Jill Miller Zimon

(WOMENSENEWS)–Jill Miller Zimon, a blogger in Cleveland, Ohio, believes in keeping close tabs on what major media participants are saying about women.

That’s why one of her regular subjects is Rush Limbaugh, the radio host with a $400 million contract with Premiere Radio Networks and Clear Channel Radio, millions of listeners and close connections to the GOP.

Because of Limbaugh’s media prominence, along with his “record of saying sexist, misogynistic things about women,” Miller Zimon, 46, who identifies herself as left of center politically, routinely monitors Limbaugh for her multi-purpose political blog, Writes Like She Talks, which covers everything from casinos to media treatment of women.

Miller Zimon was one of the few members of the media to notice when Limbaugh, in late February, announced a “women’s summit” to hear the views of women who disapproved of his show.

“I felt strongly that it’s the kind of stunt that many women (and men) who read my blog would probably want to know about,” said Miller Zimon. “The conclusion is, for me, that Limbaugh is indeed an influencer, regardless of whether he’s an entertainer or a political figure or both.”

Miller Zimon found the radio host defensive and unwilling to understand criticism from female callers.

The exercise, she said in an interview with Women’s eNews, had “no dent on the ego whatsoever.”

However, Miller Zimon let readers judge for themselves. While inserting her own comments on Limbaugh’s exchanges with women, one of the main services her blog provided was a transcript of the program.

Zimon also used her blog to flag why Limbaugh was reaching out to women.

Limbaugh’s Gender Gap

On Feb. 23, the day before Limbaugh’s women’s summit, a Public Polling Study showed Limbaugh–known in some circles for saying “feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream”–has a major gender gap on his hands. In the poll 56 percent of men surveyed expressed a favorable opinion of Limbaugh, while 37 percent of women.

On the day of the summit, Miller Zimon ran excerpts of the Limbaugh program along with her comments, which were sent around the Internet by e-mail and picked up by several other blogs, including ThinkProgress.org, The Moderate Voice, and The Huffington Post.

Miller Zimon’s citizen journalism earns the respect of Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, and author of the influential media blog PressThink. “She has her feminist group base, and a local political base, and some new media people and Cleveland bloggers,” says Rosen. “I like the way she knits together the local and the national, the political and the personal, without getting sentimental.”

In writing for this diverse community, Miller Zimon is succeeding at blogging in the deepest sense, says Rosen. “The greatest characteristic of blogging is that personal expression can have the publishing might of big companies. That’s the big promise of it and that’s why she’s successful.”

Miller says blogging has drawn her into local politics. On March 29 she informed Women’s eNews that she is about to announce her candidacy for city council member in Pepper Pike City, a suburb of Cleveland with a population of about 6, 000.

In 2008 she was named the most influential person in a Pepper Pike local paper, Chagrin Sun, for convincing the city to loosen restrictions on yard political signs through her blog.

‘Respectful Pursuit of Change’

“I understand that through respectful pursuit of objectively necessary changes, any resident can help make our city better than it already is,” says Miller Zimon.

Miller Zimon, a mother of three, launched Writes Like She Talks in 2005 after years of freelancing for publications such as Cleveland Family Magazines, Cleveland.About.Com and previously, Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer.

Her coverage of the 2008 election appeared in Newsweek’s The Ruckus blog, and she has appeared on CNN, BBC, Cleveland public radio and television to offer on-air political analysis.

Miller Zimon says she developed her writing ability during the earlier part of her career when she worked in the law and social work. She received a joint degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1992.

For several years Miller Zimon worked as a writer for University Hospitals and then Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau, producing educational programs for social workers, instructional manuals for medical professionals and memos and briefs for non-profit agencies.

She crossed into freelance journalism in 2002 after Margaret Bernstein, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, encouraged her to give it a try.

Labor of Love

While she continues to earn income from freelancing and speaking engagements her blog, Writes Like She Talks, is a labor of love.

Miller Zimon blogs in the mornings and afternoons, on subjects ranging from casinos and gambling, to President Barack Obama’s brush-off of a female journalist, to the media portrayal of Hillary Clinton, notable achievements by female professionals and cultural and racial stereotypes.

“I always have something to write about,” she says. “Writer’s block is not a problem for me! The general categories I have written about have evolved organically. I ask, ‘What did I feel most passionate about today?'”

Like anyone engaged in the political blogosphere, Miller Zimon does her share of sparring.

In July 2008, she criticized The New Republic for using an unflattering image of Hillary Clinton on its cover. Several other readers pushed back.

“If women want to compete in national politics, as they should, they have to take this and more, without whining. That’s just the way it is. Same thing goes for journalism,” wrote one reader.

Miller Zimon responded to each comment.

She takes negative or provocative reactions in stride, says colleague and friend, Wendy Hoke, a Cleveland-based writer and editor.

“She is not quick to make judgments,” says Hoke. “She is willing to listen, and she will listen often to views that are absolutely contrary to hers, just to make sure that she’s not making an assumption that’s wrong.”

Miller Zimon regularly produces live blogs on events, such as the First Ladies Symposium, a conference sponsored by the National First Ladies’ Library that examined the influence of First Ladies on presidents throughout the years.

She follows events that she cannot attend, such as this year’s Women, Action and the Media conference, a conference for female journalists and activists held this year in Cambridge, by using Twitter, an online instant messaging system for a network of users who can build interest groups.

Since 2005, Miller Zimon’s concern about transparency of local politics, and the power of blogging, led her to attend and blog about almost 40 local “Meet the Blogger” forums in which notable Ohio politicians and other civic leaders faced bloggers and their questions in person.

That helped spur her decision to run for public office.

“Meet the Bloggers helped expose me to just how normal people pursue politics, and why,” says Miller Zimon. “Complaining and writing about it can only get you so far . . . “

Miller Zimon says she will continue to write on her blog throughout her candidacy. If elected, she acknowledges her posts could be less frequent.

“There are so many things I am fascinated about and would just love to write about,” she says.

Jackie Bischof is enrolled in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She has written for The Citizen, Journalism.co.za (SA), Editor’s Weblog (Europe), The Huffington Post and Black Star News (U.S.). She blogs regularly on http://jaxbischof.wordpress.com
[email protected].

This story, part of our New Writers Program, was funded by the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

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