Women Journalists, Could We Be Perpetuating the Glass Ceiling?

Jun 11, 2012

Colorado Public  Radio  Assistant News Director Judith Smelser's new blog Scribbles and Scruples:

There’s an interesting piece on the Poynter website today called How to pitch (stories) like a girl.  Author Jillian Keenan is bemoaning a report from a group called the OpEd project, which tracks gender representation in print editorials.  Not surprisingly, women wrote only 20% of Op-Eds in traditional papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post during the group’s 2011 survey period.  Women were more active in so-called “new media” outlets, like the Huffington Post and Salon – but they still authored just 38% of Op-Eds in those outlets.

This prompted a discussion of the persistent male dominance in print bylines overall.  Keenan reports on a packed event held in Brooklyn last night that addressed the issue and posed a fairly obvious remedy – female journalists need to pitch more stories.  She says the panelists – editors and freelance writers – talked about how women are more likely to view a rejected pitch as a personal rejection and be discouraged from pitching the same editor again, whereas men often take that same pitch rejection as a challenge and respond with a slew of new pitches.

I’m proud to say, women are extremely well-represented in my chosen field of public radio journalism, and I consider myself a fairly strong, confident, and assertive professional woman in that field.  But I will grudgingly admit that I’ve fallen into this exact trap in the past.  I once told a national editor earlier in my career how discouraged I’d become after he rejected several of my pitches in a row.  He was genuinely shocked, and even troubled, that I’d felt that way.  Looking back, he probably only rejected a handful of pitches, but as a result, I don’t think I pitched him again for several months.  What an over-reaction!  And what a waste!  When I later worked with that same editor, we had a great working relationship, and he was very complimentary of my stories.

So, did I respond that way because of my gender?  Who knows.  But reading the stories of other women who’d had the same experience was enough to make me consider it.  Certainly gender bias in the media will not be solved simply by women being more assertive in their pitching (someone has to decide whether to accept those pitches, after all), but it’s definitely worth guarding against this possible pitfall.