I was recently asked by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women to participate in a panel discussion on women’s role in journalism and the 2016 election. Preparing for that panel led me to some gloomy conclusions. (Yes, I know this blog has been getting more and more gloomy as the election season drags on..Sorry about that.)
Obviously, women’s roles and participation in media have both improved over the past decades; today, women anchor television news programs, pen op-eds, have bylines and author blogs. That increased media visibility accompanies other notable improvements in our various roles across the economic terrain.
That said, in my view, any discernible “differential” impact on the media landscape has been swallowed up by the far more consequential changes to that landscape generally. Any effect of an increase in female journalists has been more than countered by the massive losses–the hemorrhaging– in what has been called “the journalism of verification.”
In today’s surfeit of fluff and “click-bait,” celebrity has more influence and range than credibility or gravitas. So we have a buffoon (to put it as kindly as possible) running for President and a media environment in which lunatics like Ann Coulter and Shawn Hannity have as much or more influence as respectable reporters and editorial writers, male or female.
My conclusion to the earnest all-female audience at the panel discussion: I don’t think we can examine the role of women in journalism when we have lost journalism to “infotainment.”
And that reality doesn’t even address the unbelievable misogyny that has made Hillary Clinton virtually unrecognizable–a misogyny that has gone largely unchallenged by reporters of both genders who are worried more about generating twitter followers and “clicks” than about accuracy and context.
If Obama’s Presidency and the Clinton campaign have taught us anything (and that is a real question), it is that the emergence of leaders from previously marginalized groups (blacks, women) generates increased hostility from those who were previously privileged. Much of the opposition to President Obama has been shameful and nakedly racist; Hillary Clinton has been vilified ever since emerging on the political scene for failing to be “properly” feminine and deferential. Most of the vitriol lobbed at both of them has had little or no relationship to their actual flaws and/or missteps.
Although I applaud the notion of more women journalists–not to mention more female lawmakers, CEOs, and law firm partners– I doubt that such an increase will immediately or in the mid-term usher in a dramatic change from that still-sexist reality. Progress will continue to be incremental and–for some of us–agonizingly slow.
Actually, at this point, I’d happily settle for more real journalists–of any gender.