Rita Henley Jensen

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–As I write this, the final details for our gala fund-raising dinner on Tuesday, May 20, are being worked out. The script is being tweaked. The seating charts are being drawn up. Last-minute telephone calls are making music on the touch-tone dial pads and last-minute reminder e-mails and faxes are being sent. It is all one big concert with one message:

Please join us Tuesday evening to honor the 2003 Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century.

It is then that we will recognize, in person, those remarkable newsmakers who we named New Year’s Eve and whose pictures and biographies have been posted on our site since.

This is only the second time we have organized this event and the pace is hectic, the worries many, and our resolve clear: This event–and the revenue it brings in–is fundamental to the sustainability of Women’s eNews. We must pay our rent and editors. We pay our free-lance writers too–not well–but well-enough to produce the solid reporting that has become the hallmark of Women’s eNews.

But this event has a greater purpose as well. Those in attendance are not only recognizing the significant work these 21 Leaders have taken on–often to great personal risk. Those present also pay tribute to the journalism Women’s eNews creates every day, news that reflects what all journalism could be and should be. It is inclusive, recording the experiences and concerns of people of all races and ethnicities. It is global, covering stories from Bangladesh to Brooklyn. It is factual, and it is balanced.

Women’s eNews reporters are not only focused on wars and Washington–although we do cover a bit of both–but they also look outside the box to cover the vast global social movement for women’s equality that is changing every aspect of our lives and the lives of so many across the globe, pushing to provide the blessings of democracy, peace and prosperity to all women, and thus to all.

Medium for Full Participation in National Agenda

I am often asked whether Women’s eNews is an advocacy organization or a news operation. We are a news operation.

Because of our mandate–to bridge the gender gap in news coverage–Women’s eNews reports on many controversial issues such as advocacy for reproductive rights, Title IX and parity in wages. However, we do not see ourselves as occupants of a news niche. Rather, we consider ourselves full players in the media field, providing news on topics of widespread and universal concern. As such, we believe that Women’s eNews is the medium for women’s full participation in every item on our nation’s agenda.

Our reporters are professionals. They not only ask “who,” “what,” “where” and “when,” they also inquire “How does this event or policy affect women?” Our reporters are asking this question in Washington, D.C., and throughout the United States. They are also asking it in Japan, Turkey, the Congo, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine and elsewhere around the world. They are asking it on behalf all women and delivering the news–sometimes good, sometimes bad–to our readers.

In April of this year, Women’s eNews launched an Arabic-language version, managed by Mona Eltahawy. Born in Egypt and educated in London and Egypt, Eltahawy is an experienced, bilingual journalist. She is ideally suited to assist Women’s eNews bridge the gap between English- and Arab-speaking women, including the many Arabic speakers in the United States. Eltahawy selects and oversees the translation of Women’s eNews articles into Arabic and also seeks out journalists to write specifically for the Arabic site, which in turn may be translated for the English pages.

This new version of Women’s eNews will greatly enhance our ability to cover our news beat and could serve as a model for Women’s eNews to expand into other languages as well.

Women Missing from the Story

The leaders honored at this year’s event have shown leadership everywhere from Bahrain to Brooklyn and all points in between. They also reflect the range of issues Women’s eNews covers, the stuff of women’s public lives everywhere.

Women’s eNews was launched just three years ago in response to the reality that most media–print, broadcast, cable, film and on-line–were missing this story. Moreover, women were not being given access to newspaper commentary pages and their views were not being included in the news pages or broadcasts. Not always–but often enough–news media were ignoring the initiatives and concerns directly relating to more than half their potential audiences.

These omissions are a direct result of too few women being in the agenda-setting positions in the news media. This gender gap persists even though, for more than 25 years, women have comprised more than half, and often as much as 70 percent, of the graduates of journalism and communications programs. Women are abundant in the news media’s entry-level positions, yet we are scarce in the management suites. After my recent trip to a U.N. meeting in Lebanon, I can add that this state of affairs appears to hold true around the world.

This lack of women in media management has serious consequences for all women. Without a news media to deliver the vital information about public policies that directly concern our well-being, women’s right to know is fundamentally compromised. Our ability to create communities of interest to act in women’s best interest is dramatically curtailed.

And the reverse is true as well. One example: We recently received an e-mail from a staff member of Jane Doe Inc.–the Massachusetts network of rape counseling services–thanking us for the small item that we posted to our Web site with its 100s of thousands of visitors and distributed via our e-mail service to an estimated 2.5 million readers.

“Hi all,” the e-mail said. “Thanks for including the threat of budget cuts eliminating all funding for rape crisis centers in Massachusetts. The public pressure has made a big difference . . . They’ve already restored a portion of the money on Monday and we are cautiously optimistic that the funding will be restored.”

This is the type of feedback journalists everywhere want to receive–that we did our job well–that we delivered the facts and the context–and we made a difference.

Giving the ‘Nudge’ to Women’s Issues

Our influence is magnified as we gain in credibility and reach. Other news outlets pick up our stories, use our quotes or do their own versions. In this way Women’s eNews serves as a nudge mechanism: When news editors and reporters see our types of stories being done, they get the idea, and the nerve, to do them themselves. That is part of our job too: encouraging good journalism.

As Women’s eNews enters its fourth year, we are rededicating ourselves to this principal; delivering news to our readers that enables and encourages them to participate in the art and craft of political power.

A special thanks to all of our subscribers and Web-page visitors. Please send us your anniversary greetings and good wishes to an editor and tell us a little bit about yourself. If you would like to make a donation to Women’s eNews in honor of the 21 leaders, please go to support.

Rita Henley Jensen is editor in chief of Women’s eNews.

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