No Cigars, So Are Lipstick & High Heels Tools of the Trade for Female Journalists Covering Politics?
Posted on March 13, 2014
Article & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb
No cigars, so are lipstick and high heels tools of the trade for female journalists covering politics and public policy? The truth of the matter is that high heels are hardly standard attire for female reporters, especially in snow covered Connecticut. Yet when covering the political arena historically dominated by men and sometimes marked by good ole’ boys and back room deals, does gender affect reporting?
The facts of a story are the facts of a story.
That was the consensus of a panel that mulled the topic “Journalism & Gender: When Women Report on Politics and Public Policy” hosted March 12 in Hartford, Connecticut by the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. It was part of “Women’s Day at the State Capitol 2014.” Unlikely however to join a public official in smoking a cigar, women reporters face the challenge of pursuing stories to keep readers informed and hold politicians accountable differently than male colleagues – getting to know sources and “build bridges” in a different yet professional way.
Panelist Christine Stuart of CT News Junkie relayed her experience with an elected official who became too familiar addressing her as “doll.” Quickly, she said she let him know that was unacceptable.
Did it adversely impact their professional relationship asked moderator Susan Campbell. According to Stuart, it did not. Another spoke of the boss who grabbed hold of her hand, while others told of fielding gestures such as hugs.
“Legislators are huggers,” said one.
Campbell said she is quick to “call out” interviewees about inappropriate remarks. Meanwhile another panelist said she tries to ignore them.
An audience member asked if they are impacted by being called insulting names.
“I’ve been called every name in the book. Some of them were true,” said Campbell drawing laughter from the group that nearly filled the room.
She added she does not let herself be affected by the type of people who conduct themselves in such a manner. It was pointed out that since some newspapers have moved to requiring online comments be done through Facebook, the number of nasty comments has dropped significantly. Earlier in the forum that included other business, speakers spoke of striving to change a mindset that results in assertive women being referred to in derogatory terms while assertive men are labelled strong leaders.
On the flip side of breaking through potential barriers as female journalists, was the subject of gender as an asset when it comes to stories that an editor wants a woman to cover.
“I didn’t want to be a girl reporter, I wanted to be a reporter,” said Campbell.
Sue Haigh of the Associated Press emphasized she resents the idea that someone would talk to her just because she is a woman.
“Maybe he respects me,” she said.
The field of journalism was described as in distress with more and more reporters leaving. As such, Stuart said sticking with it requires “fire in the belly.” The ebb and flow of the numbers of female reporters in press rooms is currently at a plauteau, it was noted.
According to statistics presented at the forum, just 27 percent of all bylines are by women. Fewer numbers of interviews are done with women and fewer numbers of quotes from women versus men were used in stories – in one assessment, respectively, 80 as compared to 367.
And what about how women are portrayed in the news? For example, reports that focused on former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton losing a shoe as opposed to what she talked about during an event, or her wearing pantsuits.
Fair is fair said Campbell – if Clinton’s pantsuits are not up for discussion nor should Sarah Palin’s shoes be. Added Stuart, she would also have to reexamine interviewing Gov. Dannel Malloy about his cooking holiday meals.
When all is said and done the panelists seem to be saying it is not gender, rather the tenents of good journalism that underscores their work – accuracy and fairness.