouse Newspapers, confessed in the Media Studies Journal that she, as did many women of her generation, patterned herself after successful men. "I thought it was wonderful when a colleague said I was 'a credit to my sex.' To be 'one of the boys' or a 'man's woman' were big compliments. Curse. Close the bar. Smoke cigarettes. It's a wonder I didn't lose my health trying to keep up."

As editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Howell said, she treated her male and female journalists as equals. However "the truth is that mentally and emotionally I really had three categories of gender -- men, women who are men, and women who stayed home."

Howell now is a reformed white male journalist.

Redefining news

For women to advance in journalism, news organizations must fashion a new definition of news that includes all genders and races.

"Old myths about female unreliability and weakness still drift through the modern media like smoke," Caryl Rivers, journalism professor at Boston University, said in the Journal. "The news about women that makes the biggest headlines and gets the widest coverage always seems to validate women's frailties." Media in the USA too often report the news 'like a fun-house mirror, reflecting back images of women that are distorted and grotesque," Rivers said.

Judy VanSlyke .Turk, dean of the University of South Carolina College of Journalism and Mass Communications, said a broader definition is necessary. 'Does impact mean that it has impact only on white males? No. It has impact on quality of life, on lifestyles, things maybe that once were considered too soft -- that if it wasn't political and it wasn't crime and it wasn't a meeting of some official body it did not have impact."

Many journalists believe their professional duty is to decide what the people need to know and force it upon them, like it or not, Susan Miller, vice president/news of Scripps Howard Newspapers, said. "What keeps newspapers from changing is that journalists are saddled with outmoded and counterproductive philosophies, attitudes, practices and organizational schemes from which they judge the neWS..

Mills suggested that reporters must be relentless in pursuing women angles in the news. "There is no substitute for conscientious reporters suggesting angles and issues relevant to women for every solid story idea, every peg for an editorial, every photo essay, every network news 'American Agenda' or 'Eye on America,' and repeating them until they are a central part of the media message."

Still, powerful and persistent moral arguments about the plight of women journalism and consumers of journalism have not forced the media to abandon their anachronistic attitudes. What may ultimately bring news into the 1990s is that master motivator -- the bottom line.

Newspapers will find themselves engaged in increasingly fierce competition with other media for the public's attention and dollars. "The success that news organizations have had for so many. years of doing things in a particular way, that kind of success proved the downfall of a great many news organizations," Miller said. Only those that were "nimble enough to become the complete source of information" survived.

Invisibly insulted

Women used to be better newspaper readers than men. That changed during the 20-year decline in newspaper readership in the USA. In 1992, men's readership of newspapers was 65.2%; women's was 60.2%. "If media ignore the truth of women's changing national character, why should women show up for the insult of being invisible?" said Jean Gaddy Wilson, executive director of New Directions for News at the University of Missouri.

Women will read if they see what they want. Savvy media managers who see opportunity in declining readership will be the ones surviving in the next millennium. 'The forward-thinking white males who were able to see both the advantages of this trend, as well as accept and deal with the challenges, were the one's who survived and whose newspapers were the best read and had the highest circulations," Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam predicted. It is not surprising that women are shunning newspapers, since newspapers are shunning them. A 1987 newspaper study by Lawrence McGill for the Journal found that 19% of newsroom reporters were assigned to sports, 7% to business. Family/lifestyle sections had 8%. That means two of the topics with the least readerShip among women got 26% of the reporting staff, while topics ranking highest with women were left with 8%.

Minorities in the USA control some $400 billion in consumer spending. "The paradox is that black women are often consumers of print media in numbers greater than their proportion of the general population," Audrey Edwards, editor-at-large of Essence magazine, said. 'Yet their images so rarely show up that someone wholly unfamiliar with this country might think from a review of our magazines and catalogs that women in America come in only one color -- white." Because the media cover women and minorities poorly, women of color have been double victims of what journalist and consultant Nancy Woodhull called "symbolic annihilation" in the media. (See column, page 2.)

Back to the future

One way some newspapers are reaching out to women readers is through special women's sections. The Chicago Tribune and at least 10 other newspapers have introduced such sections, which have been revived and revamped from their society-page style of the '40s and '50s to provide more practical information for modern women.

Marion Turtle Marzolf, professor of communication at the University of Michigan, said women view the rebirth of women's sections as both a blessing and a curse. "We are caught in a familiar dilemma: women wanting to be fully equal as human beings yet realizing that there are gender differences that must be acknowledged. For women of color, the problems are compounded," she said. "This is the dual reality of a woman's life in 1993: an outsider who is also an insider in different parts of her life."

Women like "women only" treatments, said Sheila Gibbons, director of public affairs for Gannett Co. Inc. and co-author with Maurine Beasley of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism." They like them "provided they don't become a substitute for the integration and mainstreaming of women into all other sections of a newspaper, a newscast, a magazine, whatever it happens to be," she said.

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman tentatively endorsed recreating a women's place in newspapers "if the place doesn't become a ghetto again. And if it doesn't take the pressure off changing the rest of the paper."

"[Men and women] want to read about families, relationships, health, safety, jobs, learning, the environment. That's a pretty good guide for any gender and any editor's story list."

Building a media house

New technologies have paved the way for entrepreneurial women to create their own media. "If women want to make a real difference in media coverage and treatment and employment of women, we'd be wise to stop waiting for the media to grant us a silver of airtime and move at once toward gaining control of a whole new pie: the new technology that will define the media in the future, from pay-per-view TV to E-mail," author Susan Faludi, a Knight fellow at Stanford University, said. "If the media men don't want to make room for women in 'their' institution, then women's best bet is to build a new media house --and determine for ourselves what gets displayed in the many new rooms of our own."

Veteran women journalists agree that the future of women-friendly media depends on new generations of female journalists. "Unless the younger women hang in there and move up the ranks to the news-executive level, I don't think that the broader debate about what constitutes news -- and the reshaping of what news could be --will ever occur," Gibbons said.

Young women journalists can gain inspiration from their pioneering predecessors whose battles have opened doors toward greater equality.

"Many of these women realized ... that they as individuals were probably going to lose," said Fern Ingersoll, director of the Women in Journalism Oral History Project of the Washington Press Club Foundation. "They were probably going to have to leave The Associated Press or The New York Times or wherever they were working. They found later that this was absolutely true." Still, they sought to leave a legacy for future generations, Ingersoll said.

Strength of sisterhood

What progress women will make in journalism will be grounded in strength of sisterhood and a sense of obligation to the past, present and future. Women can't depend on men, even those who 'get it," to be the agents of change. 'Whether the answer is a return to special sections, or more attention to make sure this news stays in the main news stream, or both, news values are not going to change significantly unless the women media professionals, including those of color, who are now insiders, take on the responsibility for making change," Marzolf said.

While women working together may make a difference, Jennifer Lawson sees no single voice representing all women or minorities. "The combined perspectives of our backgrounds and philosophies weave an intellectual tapestry of elegant complexity, impossible to represent through token hiring gestures," said Lawson, executive vice president, national programming and promotion services, for the Public Broadcasting Service. "Diversity needn't wait until more women and minorities get to the top -- nor does their arrival guarantee that diversity will be achieved. The challenge of the next decade will be to institutionalize diversity by moving it beyond a political necessity to a societal value."

Media frustrated trying to cover Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton, like many American women, is struggling to balance career and family. In that role, she has become a lightning rod for the media's frustration with covering non-traditional women.

"Hillary Clinton is suffering from being used symbolically somehow as the whipping boy for what [the media] perceive as the difference between the conservative women of America and mainstream working women," Harriett Woods, president of the National Women's Political Caucus, said.

Woods was one of 50 journalists, political consultants, academicians and others at a Freedom Forum roundtable on covering the new women of Washington led by the watchdog group Women, Men and Media.

By Clinton's role in the White House, she has not only altered the definition of the American woman, she has raised the standards -- a possible reason for the "snotty coverage" of Clinton by some women, Susan Lowell Butler, national executive director of the National Women's Hall of Fame, said. New York Times reporter Marian Burros said she is shocked by the "enormous amount of jealousy" of Clinton's power and success she senses from her fellow female reporters.

The media are grappling with a new "uneasy reality" of women in power, Betty Friedan, co-chair of Women, Men and Media, said. Among those blasted for bias was The Washington Post. But author Sally Quinn said both male and female journalists there are simply confused about Hillary Clinton. "There's a lot of discussion, a lot of dissension, a lot of argument. They really are trying to do their best about the coverage." Still, The Post's male editors look to the women on staff for direction, she said.

Adding to the confusion is Clinton's reluctance to grant interviews that could offer insight. She must help people see the links between her many facets, Sharon Rockefeller, president of WETA-TV in Washington, said. "They see the snapshots, they see the Polaroids, butthey're not able to put them together in an album."

Betsey Wright, chief-of-staff for Bill Clinton in Arkansas, conceded that Hillary Clinton has a "tremendous responsibility" to explain her expansion of the First Lady role. But, Wright added, "We have to be sensitive to the fact that Hillary is also operating without precedent in many ways. My guess is that life is very confusing for her also."

Women prove mettle during two centuries practicing journalism

Women have played key roles in journalism in the USA since colonial times despite discrimination that has barred their progress toward equality.

In the colonial and Revolutionary eras, women learned printing and publishing in shops that adjoined homes. During the 19th century, women moved into all aspects of journalism -- newspapers, magazines, reform periodicals, foreign correspondence, Washington correspondence -- often using pen names to mask their identities.

By 1879, women represented about 12% of the journalists accredited to the U.S. Capitol press galleries and wrote lively feature stories that cut into male correspondents' livelihoods. In response, men journalists banned women, contending they were not "bona fide" correspondents who sent daily copy by telegraph.

After the Civil War, African American women turned to journalism to uplift their race. In 1889, The Journalist, a trade paper, identified 50 outstanding women journalists, 10 of whom were black.

To prove their mettle as journalists, women often performed stunts deemed daring for the "gentle sex," such as ascending in balloons or feigning madness to expose conditions in mental hospitals. The most famous "stunt girl," Elizabeth Cochrane, wrote as "Nellie Bly." She dashed around the world for the New York World in 1889 at the thenbreathtaking speed of 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes, becoming a national heroine.

Women also gained acclaim as "sob sisters," specializing in tear-jerking accounts of flamboyant events and vying to be known as "front-page girls" whose copy made screaming headlines. But editors assigned most women journalists of the early 20th century to stilted women's pages where they received less pay than men and were limited to the Four F's: food, furnishing, fashion and family.

Attempting to elevate the second-class status of women journalists, Eleanor Roosevelt held White House press conferences for women only from 1933 to 1945. Her purpose, she said, was to provide news "that the women reporters might write up better than the men."

During World War II, thousands of women trooped into city rooms to replace men who had gone to war, but when peace came the women were sent home or back to the women's pages. Professional organizations continued to be segregated. For instance, women covering speakers at the National Press Club in Washington were confined to the balcony. They could neither eat nor ask questions of speakers and could only watch while men reporters dined and chatted with news sources before their eyes. This continued until 1971 when the club voted to accept women members.

The advent of broadcasting brought both new opportunity and new forms of discrimination. Station managers held that women's voices lacked authority and that women would not be perceived as believable.

Women's major breakthroughs in journalism came as a result of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed sexual, as well as racial, discrimination. Spurred by the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, women pressed for more employment opportunities in journalism and greater coverage of women in nonstereotypical terms.

Still change has come slowly. Today women total only 34% of the nation's newsroom work force, which is the same percentage as a decade ago. Clearly women are far from equal to men in American journalism, a field in which they have proved their competence for two centuries.


Women, Men and Media, a watchdog group, conducts an annual survey of news coverage of and by women. The following chart shows the average number of times women. as compared to men, appeared on newspaper front pages or in television newscasts. Twenty large and small newspapers and the three major networks were surveyed during a one-month period. M. Junior Bridge, president of Unabridged Communications, conducted the survey.
1989* 11 % 27 % 24 %
1990 14 % 28 % 32 %
1991 12 % 24 % 24 %
1992 13 % 34 % 32 %
1993 15 % 34 % 34 %
1989 16 % 11 %
1992 14 % 21 %
1993 14 % 25 %
 * Only 10 major-market papers were surveyed
in this initial study. Twenty papers
were examined in subsequent years.
COPYRIGHT 1993 University of Maryland
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Freedom Forum supplement; includes related article on media coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton and women's 200 years in U.S. journalism
Author:Beasley, Maurine
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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