Navigating the waters: processing media coverage and working toward more productive portrayals

By Dana Rieck

While this blog has focused mainly on national coverage of female candidates and politicians, it is important to localize the issue to understand how one can work toward a more fair, productive media environment in order to strengthen our democracy and government establishments.

While online campaigns such as Miss Representation seem to be leading the way in social change, I sat down with Jennifer Bone, a CSU communications studies professor, who expressed some doubt in an online campaign’s ability to drastically alter the current state of media affairs.

“My concern is that a majority of the students … going to those sites online are already advocates and supporters of women in the workplace and in politics,” Bone sad. “(So) I always worry that films and shows like Miss Representation are getting an audience of people who already think like-minded.”

However, that does not seem to be a consensus among CSU journalism students, where you can find more optimism about the impact these sites and movements could have on media coverage.

“I think any movement is capable of changing anything,” CSU senior journalism student Kevin Ruby said. “Reddit has a user base of millions and … they really helped in destroying the SOPA Net Neutrality bill a few years ago. If movements on the Internet go so far as to demanding a certain type of media angle, they probably have the power if they have the numbers.”

This power in numbers has recently manifested in the form of networked feminism, a movement in which people ban together online to express their distaste and disapproval of various ads, media coverage and consumer products.

“I enjoy and support what Miss Representation does,” CSU communications junior and Rocky Mountain Collegian copy editor Ashleigh Smith wrote in an email. “I believe what they are doing is progressive and educates well. However, I do not think alone they would have the influence to change the agendas of news media outlets and the corporations they represent.”

Regardless of these movements’ potential impact, Bone urges news media consumers to focus in on the content and messages of a political candidate, for example, instead of feeding into the sensationalized angles surrounding women’s appearance or family status.

“I think that’s really important for readers, and not only just to help with gendered construction of women in leadership but also in educating voters,” Bone said.

By educating themselves, voters let companies hear their voices through social media and consumer choices, Bone said. And one day, a day may come when the content of Hillary Clinton’s speech matters more than how much “cleavage” she is revealing.


Turning the gun around: using social media to create awareness, not perpetuate bias

While it seems as if technology has made it easier and easier for the news media to cover politics with a gendered bias, groups across the nation have taken social media into their own hands as a form of political empowerment and discourse. And rightly so, for social media is proving to be far more pervasive, timely and instantaneous than any other media, especially when it comes to its role the political landscape:

Taking this even further, Johanna Blakley argues that social media will be the end of gender. Could this be a way to end gendered bias in news coverage? Maybe. Below is Blakley’s Ted Talk about how social media has enabled to us to redefine our identities without relying on media companies to group us by demographics, and how women are dominating social media — which will revolutionize old media in the process. Tell me what you think of her theory below, and stay tuned next week when we dive into social network feminist movements that have made strides in ending unproductive portrayals of women and other minority groups.

Good news: more women writing about women

It’s not all bad — a theme that seems to be reoccurring within this blog. The OpEd Project, who’s “mission is to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world,” has conducted research on the number of women writing opinions and narrating our media. Their findings are encouraging, despite a still disproportionate number.

It’s also important, however, to see what female journalists have to say on this issue — for your can’t write about women’s voices in the media without actually taking into account those voices and and seeing how they view the issue. Below, a collection of quotes on the topic (click on their names to view the original source).

  • “I won’t argue here whether women are more sensitive in their coverage. But I will tell you this: Women listen to other women much more closely, and they pay much greater attention to how political and military developments affect individuals, particularly other women.” —Frida Ghitis 
  • Like many fields, journalism suffers from a combination of long-term structural issues and a lack of female applicants. … Shani O. Hilton, the deputy editor in chief of BuzzFeed, had a good piece in Medium last week about how difficult it is to build a diverse newsroom. She calls on editors and hiring managers to look outside their immediate networks and for women and journalists of color to actively network with the (mostly) white dudes who are doing the hiring. —Jessica Grose
  • American media is nowhere near achieving gender parity when it comes to who gets hired. … Despite the increasing prominence of women’s sports and female sports fans, sports editors are 90-percent mate, and 90-percent white. More than 150 sports newspapers and websites received an F grade for their hiring practices among women, failing to hire enough women as editors, columnists, copy editors, and designers.”Edirin Oputu








Women with the pen: female journalists’ role in political coverage

According to an Women’s Media Center, The 4th Estate Project calculated “… that from the presidential primary period (January 1 to April 15) to the general election (April 15 to August 25), 72 to 76 percent of newspaper stories covering the 2012 presidential election were written by men.” Concerning, right? Vince Beiser ( says maybe it isn’t a cause for alarm; “Today, many of the people who decide which reporters get to cover elections are women.The top editor of the world’s most respected news organization, The New York Times, is a woman. The top editor of Newsweek – still one of the nation’s most widely-read news magazines – is a woman. The top editors of AP and Reuters Thomson Digital – women.”

Nevertheless, Emily Bazelone ( argues that this disparity might because of the disproportionate number of women who play the role of primary parent — following the campaign trail is simply not an option for them. However, she goes on to note, “… the female print journalists who do cover the campaign write disproportionately about social issues ‘such as abortion, contraception, and women’s rights.'”

So is the lack of female political journalists partly to blame for the unproductive, negative coverage we see coming out of these media vendors? Possibly. The study done by the Women’s Media Center excludes blogs and opinion columns, mediums where Bazelon believes you can find more young women working than in traditional print publications. Come back next week as we go beyond how many female journalists there are working, and dive into “pink ghetto” — the content trap women have been stuck in since they were allowed to produce media.

American sports, eerily echoing political coverage

As with the last post, it’s time to look at how women athletes are covered in media to further understand the media atmosphere female politicians face. While the Olympics seem to be improving in the amount of coverage women receive, regular media attention of female athletes, who comprise around 40% of all athletes, is less than encouraging. Take in account that only 4% of media coverage is dedicated to women’s sports, something that is concerning considering that lack of attention given to the sport in this small amount of coverage:

Girls also see a double standard in covering women’s sports. When male athletes receive media attention, such coverage is primarily focused on their skilled performance. When female athletes receive media attention, the media is much more likely to focus on their physical attractiveness or non-sport-related activities. –Donna A. Lopiano, Ph.D., President, Sports Management Resources

Which is exactly the problem, according to Mary Jo Kane, a professor at the University of Minnesota, “The thing that we infrequently see is images of women athletes as athletes.” That seems to be a common theme that echoes in the coverage of female politicians as well, as hyper-feminized content takes away from a woman’s political goals and platforms. Below is an excerpt from Playing Unfair, a documentary put out in 2007 by the Media Education Foundation:



Media representation as a whole

This week, it is time to take a look at how women in other professions interact with the media in order to acquire a larger picture of women’s public representation. A relevant and recent example of this is the February Winter Olympics that were held in Sochi, Russia. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, coverage of this year’s games showed far more equity in the time men and women received attention. In, “The Olympics are the closest to coverage parity female athletes get,” Sarah Laskow notes that the data found by Andy Billings shows a significant increase in coverage of female athletes, for at the closing of the games, “… men got 45.4 percent of clock time, women 41.4 percent, and pairs 13.2 percent.” However, Laskow mentions that simply gaining screen time is not an end-all be-all, for the content of the coverage still remains a large component of the inequitable and gendered differences in media coverage of men and women.

Nolan Feeney, a writer for The Atlantic, says the content of this coverage is still widely offensive and sexist, “… in one of the bigger dust-ups, NBC skiing analyst Steve Porino said, in a segment about how extreme the courses are for skiers, that the female athletes do ‘all of that while in a Lycra suit, maybe a little bit of makeup—now that is grace under pressure.'” In his article, “A Brief History of Sexism in TV Coverage of the Olympics,” Feeney notes that the while NBC is continually giving more screen time to female athletes, it is choosing to do so through socially accepted “feminine” sports like tennis and golf — where in Beijing those sports took 60% of all female coverage. Regardless of the official media coverage the Olympics receives, it is easy to say that female athletes across the board garners more media attention when it comes to their appearance than their performance, much like female politicians:

Political Pioneers Continued…

As promised, I am back today to continue my list of American activists who paved the way for female political involvement and representation. While last time we looked at women who were “the first” of their kind, today it is time to focus on more modern women who have carried those pioneers’ messages while creating their own legacy…

Condoleezza Rice1. Condoleezza Rice — In 2001, Rice was the first women appointed national security adviser by President George W. Bush. She went on to become the first black woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State from January 2005 to 2009, where she logged the most miles traveled by a U.S. Secretary of State. Among her other various political involvements Rice broke down social-political barriers when, in August 2012, she and businesswoman Darla Moore became the first women to gain membership to the Augusta National Golf Club.

Sandra Day O'Connor2. Sandra Day O’Connor — After a successful state level judicial career, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor for associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Once O’Connor received unanimous approval from the U.S. Senate, she broke new ground for women when she was sworn in as the first female justice on the Supreme Court. Serving from 1981-2006, she was seen as a conservative swing vote, upholding Roe v. Wade.

Geraldine A. Ferraro

3. Geraldine A. Ferraro — Even though you may think Sarah Palin made history as a VP candidate, Ferraro became the first female on a major party’s presidential ticket 24 years prior, in 1984. While she was Walter Mondale’s vice president nomination, she also played important leadership roles for the democratic party during her three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. She served as an alternate delegate to the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1994.