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Media miss impact of women in society.

What have been the most significant recent developments affecting women and the media?

The economic clout of women is the most significant development. Women control consumer buying. The new CEO of Sears announced that women were the key to the company's rebound. He is not alone in his assessment. Why? Studies show women control more than 80% of consumer buying. They purchase 50% of new cars. They make up 60% of new investors on Wall Street. The media must reach women if they want to keep advertisers. It is not a question of ethics or enlightenment, but economic survival. No issue could be as clear-cut in a free market.

Since 1987, women have gotten the majority of the bachelor's and master's degrees. They make up 53.4% of the professional work force. In the '90s, women-owned businesses of 50 or more employees will employ more total workers than the Fortune 500 companies.

What changes would you prescribe for the media? Do it. Don't just talk about it.

Every media company has a slogan: "Know thy reader." But the product does not generally reflect the philosophy.

Example: Look at the car-buying statistic I cite, then look for the car ads in a local newspaper. They're in the sports section. Now look for news of interest to women in the section. Try to convince the sports department that the content of the section should reflect more items of interest to women. Try and convince the advertising department or the publisher that auto ads should run in other sections.

Let's compare women to a large suburb outside a major metropolitan area. You'd want those suburbanites to read your newspaper or watch your TV newscast. You'd learn about that suburb, develop contacts within it, know who the movers and shakers are. The media need to know the communities of women the same way.

What do you think are the most crucial issues affecting women and the media in the next decade?

The two critical issues are related.

* How will newspapers deal with the problem of "symbolic annihilation"?

* How will women change the character of the media when women break through the temporary barrier imposed by symbolic annihilation.

Symbolic annihilation means that unless the media report your contributions, your opinions, your existence, for all perception purposes you do not exist. Symbolic annihilation is like walking into a room and no one notices you are there. Eventually you don't go in the room anymore.

Until the press starts picturing and quoting women as more than token participants in society, women will go to other rooms for their information and to find ways to use their new-found financial power. If they find reliable new sources of information via fax, computer network or newsletter, the impact on current media will be dramatic.

Nancy Woodhull is president of Nancy Woodhull & Associates, Inc. She is a founding editor of USA TODAY and a Freedom Forum trustee. Woodhull posed and answered three significant questions about women and the media.
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Title Annotation:Freedom Forum supplement
Publication:American Journalism Review
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 1, 1993
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