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April 20, 2011 / Anna Louie Sussman

The Mainstream Media: Still a Lamestream Place for Women, and other notes on media coverage

From April 8-10, I spent a marvelous three days in Boston for the National Conference on Media Reform, hosted by the non-profit Free Press.  Not only did I have the chance to see my best friend, who’s studying for a PhD. at Harvard, and to sample some of Boston’s famous ice cream offerings, I attended some fabulous panels at the conference, several of which I reported on for Ms. magazine.

More than a hundred years after the intrepid muckraker Nellie Bly pioneered the genre of undercover investigative journalism, American mainstream media has yet to embrace women as equal players in the industry: as editors, reporters, managers, sources or subjects. You’d think a century might be enough time for a profession that purports to speak truth to power to empower the voiceless in its midst. Not so much. Women hold only 27% of top management jobs, according to a new report [PDF] from the International Women’s Media Foundation. (click here to read about the panels on media policy, reality TV and the sexualization of young girls.)

Meanwhile, you have to wonder why the NYT keeps letting its reporters slime rape victims in its coverage time and again.  Is it a coincidence that the two most controversial articles were written by men?  Not clear.  But a magnificent piece by Washington Post reporter Emily Wax (inexplicably shunted into the “Lifestyle” section — oh wait, there is an explanation for that, sexism) on female journalists and sexual assault and harassment highlights that in some cases, there *is* a clear difference between male and female reporters:

I think of the time I spent reporting in Congo, when male reporters cringed when I said I was working on a story about a hospital ward filled with women who had to have their vaginas reconstructed because the gang rapes by rebels were so brutal. “I won’t go near that story,” one male journalist said. I couldn’t allow myself to ignore it.

Readers agreed and sent the hospital huge donations.

I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way but I am SHOCKED to hear a reporter say he (or she) “won’t go near” a story.  I find that an appalling dereliction of duty.  Thoughts?

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