Archive for February, 2018


Championing women every day

Margaret Brennan of CBS News interviewing former Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015. (Photo: US Department of State/Flickr)

Next Thursday, International Women’s Day is observed – the day where women’s contributions to society, including in journalism, are celebrated.

Much of the conversation has been on the role of women in journalism in light of the #MeToo movement on social media and the sexual harassment allegations against prominent male media figures, including Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, Michael Oreskes, Garrison Keillor, Harvey Weinstein, and most recently, Tom Ashbrook.

Recent statistics from the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit group in Washington, showcase a wide gender gap in journalism. On television, 74.8 percent of men report news compared to 25.2 percent of women. The 25.2 percent figure is a decline of last year’s amount of 32 percent of female reporters. PBS Newshour features the most female reporting versus the big three networks (PBS had 45 percent of content reported by women, versus 12 percent at ABC and 32 percent at both NBC and CBS).

In print, no outlet achieved gender parity. Men write 61.9 percent of the news, while women report 38.1 percent of the news. The widest gap is at the New York Daily News, where women write 24 percent of content compared to 76 percent of men, followed by USA Today (70 percent by men, 30 percent by women) and a tie between The Denver Post and The Wall Street Journal (66 percent by men, 34 percent by women). The New York Times has 61 percent of content written by men versus 39 percent by women, and The Washington Post has 57 percent of content written by women versus 43 percent by women.

On the web, men received 53.9 percent of bylines. At the four sites surveyed, The Daily Beast saw 38 percent of its bylines go to women, followed by CNN at 45 percent, The Huffington Post at 49 percent, and Fox News’ web site with 50 percent. At The Associated Press and Reuters, Reuters has more women having bylines than at the AP – 39 percent compared to 35 percent.

Meanwhile, at NPR, staff diversity figures published in January show that 56.2 percent of its newsroom is women, an increase from last year’s total of 55.1 percent.

At SPJ, of the 23 seats on the Board of Directors, 13 of those seats are occupied by women, including national President Rebecca Baker, President-Elect Alex Tarquinio and Secretary-Treasurer Patti Newberry. In its network of 5 communities, four of them are either chaired or co-chaired by women, while of its 9 committees, 6 of them are chaired or co-chaired by women. Additionally, Alison Bethel McKenzie was today appointed SPJ’s executive director, becoming the second woman in the organization’s history to hold the post.

Women and men enter this profession for similar reasons – to inform, educate and engage audiences about the world around them. Women’s contributions to this industry are just as important as men’s, and their work is just as important in showcasing journalism’s potential – whether its holding the powerful to account in the government or in one’s own organization, or helping to connect the dots so the public can be at its best.

Indeed, the stories that have emerged in light of the #MeToo movement indicate that much more needs to be done when it comes to supporting women in journalism – not just taking on the gender parity at organizations, but also improving workplace culture. Women should be allowed to practice journalism and complete this important work free from fear of intimidation and abuse. We all do this work to ensure the public is at their best – it is essential that all who work in journalism are at their best too.

Many prominent women in journalism come to mind, from Margaret Brennan at CBS; Mary-Louise Kelly and Tamara Keith at NPR; Courtney Norris at the PBS Newshour; Raney-Aronson Rath of Frontline; Kristen Hare of the Poynter Institute; Tory Starr of WGBH in Boston; Laura Yuen, Cathy Wurzer (also of Twin Cities PBS), Meg Martin and Laura McCallum at Minnesota Public Radio to Beth Francesco at the University of Texas at Arlington; Briana Bierschbach at MinnPost; all the women who helped organize and who are members of the LA Times guild; Laura Davis of the University of Southern California; journalists Torey Van Oot and Katie Hawkins-Gaar, and women coast to coast who seek the truth and report it.

Their work indicates that journalism is still a necessity in modern society. Their contributions should never be overlooked nor taken for granted.

The kick ass women who work in journalism should also be celebrated, not just on International Women’s Day, but on this day, and every single day.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Obsessions over beats

The former building of the Dallas Morning News. The organization is focusing on obsessions rather than beats. (Photo: Antonio Campoy Ederra/Flickr)

It is a piece of guidance which is as established as the institution of journalism itself – as you work your way through school to get a degree, you form a specialism along the way. This specialism would guide much of the work that you would do during the course of your career.

Yet, the evolution of the landscape in the digital age has challenged the convention of that thinking. As social media and the culture of the internet impacts how one consumes news and how one disseminates it, the idea of a specialism or beat can appear rather outdated.

This opaque view, as a result, can also have an impact on work journalists do in the field. That view’s impact can be seen first hand, especially in the case of Sulome Anderson, who for many years was a freelance journalist based in the Middle East. She decided recently to return to the United States, after what she says was one of the worst years in her journalistic career.

“I can’t make a living reporting from the Middle East anymore,” Anderson said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “I just can’t justify doing this to myself.”

Anderson made this decision as the American news cycle continues to be driven by events surrounding President Trump. Though she says Trump was the not the direct reason why she made the decision to leave the Middle East, it suggests a wider problem.

“Open any American news outlet and it’s just Trump, Trump, Trump,” Anderson said. “When that’s the case, there’s very limited space for news that’s not about him. It’s just intuitive that foreign coverage would suffer. Everybody wants to write for these places, yet there’s a shrinking amount of space for [freelance] work, so we’re all just competing over scraps.”

Political stories, including talks for Britain to leave the EU led by British Prime Minister Theresa May, lead the transatlantic news cycle. (Photo: EU2017EE/Flickr)

Anderson’s story was one that resonated with me deeply, as much of the work I currently do is for audiences outside the US. Indeed, in a news cycle dominated in the US by President Trump, and in the UK with talks between the British government and the European Union on its future as an EU member, it can send the wrong message of what stories audiences might be interested in – and showcase that the subject, rather than the story itself, has precedence. Not only is it wrong, it is also discouraging.

So when a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, who I interviewed this past week for a project for the Freedom of Information Committee, mentioned casually to me the News’ focus on reporters’ obsessions rather than traditional beats, I became curious.

The idea came from Gideon Litchfield, formerly the Global News editor of Quartz. Instead of traditional beats and coverage of regular institutions, the focus would be “an ever-evolving collection of phenomena.”

““Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon,” Litchfield wrote on his blog discussing the thought process behind the move. ““The environment” is a beat, but “climate change” is a phenomenon. “Energy” is a beat, but “the global surge of energy abundance” is a phenomenon. “China” is a beat, but “Chinese investment in Africa” is a phenomenon. We call these phenomena our “obsessions”. These are the kinds of topics Quartz will put in its navigation bar, and as the world changes, so will they.”

Editors at the Morning News got wind of Litchfield’s ideas and found inspiration as they tried to figure out what their future was like in the digital age. These obsessions will not last forever – reporters will pitch one and report on it for roughly six months, according to a report from Poynter which looked broadly as the paper’s overall move to digital.

In this digital age, where the landscape is evolving as quickly as the news stories themselves, it has become clear that the story is more important than the beat. Audiences are looking for information about their world and how what is happening will impact their daily lives, and we as journalists try to help by informing, educating and engaging.

Quartz and the Dallas Morning News have done their part to stand out, and their approach of obsessions over traditional beats maintains the commitment for not only their audiences to be informed, but to allow their journalists to do meaningful work, and to tell stories that can make a difference.

Perhaps it’s time that we take a page from Quartz and the Morning News and adapt the obsessions over beats strategy in other newsrooms. The news is changing, and as the news changes, so should the idea of beats – for in this digital age, it is the story, not the beat itself, that should take precedence.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Lessons over coffee

Sitting down with a fellow journalist over a cup of coffee will benefit not just you, but your audience. (Photo: Pixabay)

At first, stepping through the side entrance located in a busy mall located in the Minneapolis Skyway, life appears to come to a screeching halt. In the middle of a Saturday morning, as a multitude of conferences, exhibitions and other events were taking place across the city, and the line of people stretched to near the door, there was still an element of life pausing.

It happened at a Starbucks in the City Center, during a pause in my sojourn to a journalism conference at a downtown hotel. I had seen the pausing element there before a few months earlier, on a weekday morning. It may have been before 9 on a Tuesday, but you wouldn’t have noticed that from many of those there.

It is this pausing element, in this Starbucks in the midst of a busy downtown, that has allowed this place to stand out in my mind, and is a symbolic reminder of one aspect of self-care – broadly not discussed very much in this industry – that needs to be practiced.

In journalism circa 2018, the daily news cycle takes the form of 4-5 stories breaking at the same time. News of layoffs are happening at just about the same time as a deadline prepares to breathe down one’s neck. For many journalists, be they early in their careers or have been working in the industry for decades, there have been many days where journalism circa 2018 can appear a bit much.

Yet, the focus remains on the work at hand. We bury ourselves in work, be it the freelancer whose work ethic is dependent on whether its feast or famine, the staff reporter competing against other outlets to break the very story that their community will be talking about the next day, or the editors ensuring every t is crossed and every i is dotted, making things work with all the tasks building up.

We bury ourselves in work and go about it, day in and day out. We bury ourselves in this work and don’t come up to the surface to breathe, for if we do, we fear that someone else will get that story, or that content demand may not be met, and that will come at a cost – the job.

The work may be getting done, but the way in which we do the work is doing more harm than good. We wonder what the point of all it is – if journalism was the right thing we were supposed to do for the rest of our lives.

The way we work in what is one of the most important professions in the world is harming not only ourselves, but also our audience, and it’s got to change.

One thing that can be done is simple – get a cup of coffee and sit down with a colleague, be it in your own organization or at another organization. Find out what they’re thinking, how they approach the changing landscape and their ideas on what it means to tell a story in the constant sea of noise.

Sitting down to have these conversations, be it at the Starbucks in the City Center, a coffee shop near the newsroom, or anywhere, is worth doing. A second pair of eyes to help consider what journalism means can change your outlook, reinvigorate your craft with new ideas, and ultimately, serve your audience better than you were before. It’s not only cathartic, but a necessity.

In the end, it is better for your audience, and yourself, to pause, to reflect, and to consider what it means to be a journalist in this digital age – and your industry colleagues can help you do that.

So take a few minutes out of your day to sit down with someone, cup of coffee in hand, and have a conversation. For those minutes, the news can wait.

Editor’s note: This piece was amended at 6:22pm CT for clarity.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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