Women Journalists See Progress, but Not Nearly Enough: `The Shortage of Women Editors Reverberates through the Ranks.' (Women: United States).(Column)

Article excerpt

The state of women in journalism today is one of those half-full, half-empty things. We no longer sit in the balcony, but neither do we have the best seats in the house.

During the past three decades, women in journalism as well as women in countless other fields have demonstrated what we always knew: We could do any job at least as well as men. At newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, women have changed the very definition of news and, with it, the nation's political agenda. As more and more women entered newsrooms, we brought new sensibilities. Stories about education, welfare, children and the elderly have landed in greater numbers on the front pages of the nation's most esteemed newspapers. Stories from war-torn countries have taken on more of a human face, and stories from our own backyards have spawned public responses to homelessness, domestic abuse, and child prostitution.

Betsy Wade, whose married name (Boylan) topped the 1970's discrimination suit against The New York Times, likens the sensitivities of women journalists to those of a nursery-rhyme pussycat. In London, our feline protagonist is indifferent to the queen, choosing instead to zero in on a mouse beneath the throne. "You see what you're looking for, what you're accustomed to," Wade says.

And women, as well as minorities, see things differently than white men do. Each of these perspectives enriches news coverage. Without each, a part of our society would be less visible. Without each, the picture' of who we are would be incomplete.

Newspapers of yesteryear did not cover the waitress struggling to keep her family together or the single mom striving to balance work and home or the female college graduate blazing a trail in the corporate hierarchy. By the 1950's and 1960's, a few pioneering women's page editors reflected women's concerns about education, the economy, and the environment, but many feature sections still read as though women's principal preoccupation was how to remove ink stains from a shirt.

Newspapers not only failed to adequately cover the lives and interests of women and minorities, they insulted them by treating them. as second-class citizens, or worse, as invisible. That has changed dramatically, though not dramatically enough. The overarching voice remains that of the white man. To succeed, many women and minority journalists have learned to emulate that voice. Still, the presence of women and racial and ethnic minorities in newsrooms and on editorial pages has prompted media outlets to pay more attention to such issues as racial profiling and date rape, raising public awareness to a level that could provoke change.

The emergence of women and minorities in newsrooms coincided, of course, with similar shifts in the nation as a whole. No longer do news organizations need to report on the first woman police officer in a given city, but we might cover the first woman police chief. Ditto with women in newsrooms. While women have broken through countless barriers and held every position from publisher on down, the emphasis remains on "down." Nearly three decades after lawsuits at The New York Times and The Associated Press changed the face--literally--of the news industry, precious few women have reached top management.

The shortage of women editors reverberates through the ranks. Without women decision-makers, it is tougher for women reporters to have their voices heard and get issues they see as important into print. I am not just talking about breast cancer and abortion here, though those topics remain vital. Women reporters often lead the pack on stories about the underclass, immigrants, child abuse, and racial and gender discrimination. I have done battle numerous times over stories about public housing tenants, welfare recipients or immigrants of color, news that my male editors feared would turn off those all-important white, suburban readers. …