Gender Bias in the News

One on-going topic at the Religion Communication Congress 2010 is: What makes for a good religion story?

 Manya Brachear, religion reporter at the Chicago Tribune, answered this question in a provocative workshop. She is looking for “emotionally engaging stories.” To find them, she sometimes looks at Google’s Hot Trends. She eavesdrops on what she calls the “national conversation.”

But perhaps the national conversation as determined by the Tribune, the New York Times or Google is not the national conversation that the average Josephine is engaged in. I get the feeling that emotionally engaging stories told by the Average Joe are more impressive than the very same stories told by the Average Jo.

Ms. Brachear described one of her own favorite stories for the Tribune, a story she wrote about Rev. Phil Blackwell of a Chicago United Methodist Church who visited his ageing high school teacher.

Mitch Albom, in his opening address at the Religion Communication Congress, spoke of visiting his former rabbi and helping repair a church in Detroit.

I don’t deny the awesomeness of these men for visiting these awesome people and doing these awesome things. I do think their stories are more appealing to the mainstream because they are about men.

Women, in all their awesomeness, are doing the very same things —  visiting former teachers and helping rebuild churches. But I am not hearing their stories. Those are more ordinary examples of compassion.

I think we need to move the national conversation to one that includes ordinary woman’s stories and women’s issues. What are women’s issues? Women care about compassion, poverty, justice, equality and systemic change. Systemic change is not very sexy. Not as sexy as Tiger Woods’ infidelity, of which I am on record as not being at all interested in. I am not a part of that national conversation.

Thursday’s workshop from the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 asked Who Makes the News? Pretty eye-opening. In mainstream media, women’s stories are told 24% of the time as opposed to men’s. Looking for an expert on TV? 80% likely you’ll find a man, unless you’re asking in general for a public opinion then perhaps it’s 50% likely to be a woman.

How do writers and editors bring women’s voices into the mainstream so that the stories are more equitably the stories of all of humanity? We can start by just realizing that we have to represent when we write our stories and choose the issues that headline our news. Just engaging in this dialogue and asking these questions, I think, will move us into a new era of  personal, engaging, and good stories. Not just for women, but for everyone!

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