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 and Women Symposium — JAWS. That's Sharky.
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.
The paper apologized, but said it never runs photos of women; they might be sexually provocative.
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.
So we all get a very distorted picture of reality. The problem is, of course, there aren't enough women in newsrooms. They report at 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 and airtime.
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 is 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." (Groans, laughter) 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: Erica Goode. 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.
Eyes up here.
Here's the thing: Wired almost never puts women on its cover. Oh, there have been some gimmicky ones — Pam from "The Office," manga girls, 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 in technology. 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.
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 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 difference. 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, vibrant media. 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.
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.
Journalist Megan Kamerick fights for well-balanced storytelling in media.