Women Fight for the Right to Write

The stereotypical machismo of a newsroom, complete with a cigar-chomping male editor, is becoming more and more a thing of the past— and many female journalists are in support of that transition.

On Nov. 6, Seattle University’s Communication Department will host a panel in the Casey Building titled “On the Front Page: A Survival Guide for Women in Journalism.” The panel consists of several successful female journalists who will speak on their experiences crafting careers for themselves while working in a predominantly male field.

Seattle Weekly Senior Editor Nina Shapiro, came up with the inspiration for the panel shortly after hearing about Jill Abramson’s termination from the New York Times last spring. Abramson was the first female executive editor at the Times, but was fired for reasons that remain unclear. Gender bias has been suggested as a possible reason for her unexpected dismissal.

Shapiro does not presume to know why Abramson was terminated, but instead drew her inspiration for the panel from the response to this event.

“What was really kind of striking and shocking to me were the figures that came out in the coverage about the number of women in newsrooms generally,” Shapiro said.

According to the American Society of News Editors’ 2014 census, women make up only 37.2 percent of the nation’s total newsroom staff. This statistic includes photographers, reporters and editors.

Shapiro was surprised at this discrepancy. She had assumed that in the larger world of journalism, the numbers were more equal.

“But I found out, not at all. It’s completely lopsided,” Shapiro said. “And I just wanted to do something about that. It seemed crazy and wrong and why was that still happening now—and I just wanted to do something that was encouraging more women to get in the game.”

So Shapiro contacted Seattle U professor and novelist Sonora Jha, as well as University of Missouri professor and former Seattle Times editor Jacqui Banaszynski. Together they planned the panel, which will feature a total of six speakers, including Shapiro, Jha, technology reporter for Bloomberg News Dina Bass, Seattle Times assistant managing editor for entertainment Michele Matassa Flores, Pulitzer Prize-winning Seattle Times reporter Susan Kelleher, and West Seattle Blog editor Tracy Record.

Record, who began work as a journalist in the 1970s, said she faced discrimination at various points throughout her career.

“Basically the challenges were kind of two-fold,” Record said. “I remember I’d have a boyfriend or two back in the early days, and I’d work a long day and he wouldn’t understand why I was still working. I remember once him saying to me, ‘Why are you bothering? You’re just going to quit and get married.’ And that was so not anything I ever intended to do—quit because of getting married or not.”

Record’s other challenge came from accepting leadership positions in managerial roles.

“It was difficult; there were places where you would have to prove yourself several times over possibly compared to men who might be under consideration for the same thing,” Record said. “And so that was tough.”

Record says that she has had great mentors of both genders, and thinks it is great how much progress has been made over the decades. Still, she encourages both men and women to push to improve the world of journalism.

“I was still rather startled to see the discussion that erupted after Jill Abramson’s departure from the New York Times—that some of the things that were being talked about were still things that were talked about decades ago,” Record said.

At Seattle U, there are multiple campus publications with student writers jumping into journalism. One of those publications is called Her Campus, an online news source that is written primarily by and for female students.

Sophomore April Jingco works on Social Media and Communications for Seattle U’s chapter of Her Campus, and also occasionally writes articles. Jingco never expected to get involved in a publication.

“The interesting thing about my experience with journalism is that I didn’t start off having interest in it,” Jingco said. “But it just came along with what I decided to do.”

Looking to gain writing experience, Jingco got involved in Her Campus, which became an unexpected outlet for her to voice her opinions.

“I didn’t think my voice was important, and I couldn’t contribute in a way that I feel would have been effective in that world of journalism,” Jingco said. “And so I was informed, but I never thought that I could contribute to it. So it was very interesting to have that platform to be able to do that and to voice my opinions, and voice other people’s opinions through writing.”

Jingco thinks that it’s important for women to have a voice in journalism, because they can offer perspectives that are unique to them.

“It’s cool because we get to talk about things that relate to women that if you had a male write, would not be able to write it because they wouldn’t understand. Not saying that they’re ignorant, but the perspective is just very different,” Jingco said. “I think it’s important because there aren’t a lot of female journalists that I’m aware of that have success in the field.”

Six of those successful female journalists will be presenting at Seattle U on Nov. 6. Attendees of any gender are welcome, and those interested in attending should RSVP to [email protected]

Shapiro hopes that the students who come will realize that journalism is a place where they can be themselves.

“I just want them to come and see women who are successful and to know that there are a lot of women out there who are doing it,” Shapiro said. “They can just get in the game, they can do it and they don’t have to change who they are to do so.

In fact, you shouldn’t, she said.

“You don’t have to be a certain kind of reporter—a kind of macho stereotype—you can really bring who you are, and that will make you a much better journalist.”

Lena Beck can be reached at [email protected]

Sonora Jha is the staff advisor to the Spectator.