Megan Kamerick: Women should represent women in media
September 10, 2011
How do you tell women’s stories? Ask women to tell them. At TEDxABQ, Megan Kamerick shows how the news media underrepresents women as reporters and news sources, and because of that tells an incomplete story. (Filmed at TEDxABQ.)
Journalist Megan Kamerick fights for well-balanced storytelling in media.
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Like most journalists, I'm an idealist.
I love unearthing good stories, especially untold stories.
I just didn't think that, in 2011,
women would still be in that category.
I'm the President of the Journalism & Women Symposium,
JAWS. That's Sharky. (Laughter)
I joined 10 years ago because I wanted female role models,
and I was frustrated by the lagging status of women
in our profession, and what that meant for our image
in the media.
We make up half the population of the world,
but we're just 24 percent of the news subjects
quoted in news stories,
and we're just 20 percent of the experts quoted in stories,
and now, with today's technology,
it's possible to remove women from the picture completely.
This is a picture of President Barack Obama
and his advisors tracking the killing of Osama bin Laden.
You can see Hillary Clinton on the right.
Let's see how the photo ran
in an Orthodox Jewish newspaper based in Brooklyn.
Hillary's completely gone. (Laughter)
The paper apologized but said
it never runs photos of women.
They might be sexually provocative. (Laughter)
This is an extreme case, yes, but the fact is,
women are only 19 percent of the sources
in stories on politics,
and only 20 percent in stories on the economy.
The news continues to give us a picture where men
outnumber women in nearly all occupational categories
except two: students and homemakers. (Laughter)
So we all get a very distorted picture of reality.
The problem is, of course,
there aren't enough women in newsrooms.
They reported just 37 percent of stories
in print, TV and radio.
Even in stories on gender-based violence,
men get an overwhelming majority of print space
Case in point,
this March, the New York Times ran a story
by James McKinley about a gang rape of a young girl,
11 years old, in a small Texas town.
McKinley writes that the community's wondering,
"How could their boys have been drawn into this?"
"Drawn into this," like they were
seduced into committing an act of violence.
And the first person he quotes says,
"These boys will have to live with this the rest of their lives."
You don't hear much about the 11-year-old victim,
except that she wore clothes that were a little old for her
and she wore makeup.
The Times was deluged with criticism.
Initially, it defended itself, and said, "These aren't our views.
This is what we found in our reporting."
Now, here's a secret you probably know already:
Your stories are constructed.
As reporters, we research, we interview.
We try to give a good picture of reality.
We also have our own unconscious biases,
but the Times makes it sound like
anyone would have reported this story the same way.
I disagree with that.
So three weeks later, the Times revisits the story.
This time, it adds another byline to it with McKinley's:
What emerges is a truly sad, horrific tale of a young girl
and her family trapped in poverty.
She was raped numerous times by many men.
She had been a bright, easygoing girl.
She was maturing quickly, physically,
but her bed was still covered with stuffed animals.
It's a very different picture.
Perhaps the addition of Ms. Goode
is what made this story more complete.
The Global Media Monitoring Project has found that
stories by female reporters are more likely
to challenge stereotypes than those by male reporters.
At KUNM here in Albuquerque, Elaine Baumgartel
did some graduate research on the coverage
of violence against women.
What she found was many of these stories
tend to blame victims and devalue their lives.
They tend to sensationalize, and they lack context.
So for her graduate work, she did a three-part series
on the murder of 11 women
found buried on Albuquerque's West Mesa.
She tried to challenge those patterns and stereotypes
in her work, and she tried to show the challenges
that journalists face, from external sources,
their own internal biases, and cultural norms,
and she worked with an editor at National Public Radio
to try to get a story aired nationally.
She's not sure that would have happened
if the editor had not been a female.
Stories in the news are more than twice as likely
to present women as victims than men,
and women are more likely to be defined
by their body parts.
Wired magazine, November 2010.
Yes, the issue was about breast tissue engineering.
Now, I know you're all distracted, so I'll take that off. (Laughter)
Eyes up here. (Laughter)
So -- (Applause)
Here's the thing.
Wired almost never puts women on its cover.
Oh, there have been some gimmicky ones.
Pam from The Office.
A voluptuous model covered in synthetic diamonds.
Texas State University professor Cindy Royal wondered
in her blog, "How are young women like her students
supposed to feel about their roles in technology reading Wired?"
Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, defended his choice
and said, there aren't enough women, prominent women
in technology to sell a cover, to sell an issue.
Part of that is true. There aren't as many
prominent women in technology.
Here's my problem with that argument.
Media tells us every day what's important,
by the stories they choose and where they place them.
It's called agenda-setting.
How many people knew the founders of Facebook
and Google before their faces were on a magazine cover?
Putting them there made them more recognizable.
Now, Fast Company Magazine embraces that idea.
This is its cover from November 15, 2010.
The issue is about the most prominent and influential women
Editor Robert Safian told the Poynter Institute,
"Silicon Valley is very white and very male,
but that's not what Fast Company thinks the business world
will look like in the future, so it tries to give a picture
of where the globalized world is moving."
By the way, apparently Wired took all this to heart.
This was its issue in April. (Laughter)
That's Limor Fried, the founder of Adafruit Industries,
in the Rosie the Riveter pose.
It would help to have more women in positions of leadership
in the media. A recent global survey found that
73 percent of the top media management jobs
are still held by men.
But this is also about something far more complex:
our own unconscious biases and blind spots.
Shankar Vedantam is the author of "The Hidden Brain:
How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents,
Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives."
He told the former ombudsman
at National Public Radio, who was doing
a report on how women fare in NPR coverage,
unconscious bias flows throughout most of our lives.
It's really difficult to disentangle those strands.
But he did have one suggestion.
He used to work for two editors who said
every story had to have at least one female source.
He balked, at first, but said he eventually
followed the directive happily because his stories got better
and his job got easier.
Now, I don't know if one of the editors was a woman,
but that can make the biggest differences.
The Dallas Morning News won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994
for a series it did on women around the world,
but one of the reporters told me she's convinced
it never would have happened if they had not had
a female assistant foreign editor,
and they would not have gotten some of those stories
without female reporters and editors on the ground,
particularly one on female genital mutilation.
Men would just not be allowed into those situations.
This is an important point to consider,
because much of our foreign policy now revolves around
countries where the treatment of women is an issue,
such as Afghanistan.
What we're told in terms of arguments against leaving
this country is that the fate of the women is primary.
Now I'm sure a male reporter in Kabul can find women
to interview. Not so sure about rural, traditional areas,
where I'm guessing women can't talk to strange men.
It's important to keep talking about this
in light of Lara Logan.
She was the CBS News correspondent who was
brutally sexually assaulted in Egypt's Tahrir Square
right after this photo was taken.
Almost immediately, pundits weighed in
blaming her and saying things like, "You know,
maybe women shouldn't be sent to cover those stories."
I never heard anyone say this about Anderson Cooper
and his crew who were attacked covering the same story.
One way to get more women into leadership
is to have other women mentor them.
One of my board members is an editor at a major
global media company, but she never thought about this
as a career path until she met female role models at JAWS.
But this is not just a job for super-journalists,
or my organization. You all have a stake in a strong,
Analyze your news, and speak up when there are gaps
missing in coverage like people at the New York Times did.
Suggest female sources to reporters and editors.
Remember, a complete picture of reality
may depend upon it.
And I'll leave you with a video clip that I first saw in 
when I was a student in London.
It's for the Guardian newspaper.
It's actually long before I ever thought about
becoming a journalist, but I was very interested
in how we learn to perceive our world.
Narrator: An event seen from one point of view
gives one impression.
Seen from another point of view,
it gives quite a different impression.
But it's only when you get the whole picture
you can fully understand what's going on.
Megan Kamerick: I think you'll all agree
that we'd be better off if we all had the whole picture.
Journalist Megan Kamerick fights for well-balanced storytelling in media.
Why you should listen
Megan Kamerick is passionate about getting women’s voices into media. A journalist for 20 years, she is the former president of the Journalism & Women Symposium, an organization dedicated to advancing the careers of women in journalism and to promoting a more accurate representation of society as a whole. She is currently the producer of "New Mexico in Focus," a weekly public affairs show on KNME/New Mexico PBS. She is also an independent producer for public radio station KUNM where she produces a newscast focused on news about women. Megan previously produced and hosted Public Square on New Mexico PBS, and she worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She has also freelanced for many publications and produced stories for Latino USA and National Public Radio.
The original video is available on TED.com