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Old news

Study only serves to remind us that women still lack a significant voice in major media

By Ellen Snortland 04/29/2010

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A recent report underscores what most females in the media “biz” already know: Gender inequality in media, even among the most respected news outlets, is very real. At National Public Radio, which first reported on these disparities, only 26 percent of on-air sources are female. Overall, women make up just 19 percent of experts in news media and are writing fewer than 25 percent of op-ed pieces. Men still get the lion’s share of attention as experts, subjects and commentators, yet 50 percent of the readers and listeners are women. 
Attention readers and listeners, aka consumers. It’s imperative that you work with us to generate a demand for our presence! This is both a constitutional and under-employment issue.
Have you noticed that women’s voices are practically MIA in print, TV or in radio? Does this bother you? It really should. Ideally, a democracy reflects its citizenry; the Bill of Rights is based on a free press. However, women are still WAY under-represented in the media, in all forms, and it’s destructive for the careers of female journalists. It’s also anti-intellectual and it’s downright deleterious to continue marginalizing or completely ignoring the richness and depth of the pool of female journalists who may be invisible, but who are still out there struggling. 
Chances are if you’re reading this, you appreciate that the PW has featured me as a rather loud and consistent voice for a long time. My editor might cut this part out, but, really, hats off to Kevin Uhrich, who openly acknowledges he would not be in journalism without the brilliance and strength of at least five influential female mentors. He has in turn mentored countless others, providing a vital platform for a vast diversity and accurate reflection of our community, including women of all ages. This is a unique situation.
NPR merely came out with a new study featuring old results. If they were to focus on gender combined with ageism, they’d find out women my age are basically “extinct” from the broadcast jungle. When I was younger, I was a pundit on a humorous news show on KNBC that had a brief run. I got the job because I was funny and glamorous. I fit the typical broadcast situation: the grandpa-age anchor with the hot granddaughter-age co-anchor. Alas, I’m more a grandma type now, and virtually unemployable.
Meanwhile, I was distraught at the recent news of syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman’s retirement. Hey, maybe I’ll get picked up by more papers now. Hey syndicators … are you missing an Ellen? Here I am!
Ms. Goodman and I — a nonretired columnist for the Pasadena Weekly and some national blogs (Huffington Post and Ms. Magazine) — have a few things in common. We are unabashed progressives; are ardent supporters of, and have big mouths for, issues affecting women and girls; we’re often humorous; we talk straight and … drum roll please … we have the same first name. 
We are also very different. I’m West Coast; she’s East Coast. She sometimes wrote about motherhood and parenting; I don’t have any kids.
A few years back, I submitted a column to a newspaper editor who’d already run my column to great response. He called himself a “fan.” Then, after my fifth submission, I didn’t hear back from him. I called to follow up, and he said he couldn’t use me because “we already run an ‘Ellen’ in our paper.” Stunned at his response, I had no witty come-back. I managed to stammer, “OK, thanks,” and hung up. Later, of course, I kicked myself for NOT asking, “Do you also have a No-Two-Columns-by-Johns policy?” Really?
I later told Goodman about his response. She laughed and said, “Oh yeah, a lot of these guys — and yes, they are usually guys — say they are against a quota system, but they actually have one: a quota of one. And in this case, not only was it only one ‘Ellen,’ probably it also meant no other women.”
So, the upshot of this is that we don’t know much about so-called women’s issues because we have a lack of women writing and talking about them. By the way, “women’s issues” is really a misnomer since they are squarely human issues, but you get my point.
And while organizations like the Women’s Media Center (womensmediacenter.com) is doing its best to put more progressive women’s voices into the news pipelines, it’d be a lot more impactful if news consumers would let mainstream media decision-makers know they want more women’s points of view. News flash! We don’t all think and analyze the same way, just like men! We have different takes and views on things, and you deserve to hear them and we deserve to work.
Speaking of gender, the American Association of University Women has rated our very own Congressman Adam Schiff as perfect in his voting record for advancing the progress of women and girls. Go Adam!
Also, if you attend the Doo Dah Parade this Saturday, look for my “Thwop” parade entry. You will see the Little Red Riding Hood story re-imagined. … My, what a big head you have! 

Ellen Snortland teaches writing in Altadena. Reach her at snortland.com.

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