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Gender Gap Blues? Build Your Own Sandbox

There was much hand wringing at the June 30th forum, “Closing Journalism Gender Gap,” at the National Press Club.

Indeed, the numbers are appalling: Women comprise only 36 percent of the journalism workforce and only 23 percent of the leadership (where they make 25 percent less than their male counterparts). Yet they make up 64 percent of journalism school enrollments, where many will elect careers in public relations. The numbers come from research supplied by the sponsors, The Poynter Institute and the press club’s Journalism Training Institute.  Many of the numbers come from the Women’s Media Center study earlier this year.

Who would think that we’d still be dealing with this mishigas at this moment in time? Bylines are being counted, op-eds are tallied, pundits are logged amid considerable consternation.

Advice was plentiful: Push through. Banish bashfulness. Ask for more. Hang in there. After all, “it’s the best job in the world,” affirmed an extremely articulate panel.

I’ve got to say, though, I’m not convinced those strategies will make much of a dent in the numbers, especially nowadays when legacy newsrooms have little wiggle room to do much hiring. And when they do, it’s often programmers or coders they want.

Achieving change from the victim’s chair is seldom an empowering exercise. Overcoming gender styles that are viewed as liabilities instead of assets is not where you want to be.

There are other options:

  • Just leave.  Yes, leave – but do it matter-of-factly.  And do it with a plan to build out your portfolio in entirely new ways.  Join a news startup.  Amp up your social media skills. Do a deep dive in a particular topic area. Understand how the emerging news ecosystem is embracing change. Attach yourselves to new circles of competence. The goal is to attain new skills – and a sponsor or two – not more clips.  You are never more desirable than when someone else wants you.  And the doors do revolve.
  • Seek an internal greenhouse.  Raise your hand to be on the innovations team. or new-products team. Women have unique ways of connecting the dots on trends and good instincts about engaging audiences.  However, these are muscles that need to be toned. These skills can also be a future escape hatch, if you want it.
  • Build your own sandbox. Grow your media entrepreneurship skills, whether as a job or a hobby. Start a website, a blog, a newsletter, an app that lets your spread your wings in new ways.

Amid all the numbers tossed around about the plight of women journalists, I have not seen statistics that tell us whether women are leaving newsrooms in disproportionate numbers when buyouts are offered or downsizing occurs.

But I do know in reading 2,011 applications for some 22 startup awards J-Lab offered with McCormick Foundation funding between 2008 and 2013, there are incredibly smart, talented women who have left – in some cases fled – newsrooms and have good ideas for the future of media.

As a general rule, they don’t aspire to collect scalps. They’d rather do journalism that builds communities, rights social wrongs, empowers the voiceless and fosters a much closer relationship with their audiences.

It seems to me those are jobs that need to be done.


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