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Women Rule at Channel Thirteen

Friday, January 10, 2003

A new boss of New York City's PBS affiliate decided to tap the talents of his female staff. Fast forward. The station now boasts a legion of women in top jobs, plus a doubled output and operating budget. Also, veteran reporter Sarah McClendon dies.

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Paula Kerger

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--The television industry doggedly woos women. From the witty, intelligent chick show "Gilmore Girls" to a shameless "The Bachelor," media companies view women as a succulent market. And they should. Women tend to watch more television than men do and they account for the majority of discretionary spending in the United States.

Yet few women are allowed to run the show. A recently released study by The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania indicates that in 2001 women accounted for only 14 percent of the executives in the top 10 entertainment conglomerates, including AMC Entertainment Inc. and AOL Time Warner.

By contrast, Thirteen/WNET, the public broadcasting channel for New York City, stands out. Out of the nine corporate officers running Thirteen/WNET, six are women. One peg below them are the departmental directors, of whom 65 percent are women. And this estrogen-packed executive team isn't just dominating the station's former male ranks, it's changing the way Thirteen/WNET performs, by more than doubling its operating budget to its current level of $180 million, and doubling its production output during the same period of transition.

When asked how this sea change occurred, every employee interviewed responded with the same answer. One example: "It's because we've had a chief executive who is absolutely, 100 percent open to the notion that a person who is 100 percent right for the job is right regardless of gender," says Carmen DiRienzo, the channel's vice president and managing director of corporate affairs.

William Baker

New Boss Shakes Up Management to Emphasize Talent, Not Gender

From its inception in 1962 until the mid-1990s, Thirteen/WNET was run almost solely by men. Throughout those years it had experienced ups and downs, but when current president and chief executive officer William Baker took the helm in 1987, the fiscal health of WNET was not only down but shaky. His subsequent reorganization of the station's management team was largely accomplished by tapping the vast resource of women already working in the nonprofit public television sector.

In 1995, Baker appointed Paula Kerger to vice president of development, later promoting her to station manager. In turn, he appointed five other women as vice presidents of different divisions including corporate affairs, communications, programming and development, and general counsel.

Revenue from fund-raising drives have surged under the new leadership. And programming has stood out not only for its increased production output under vice president and director of programming Tamara E. Robinson. She can also boast that WNET--while a local subsidiary of the Public Broadcasting Service--currently contributes one-third of the programming for the national primetime PBS broadcast schedule. Under Robinson's trained ear and eye, the station won over 150 awards in 2001 for programs such as "Egg the arts show" and "The 1900 House," which attract audiences of all ages and both sexes.

According to Marc Morales, WNET's director of human resources, at Thirteen since 1987, the current executive team exhibits a very different style of management than the all-male team he observed when he first got there. "It was an organization of soloists," says Morales. "Every vice president thought their operation was the station."

"Traditionally," Morales adds, "if you look at management in America, it's always fraught with macho overtones. But I think women have a higher level of emotional intelligence. They look at resources, they use people's strengths, and involve people in problem solving. I don't see these women so much making decisions as gathering information and making choices based on their explorations."

Kerger agrees that women often make better listeners. "Women tend to try to broker compromise," she says. "Sometimes men are just in it to win."

Some Companies Take Advantage of Women's Edge

At 45, Kerger has never perceived a glass ceiling impeding her upward mobility in the public television entity. In fact, women have traditionally found more advancement opportunities in nonprofit quarters, where volunteerism runs high and salaries tend to be lower than in commercial, profit-driven sector.

Still, Kerger says, "I do feel I've had to work harder to prove myself." She recalls that while in college, "professors told me I was there looking for a husband. I don't think young women today would have that experience."

Still, 25 years later, only a small ratio of women run television stations. A 2002 search of the Bacon's MediaSource media database by the Annenberg study committee found that, on a national level, men managed more than five out of six local television stations and four out of five cable systems.

Women fared poorly in the chief executive officer category. Bacon's listed only 20 women running the 120 or more broadcast and cable outlets. Those female chief executive officers tend to oversee networks that principally target women viewers, such as Lifetime, Oxygen Media and the Hallmark Channel.

But with the appointment of Judith McHale to president and chief operating officer of Discovery Communications Inc., which owns Discovery Channel, the Travel Channel, TLC and others, it's clear that some corporations are taking advantage of the edge that women leaders can give them towards connecting with their target audience.

For instance, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Dean Emerita, Joan Konner, who recently produced the Emmy-award winning documentary, "She Says/Women in News," says, "Women have expanded the news agenda. They're more inclined to do subjects that were previously ignored such as education or lifestyle stories, or to cover the power structures from the bottom up rather than the top down."

They're also improving the bottom line, as further exemplified with the appointment of Pat Mitchell as the first female president and CEO of PBS. November data from Nielsen Media Research indicated that PBS's national household rating was up one-tenth of a point so far that season, contrasted with eight-tenths of a point decline for all television viewing.

Yet, it looks like it's going to take more than a few good women to change the current status quo. It's going to take a few good men. The trickle-down theory that took place at Thirteen closely relates to the clogged drain theory illustrated in the Annenberg study. That theory suggests that a biased or unconcerned male chief is one of the biggest obstacles women face in their trek to the executive suite. "Without a total commitment of the CEO to the advancement of women," the study's author, "progress will be limited. It takes sustained effort to break out of the 'old boy' mold."

Ann Farmer is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

 

For more information:

Thirteen/WNET:
http://www.wnet.org

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania:
http://www.appcpenn.org/

 

 



 

 

Sarah McClendon, Veteran White House Reporter, Dies at 92

(WOMENSENEWS)--Sarah McClendon, a journalist who covered every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt and was known for her aggressive questioning of them, died Tuesday. She was 92.

McClendon had been hospitalized since late last month. Washington Veterans Administration Medical Center, where she died, did not provide a cause of death.

McClendon confronted presidents--often by shouting at them--on issues including government secrecy and the treatment of veterans. "Citizen journalist is a mission I took for myself. It offers the best opportunity to serve one's country, the people and the public interest," McClendon wrote in her 1996 book, "Mr. President, Mr. President!"

McClendon, a single mother, founded the McClendon News Service, a weekly newsletter. At the height of her popularity, McClendon's radio commentary was carried by 1,200 stations.

In a statement, former president Bill Clinton said: "All the trappings of the presidency did not sway her.

"All of us who called on her in news conferences did so with a mixture of respect and fear, I suspect, because we would never quite know what she might say."

McClendon's career began in 1931 at the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas and the Tyler Courier-Times and Tyler Morning Telegraph. She moved to the Washington bureau of the Philadelphia Daily News in 1944 and two years later established her own news service. She wrote another book, "My Eight Presidents," that was published in 1977.

 

 

 
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