By Sheila Gibbons
Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Sunday morning TV talk programs and other news forums are barren places for women. If anyone thinks that's because of a shortage of female experts and pundits, a new Web site offers a Rolodex of women in the know.
(WOMENSENEWS)--The new movie "Good Night and Good Luck" is a dramatic and stirring tribute to the truth-telling spirit of Edward R. Murrow and CBS News in the 1950s.
As a side dish, it also serves up the straight scoop about men, women and the news business back in those days. To the extent that women play any part in the movie, they are mainly answering phones, leading high-powered men into high-powered meetings or running to the corner for the newspapers. In other words, it's all about the guys, despite the real-life contributions of women to journalism during that period.
Nowadays things aren't as bad. But on the other hand, they aren't as radically different as could be hoped.
Since September, Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a deputy editor at Glamour magazine, has kept a running tally of male and female bylines at top general-interest news magazines such as Harpers, The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. On Tuesday, her Web site WomenTK.com showed a 324-to-99 ratio.
As for women's place in TV news-spinning mills, a study released last month, "Who's Talking Now?" found the Sunday morning news programs casting women in supporting roles and bit parts. Between November 2004 and July 2005, female guests appeared on "This Week," "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "Late Edition" and similar programs only 14 percent of the time, according to the study conducted by The White House Project.
Not only do women not headline the shows--instead they appear in less important segments that run later in the programs--they are significantly less likely to make repeat appearances.
This past Sunday morning, a spot check of those shows found all that to be dismally true. The hot discourse was about the Bush administration's political crises and the Democrat-Republican face-off in the Senate over Iraq war intelligence. Male guests and journalists significantly outnumbered women on the programs, with shows averaging only about one woman apiece.
Women who made the cut were National Public Radio political correspondent Mara Liasson on "Fox News Sunday" and National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg on "Meet the Press." Rounding out the female lineup were legal analysts Jan Crawford Greenburg on "Face the Nation" and Catherine Crier and Jeralyn Merritt on CNN "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
The White House Project report and WomenTK.com join an array of analyses of television and newspapers this year by, among others, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the National Urban League and the Project for Excellence in Journalism. All continue to show women's perspectives getting short shrift.
But now, for any reporter, editor or TV producer who says that it's hard to find female expertise, there are no more excuses.
The White House Project, the Women's Funding Network and Fenton Communications in October launched a Web site, SheSource.org, that includes a database of female experts and leaders in a variety of fields, including those in which women are often overlooked for comment, such as national security, the economy and international affairs.
Among them are Liz Ann Sonders, chair of the investment strategy council for the investment brokerage Charles Schwab and Co. Inc.; retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy; Dr. Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior program officer for peace, security and human rights at the U.N. Foundation; nationally recognized crime expert Linda Fairstein; and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste.
"Bookers have told us that they are looking for diverse voices and viewpoints for their programs," said Lisa Witter, general manager of Fenton Communications, in a statement announcing the launch of SheSource. "SheSource will simply expand their Rolodex and make it easy for them to book qualified guests from a more diverse pool of candidates."
In the month since the launch, SheSource commentator Gloria Feldt, author of "The War on Choice" and former head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., appeared on MSNBC's "The Situation with Tucker Carlson" to discuss the Samuel Alito Supreme Court nomination, and Dr. Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations appeared on "ABC News Now" to talk about women in business in China.
Religion expert Dr. Renita Weems wrote a column for Essence Magazine's Web site about the role of spirituality and faith in coping with Hurricane Katrina.
Since 2003 a similar effort has been under way in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Gender Links: The Gender and Media Opinion and Commentary Service (genderlinks.org.za) offers monthly packages 10 female-authored-and-themed opinion and commentary articles and offers them to other news media.
The articles have been used as source material for radio news stories, as well as discussion topics for radio and television talk shows, says Gender Links editor Janine Moolman.
They are posted to the Namibian Press Agency for use by its subscribers, posted on the Gender Links Web site and marketed throughout the region by individuals in each member country of the Southern Africa Development Community. Member states are Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The material is also having an extended shelf life, as articles are requested for use in training materials, discussion documents and for sharing with specialized networks.
Clearly, women are ready to talk and write. With services such as Gender Links and SheSource, there's no reason they shouldn't be more widely read and heard.
Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism" (Strata Publishing), which received the "Texty" Textbook Excellence Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association, and of "Exploring Mass Media for A Changing World" (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, publishers).
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