Global voices detail a history of gender bias in journalism

For the past two years, the OurBlook team has been busy collecting opinions from diverse industry experts on the future of journalism. We had an unsettling realization – if journalists were having a hard time keeping up with the changing media landscape, journalism departments were having an even harder time. This instigated our team to launch the University Partnership Program [UPP], which provides professors with free and customized Web, technology and research help to make classrooms more interactive, and help students gain new media skills.

One of the most successful UPP stories of transformation has been with a gender and mass media class at the University of Iowa, taught by Pamela Creedon, former director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at both the University of Iowa and Kent State University. With some digital assistance from the OurBlook team, Creedon has created an interactive classroom setting that exposes students to critical journalism principles and the Web and connects students with industry leaders.

Each semester, the class conducts an interview series with successful women in online journalism. These interviews are published on, under a CopyLeft license and in a “blook” format. Additionally, using available Web tools, Creedon hosts several virtual guests who provide the students with “real-time” industry insight. To complement the classroom learning, students also have access to a Future Journalist Resource Center, created specifically for UPP students by the OurBlook team. While the class project allows students to leave with a portfolio piece, it also provides them with an opportunity to give back to the journalism industry by increasing the amount of authoritative and journalism-focused information found on the Web.

This past semester, Creedon’s class decided to focus internationally (view project). The class reached out to bloggers, reporters, editors and professors in 17 countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Chile and Zimbabwe. The goal of the interview series was to understand the experience of women communicators throughout the world, and to gather opinions on the future of the news media. The following are some of the responses given in regards to the interviewees’ experience with gender bias(es). You can view the full interview series here.

On Gender Bias:

Fifteen of the students’ 21 interviews were communicators who contribute to, Women’s International Perspective, Inc., which reports news, world opinion and commentary through feature articles, byline portal, headlines and community blogs. Students reviewed the site and found women around the globe whom they would like to interview online.

“In the past year, it’s become strikingly apparent to all of us at The WIP (and the women that we work with) that to continue to call injustices or gaps in equality ‘women’s issues’ only serves to marginalize them. We should be calling them societal issues or human rights issues – this is the only way that we’ll ever see any real movement towards equality or a shift in the current power paradigm. To me, when American women are paid as little as 69¢ for every dollar earned by a man for commensurate work, that’s not a gender issue, that’s an issue with the way our society has placed value on the efforts of half the country’s population. And does that serve the country’s economy or GDP or the wellbeing of families? No. The paradigm of ‘us’ and ‘them’ needs to be laid to rest if ever we’re to see true shift, because what benefits women, benefits everyone.” Sarah McGowan, Founding Features and Photo Editor of The Women’s International Perspective in the United States.

“When I was doing my internship at the New Vision, I wanted to report on sports, but I never got a chance. I believed the editor thought ‘what can a woman do in sports.'” Halimah Abdullah Kisule, journalist in Uganda.

“In terms of countries like the US and the UK I consider men and women to play an equal role in the media already, and therefore in the years to come would like to see both working to high standards of respectable and reliable journalism… In developing countries and oppressive regimes I would love to see the number of female journalists continue to rise. Online journalism and blogging both have a huge scope for anonymity and so can (and should) be used to tell stories that would otherwise be kept hidden.” Natalie Hart, an English freelance journalist.

“In terms of promotions, gender bias [exists] when assigning reporters in the field, men always send women to weaker assignments, give them weaker positions. I’ve been senior reporter for over five years and yet those coming in are being promoted on the basis of gender.” Delphine Hampande, a senior reporter in Zambia.

“The main challenge to me is being a working woman, mother and a housewife. It is very hard to balance the three. Journalism involves fieldwork and that is really hard, yet I have to work hard to earn as a freelancer. Many men do not trust female journalists but I am happy my husband supports me even amidst all these.” Halimah Abdullah Kisule, a journalist from Uganda.

“I actually consider being a female journalist to be one of my advantages. I think it’s because people consider women to be less aggressive, less hardcore. I feel like that stereotype really helped me to hide my true aggression, my true, hardcore journalism. When I go out to report I always try to show a very feminine side but inside I know I’m a hardnosed journalist.” Xin Feng, journalist from China, currently residing in the US.

“Yes, I have been favored for being a woman.” Louise Belfrage, former WIP news editor and Swedish national currently working as a cultural diplomacy advisor in the Middle East.

“Over the years, I experienced sexual harassment from editors and other journalists, and one editor at a news organization in the 1970s refused to even let me leave a job application because he said they preferred to hire men. In the academy, I have had the same problems other females have had — we are still trapped mostly in the lower and middle faculty ranks. Men outnumber us in higher ranks and they make much more money than we do.” Carolyn Byerly, associate professor at Howard University in the United States.

“Absolutely, and I think all women have. Television reporting is dominated by women, but newsrooms are run by the old boys’ club. There’s a lot of passive-aggressive bullying. You’re ignored a lot. Women who are Type A’s fare better, but it’s tough when you’re a woman with brown skin. People expect you to behave a certain way because of your ethnicity, then act surprised or taken aback when you exhibit aggression or assertiveness. This industry encourages and applauds alpha-female behavior. It comes with the territory. So you’ve got to play the game — or sit on the bench and watch how it’s played.” Kelly Roche, TV reporter in Canada.

“Fortunately for me I haven’t experienced any kind of gender bias in my writing career. And the reason could be that I’m more into online journalism now.” Lesley Biswas, freelance journalist in India.

“Gender bias is a subtle and tricky phenomenon to pin down, but manifests in many different ways, both within the newsroom and in the way stories are covered. One interesting side of this is seen in radio voice work… I feel very lucky that I had an embarrassing incident early in my career that motivated me to master the art of voice work — a story I did was re-voiced by an older male reporter before it went to air. I pressed the editor to explain why, and he said that the story really needed a credible voice, and mine just didn’t carry enough weight. He suggested that I should try channeling Winston Churchill the next time I had to voice a serious piece — an odd suggestion, but I followed it, and it’s worked a treat ever since… Other girls have not been so lucky, unintentionally becoming stuck in a niche of puff pieces that suit their less resonant voices.” Amanda Strong, journalist at Radio New Zealand.

“Any female journalist who says she hasn’t faced gender biases is blind or deluding herself. In my first job they automatically put me, like all the other new female journalists, onto the Women’s Page, until they gave me a battery of IQ tests (which they did for every new employee). They called me in and said “do you know you are very, very smart? We can’t waste you on the Women’s Page, we will put you on politics.” I looked around at the men on the politics section and not one had to be smart to get there, not one would automatically be put into a soft men’s page. Cathy Strong, former newspaper, magazine, radio and television journalist in the US and New Zealand, a professor at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates.

“In many parts of the world and not Africa only, gender biases are typical. In old form print journalism, some male journalists used to laugh at women feature writers…they said women wrote the soft stories and they, the men, reported hard news.” Philo Ikonya, Freelance Journalist in Kenya.

“When I first started in radio I was told that microphones didn’t like women’s voices!… Everyone in public media was and still is incredibly paranoid about appearing to be the slightest bit pro-feminist.” Frieda Werden, Co-Founder of WINGS: Women’s International News Gathering Service, USA, who now resides in Canada.

This article was co-authored by Abby Moon, an intern with OurBlook under the UPP program.

Hot Type: Gender and Media from on Vimeo.

Ethnic media's four-step model for the news industry's future

Disclaimer: While the following post describes the many things ethnic media are doing “right,” by no means am I implying that they don’t face the same problems plaguing the mainstream media.  In today’s market, all media organizations must find viable models to stay in business.

Recently, I was asked to gather expert interviews on the future of advertising for a University of Georgia journalism class that is taking part in the University Partnership Program.       

Diverse types of industry experts were interviewed who ranged from techie gurus to journalists-turned-marketers. While opinions varied on what the future holds, the majority of experts agreed that newspapers needed to focus on both niche marketing and community building techniques to be successful.  This automatically reminded me that ethnic media outlets, in many ways, have been doing these things for years. Obviously, while they still face the same challenges as their mainstream cousins, it seems as though they can provide valuable guidance and wisdom on certain philosophies that mainstream newspapers will have to adapt to be successful.           

Forget the Numbers. Who is your Audience?   

Historically, ethnic newspapers have been less concerned with numbers than thoroughly reaching a specific audience, whether it be a Colombian community in Queens, or a growing Asian population in Central Florida. They have been successful in becoming both liaisons and voices for their targeted population, so much so that they are regularly targeted by both national and international entities seeking to interact with their specific community.       

Why should mainstream models follow suit?       

“The CPM model is a broken and dangerous model to have…. The internet was never set up to be a gross impression mass media delivery vehicle. It was set up to be a very targeted, focused, direct vehicle,” states Andy Abramson, CEO of Comunicano.  “You now have niche and micro targeted media. It’s not how many people read the story, or see the newscast, or hear the broadcast. It’s about who is reading, who is watching, and who is listening.”       

David Kissel, partner of Zocalo Group and the man behind McDonald’s ‘I’m Loving it Campaign,’ adds, “What newspapers have to come to grips with is that the day has changed forever where it’s a one size fits all model…. If you try to be everything to everybody, all of a sudden you are relevant to no one. At some point newspapers have to decide ‘who you are going to target, who is your market’ because it can’t be everybody over the age of 19.”               

Become the Nexus of Your Community   

Ethnic newspapers usually serve as an important community nexus, making it a priority to interact with and help their community.  It is not uncommon, for example, to see newspaper representatives establishing strong relationships with a gamut of local business owners and community leaders, while at the same time serving as ‘networking’ facilitators and community knowledge purveyors. Most importantly, however, journalists and other newspaper representatives are generally seen as approachable, and take the time to celebrate, socialize and engage their community in a variety of ways.  In essence, they are seen as a part of the integral core of the community.           

Why should mainstream models follow suit?       

“(The future of advertising) is very much a two-way conversation. It is about engagement, it is not about the brand saying ‘hey, this is who we are’. It’s about the brand being friends with the consumer…. It’s about cultivating that relationship through experiences throughout time, and it’s also about providing experiences that ‘my friend’ actually wants to engage with,” states Gunter, CEO of Stuzo, one of Facebook’s exclusive development partners.         

“It’s not about selling ads…. If you look at an organization like Sacramento Press…they are doing a lot more than selling banner ads …they are working with the local merchants to help them understand how to establish an online presence. They are putting on local events, and they are engaged with the local community at a much higher level…. Hyper-local means working with the local farmers…. It’s identifying a group of merchants that still exist as artisans and craftsmen…. There is this whole missed audience of people who want to do business and need a vehicle to elevate their presence…. Sacramento Press is doing just that,” states Abramson.           

Understand your Community’s Interest  

Ethnic newspapers generally have a very clear understanding of what their specific audience wants to read. Journalists and editors actively interact with their community and find out what stories are ‘in demand.’ Additionally, there seems to be more flexibility in regard to format and types of content that are published.       

Most importantly, however, they provide opportunities for citizens from different socioeconomic strata to voice their opinions and engage the community.            

Why should mainstream models follow suit?       

“Journalists need to understand that content creation is no longer a one-way street; the story is the spark that creates a firepit the readers congregate around. The ensuing conversation and commentary are often what readers appreciate most, especially when the author participates actively. This presents opportunities, not only for content providers, but also the advertisers that illustrate their endorsements through advertising…. Consumers want more than the short-lived vicarious dream a print ad facilitates. They want true brand interaction and engagement that makes them feel special. It goes to the core of the human condition,” states DJ Edgerton, CEO of Zemoga.         
Think Local   

While ethnic newspapers may habitually publish news about their community’s homeland or region, most newspapers focus solely on community news. They may not be as exciting or as sophisticated as newspapers such as the New York Times, but this ensures that published news is extremely relevant to the majority of their readership. In other words, the main focus is the community itself.       

“Sell your audience. Sell them unconventionally. Leverage local. Local is the new global. Local is what matters and resonates,” states Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR. “News and commerce need to be linked more completely to fund credible independent news. Also it is a matter of knowing your readers. Newspapers can sell audiences at a premium if they know them thoroughly and completely and can mobilize them for a cause or a product launch.           

To view a complete list of the Future of Advertising interview series, visit,com_sectionex/Itemid,200076/id,8/view,category/#catid141. For more  information on the University Partnership Program, contact Sandra Ordonez at [email protected]

So… what is the future of citizen journalism and social media?

In 1996 I was a communications student at American University, and had just discovered the Internet. I became an addict overnight. At that time, the public communications students were required to take many of the same classes that journalism students did. However, there was an innate understanding among my classmates that the journalism students were different. And they were. In many ways the training was more rigorous, and journalism was the only communications track that focused heavily on ethics.

Fast forward 13 years. Today, as a Web professional working for, I find myself researching the “decline” or, depending on whom you talk with, the “transformation” of the same industry my professors helped me cultivate an almost obsessive respect for. The culprit? The same computer phenomenon I fell in love with in all those years ago.

In December 2008, launched a Future of Journalism project. The website is a collaborative, Web 2.0 platform created for the exchange of research, information and dialogue on national and global issues. For both this and other topics, research is conducted in two steps:
1) Interviews with industry leaders are collected and published online.
2) An online book is created using the the interviews as a research base.

Given that the editor of the site is a retired journalist himself, and the founder has a long history of philanthropy in the journalism world, we expanded our research to include subtopics such as citizen journalism and social media.

As of now, we’ve collected over 90 interviews and op-ed pieces written by journalists, journalism academics, and industry insiders. Featured contributors include people like Charlotte Grimes, John Yemma, Chris O’Brien, and Gordon Crovitz. However, we are continuously updating the website with new interviews.

Its unfair for me to try to summarize the entire content of the project in one blog post, since almost every interview is filled with amazing insight and sheds light on a different facade of a complex situation. Additionally, as someone who has continuously worked on the fringes of the industry, I also don’t think it’s my place to speak for the journalism world. As a result, I would rather share pieces of interviews, that for one reason or another, I thought were unique. However, one thing is certain – while it is true that journalists are communication professionals, the reverse does not hold true. While this seems like a simple statement, its actually a fundamental difference that I don’t think a lot of people understand.

Adam Stone, publisher of The Examiner community newspapers in Putnam and Westchester counties in New York.

Stone’s story is an interesting one. Less than two years ago and without financial banking, this former reporter launched a newspaper in Westchester County. Since then he has launched an additional paper in Putnam County. As a result of his age, 31, you would almost expect Stone to attribute his success to some complicated, technological strategy, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, Stone’s success is attributed to his complete dedication to high quality, local news. This formula is working since, besides expanding, his circulation continues to increase.

In response to whether Citizen Journalism can save newspapers:

“My belief is that newspapers, in their traditional form, can still be enormously popular. And if newspaper publishers largely reject the Web, and go back to basics, they can decrease their operating expenses and generate enough display advertising to return to profitability. What is plaguing the newspaper industry is a business model that no longer seems viable. I think it’s been the mainstream newspaper industry’s embrace of new editorial formulas and approaches that has been leading to its demise. The premise of the question seems to suggest that the newspaper industry must develop new ways, citizen journalism included, to remain relevant. I disagree with the assumption that newspapers must adapt significantly in the Internet age. While my opinion runs contrary to what most inside and outside the industry believe, there’s no doubting that recent attempts to adapt have failed, seeing as how so many newspapers are losing money or are going bankrupt or are out of business.”

Mitch Joel, journalist and social media expert

Joel is considered in many circles a social media guru. He was branded Canada’s rock star of digital marketing. His responses and solutions are the most “relevant” and “out of the box” I’ve seen, to date. It makes you wonder if professionals like him, who straddle both the technological and journalism worlds, were on the payroll a few years back, if the industry would still have found itself in the current situation.

In response to what newspapers can do to survive:

“I think fundamentally publishers have two issues on the table that they are not directly addressing. The first question is what do you sell. What I find unique is that publishers have gone online and said ‘actually, we sell content.’ In the 200-plus years of printing newspapers… they never sold content once. They sold advertising… The problem with that one trick pony, as it is right now, is that this sort of ‘wantiness’ of investors to invest in a company whose primary raison d’être is to sell banner ads, is not all that great…. People involved in online marketing know the banner ad is not the future of online advertisement or online marketing.

“When a lot of people say ‘Hey, how come newspapers just didn’t do Craigslist?’ It’s a fair question. But the bigger question is how come newspapers didn’t do Skype, or how come they didn’t do eBay for that matter? There is nothing saying that a publisher can’t go out and publish great platforms for consumers, and then use that money to somehow support and bring together journalism.”

Chris O’Brien, a business columnist and also the head of the Next Newsroom Project.

The Next Newsroom is funded by the Knight Foundation. The project aims to research and design the newsroom of the future. Considering all the multidisciplinary and dynamic work the team is doing, we should expect good things to come from this project. O’Brien, himself, even seems to embody the essence of the “future journalist.”

When asked about what the Next Newsroom project, and what the future newsroom will look like, O’Brien said:

“One of the early insights we had was that there would NOT be a single ideal newsroom, but rather, that we were entering an era of many next newsrooms. These would include everything from metro newsrooms to bloggers to non-profits to citizen journalists platforms. So the next step was to identify a handful of principles we thought should be embraced by any of those newsrooms:

1. The newsroom should be multi-platform.
2. The newsroom should be a center of continuous innovation.
3. The newsroom should place its community at the center of everything it does.
4. The newsroom should collaborate with other newsrooms in its local ecosystem.
5. The newsroom should practice transparency to build and maintain trust.”

To access the complete list of interviews and online book, visit the Future of Journalism homepage. You can also chose to receive OurBlook Twitter Updates. For more information, or to be part of this project, please email Sandra Ordonez at sandy[at]