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Let’s Talk about the Cover SPJ Isn’t Talking about

Let me just say what most members did when the July/August Quill issue landed in mailboxes around the country earlier this month: they tossed it into an infinitely long to-be-read pile or in the trash (brownie points if you recycled).

That may explain why there isn’t more of an uproar about the blatantly sexist cover. As the national diversity committee chair, I’m here to tell you there should be.

You see, on Saturday morning, SPJ member Marie Baca tweeted the cover and her disdain for it. A few hours later, SPJ National responded.

Here is the cover in question:

I would give you a link, but SPJ hasn’t put the latest issue online. The May/June issue is the only one listed.

Let’s start at the beginning

First off: SPJ put together a cover so tasteless and inappropriate that through whatever chains of command are in place, no one thought to say out loud “huh this might be a problem.”

That might be because the Quill staff is made up of men. Just men. The excuse for this cover could be something like: But it’s about our upcoming convention! Training journalists! Being better! So the cover is akin to working out, training for a race, and making yourself better for something important.

You don’t need to read the article to understand that. Reading the article isn’t necessary. The article doesn’t excuse the cover; the article doesn’t protect the cover. The article doesn’t matter.

Here is the original image. It most likely came from Shutterstock or another photo-buying site. No shame here! This is something many journalists and media outlets use. This is not a problem.

But if you go into the similar images, you’ll see that the same photographer has different variations of the same photos, including this one:

There’s also a similar training one:

I found these in a couple minutes. I would hope that the person selecting the cover would spend more time on it.

Yes: I would hope they spend more time selecting a cover photo for a magazine that gets sent to and represents thousands of journalists across the country.

Well it’s published! Now what?

Aside from President Lynn Walsh’s statement below, Region 2 Director Andy Schotz’s post, and Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky’s comments, this cover is relatively quiet in journalism circles right now. But I sort of get it: we’re all really just trying to do our best right now given the current political climate and hate against (among other things) journalists. Sometimes we just don’t have it in us to fight internally when we’re too busy fighting outsiders. It took someone telling me about the cover for me to pull the magazine out from a pile of other magazines to even look at it at all. I’m with you.

But Marie Baca saw it and said something and then SPJ said something not great back. Her mentions are filled with those in agreement. It’s on Reddit. Is this really the organization that represents us?

To her credit, Marie wrote an open letter to the Board of Directors and then posted it on her blog. When I got an email from incoming president Rebecca Baker asking for my thoughts, this was my response:

I waited more than a day, and then I pestered current Walsh, who told me this:

“I believe the photo was an inappropriate choice for a magazine that discusses journalism issues and that there are better images that depict training in reference to journalism. The photo was not meant to offend or perpetuate sexism in any way and I want to apologize if it has. I personally know the struggles that can come with being a female journalist and would never want to publish something that adds to those struggles. In addition, our staff at headquarters is working to make sure images are more carefully selected moving forward.”

Give her the respect she deserves: a response

SPJ isn’t giving Marie more answers. Judging by the lack of recent edition on the Quill page, they don’t want to give more. But how about we go over what Marie is asking from SPJ. This is what she wants:

  1. Acknowledge that the photo was sexist.

  2. Figure out the chain of command that allowed such a photo to appear on the cover of Quill.

  3. Have a meeting where everyone is in agreement about how to make sure this will never happen again.

  4. Share #1 through #3 in a very public way.

For women leaders in SPJ to think or say to others anything to the effect of “I’m a woman/I’m a feminist and I don’t find this offensive,” that doesn’t mean it wasn’t. The point isn’t to say “I don’t find this offensive, therefore, it’s not offensive,” it’s to say, “Why did someone find this offensive? What were the steps that got us here? How can we prevent this from happening again? What can I do to better understand why some people found this offensive?” Really, what can SPJ do to educate others about what they are going to do to prevent this in the future?

What Marie is asking for isn’t “big” like she says in her blog post: it’s a respectful, legitimate request from an SPJ member. As a fellow SPJ member, the national Diversity chair, and a chapter leader, how am I supposed to defend an organization that can’t even admit its wrongdoing and ensures it won’t happen again?

Using More Women As Sources

When I began studying journalism at the graduate level in the late ‘90s, I realized I had been blind.

As journalists, we don’t think much about the sources we use in stories every day; we just try to cover the news and meet our deadlines. But actually studying the content of newspapers, online news and broadcast news can be eye-opening.

Overall, repeated studies show, women make up 33 percent of news sources in the United States, even though they make up 51 percent of the population. In front-page news, women constitute only one-fourth of the sources.

A well-circulated graphic during the 2012 election season showed that women were not even the majority of sources in coverage of so-called “women’s issues” such as abortion, birth control and women’s rights.

The only type of news in which women sources are equitable to men is in features and lifestyles sections.

Why is this a problem? When women are marginalized, it makes it more difficult for them to gain power in society.  The lack of women sources also affects women journalists and their ability to be taken seriously in covering hard news.

Women continue to make up only about 37 percent of newspaper and online newsroom staffs, according to the American Society of News Editors, and about 40 percent of television newsroom workers, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association.

With cutbacks in newsrooms, change has been slow. These percentages have remained steady since the 1990s.

Awareness is the first step. After that, both male and female journalists can make an effort to include women sources in their stories.

How to find them? Here are some links that will help:

SheSource.org: Affiliated with the Women’s Media Center, it offers female experts on a wide range of topics. They are available to comment or to be booked on broadcast shows.

The Op-Ed project: An educational and practical project designed to increase women’s voices in opinion pieces and other commentary.

Women in Media and News: Works with journalists to increase women’s presence in the news media.

 The Gender Report: Monitors coverage of gender in Internet news.

Everbach_head shot

More efforts and organizations are out there. Please add them—and yourself—to the conversation.
Tracy Everbach, Ph.D., is associate professor of journalism at the University of North Texas. She also is a former newspaper reporter for The Dallas Morning News and Boston Herald.


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