Carol Jenkins & Glennda Testone: The Women’s Media Center

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From left to right: Carol Jenkins, President of The Women’s Media Center and Founding Member of its Board of Directors and Glennda Testone, Vice President.
Carol Jenkins and Glennda Testone took time out of their busy schedules to reflect on their work at The Women’s Media Center, politics and progressive activism and their upcoming Progressive Women’s Voices (PWV) classes. Applications are due in December 15.
Here’s Carol and Glennda…


What have been some of the most recent findings of The Women’s Media Center (WMC) on the inclusion of women in mainstream media – in ownership positions, at the highest levels of management and in coverage and reporting? Where has the most progress been made, and where are the most obstacles?
There is a virtual lockdown on ownership and high level management of media in this country. Women own less than 5% of television stations and 6% of radio stations. Radio, using publicly owned airwaves, has shut women out: 85-90% of stations have exclusively male management; roughly the same ratio holds for voices on the air. The WMC has been vocal in raising awareness — testifying twice before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against media consolidation, which works to exclude women and people of color.
The most progress has been made in this election cycle — first with Hillary Clinton, then Sarah Palin in the running. The presence of women candidates has pushed media executives to showcase more women experts on the cable shows as guests. With the female candidates, and Barack Obama as well, the media was forced to address bias, sexism, and racism in its own coverage in more direct ways than ever before. On air, more women of color are seen on a daily basis — but often this progress is muted by the fact that they tend to be conservative, not progressive.
For progressives, the ascent of Rachel Maddow at MSNBC is the prize of the year. Maddow is a ratings juggernaut — smart, incisive, funny. To have this voice in prime time cable news is a real coup. Katie Couric had a very good year: the Palin interview, her work on the web, and winning the Murrow award for best broadcast have all solidified her reputation.
The obstacles remain. One glaring example is the Sunday morning pundit shows, where the issues of the week are set, and policy often follows. This is the most segregated time in television where all shows are hosted by white men, and only 1 in 4 guests are women.

How does the Women’s Media Center advocate for the inclusion of women in mainstream media? What are some examples?

We call it “pitching a fit;” others call it advocacy. It’s important that we have as many voices out there as possible raising the issues of discrepancy in participation — and discriminatory portrayals. In addition to meeting with executives at the networks, and with editorial boards — the private, behind the scenes work — we have mounted several public campaigns.
We got a call from the president of NBC when we protested Chris Matthews’ allegation that Senator Clinton owed her candidacy to her husband’s “messing around;” we were in the forefront of the Don Imus furor, helping to organize the major women’s groups in joint protests; our “Sexism Sells, but We’re Not Buying It” video campaign garnered national media attention, hundreds of thousands of You Tube hits, and thousands of signatures on a petition that we personally delivered to NBC News. We received so many comments from men and women who were shocked about the level of sexism that the media displayed. We did one interview with a radio host in Connecticut about the video solely because his daughter showed it to him and he was floored by the amount of media sexism.
Some of our other work included hosting two major forums on bias in the press — and issuing a report from them lodging complaints against the presidential debate commission about the fact that there were no women or people of color as moderators in the final three Presidential debates. We are continuing to collaborate with women’s and progressive groups to marshall our power to make change.
As leaders of The Women’s Media Center, why is the inclusion of women in mainstream media so essential? What are the dangers of non-inclusion and being the “invisible majority”?
We strongly believe that, in the midst of this great transition from “mainstream” to individual, citizen-based journalism we have to work on two fronts: while creating our own media, we have to insist that established media respond to expectations of fairness and inclusion. On our website we publish original commentary several times a week, and a daily culling of the news that relates to women — voices that are generally excluded.
Exclusion of women’s voices reinforces the idea of second-rate minds and solutions — which we know not to be true. Women must be seen and heard! The biggest platform we have in this country for that visibility is the media – women need to be present. As our respected partner and friend Dori Maynard, from the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education says, “media justice leads to social justice.”
What are some examples of everyday non-inclusions that many of us might take for granted or not notice because of its normalization? What about negative inclusions?
Opinion writing in mainstream media remains a male domain. Here is where the idea of thought-leadership is formed. Women write only a quarter of all op eds and make up only one-third of the top 100 syndicated columnists. Even major papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post still have only two or three featured columnists who are women: Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins at the Times, and the Post’s Anne Applebaum, Ruth Marcus, and Kathleen Parker. That’s 2 out of 11 at the Times and 3 out of 27 at the Post.
Carol, you recently hosted a panel at the New York Times with Geraldine Ferraro, Arianna Huffington, and Marie Wilson discussing sexism in the media during the election. Can you talk more about this, and what you wish the mainstream media did differently this presidential election? What are some examples that were cited?
I think the prevailing determination was that after all the fuss — and historic elements of the election — there was recognition of the hard work still ahead. Of course, the barrier crashing of Hillary will have cascading effects on girls and women in terms of their aspirations. But representation in politics — and in the media — is still appallingly low.
What we wish had been different was the extreme amount of sexism and racism in the media during the campaign. We highlighted this in our video, at our panels, as well as in our report, “Bias, Punditry and The Press: Where Do We Go From Here”. It’s our hope that the next major electoral cycle will not see this kind of overt sexism and racism leveled against candidates, and that our work will have contributed to that shift in the media.
Glennda, after leading the team that persuaded the New York Times to make its decision to include same-sex announcements in its pages, how do you feel about the passing of Proposition 8 in California? And what particular inclusion obstacles do LBT women face?
I am so saddened by the passage of Proposition 8 in California. I have so many LGBT friends there who have been in loving, committed relationships for years, and it baffles me how anyone could try and take away our rights. We had two such women write a piece for our website, helping to explain the legal complexities and the personal impact of the Prop 8 vote.
In terms of media representation for LBT women, people may see Ellen DeGeneres or Rachel Maddow and think we’re doing well on that front, but the truth is there is huge invisibility of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women in the media. The LBT community is large, diverse and can’t be fully represented by a handful of women. I love that at the WMC, I can fight against the connected forces of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, etc. for more inclusive and nuanced media representations. The best thing any individual LBT woman can do is to be out in her life and in the media!
Carol, you’re now working on your second book, this time on how journalism has been a part of your family’s history for generations. Was fighting for inclusion in mainstream media also a big part of your family’s history as journalists?
In a way, journalism is our family business: my father was a correspondent for the black press during the 40s and 50s, some of that as a White House correspondent; my stepfather published the first pictorial magazine for blacks during WWII for the black soldiers — preceding Ebony; I spent 30+ years as a television reporter; and for a time my daughter, a writer, edited an online journal. So, in a sense, we’ve covered the transition of journalism through its many incarnations for half a century.
When my father and stepfather engaged in journalism — creating and working for the black press, it was due to extreme segregation. In the 1970s I was among the first wave of black television reporters — and women. That inclusion came on the heels of rioting in the streets and federal mandates. It was a major source of wonderment that women and people of color would be allowed to participate.
Now we see that there is still ground to cover — that the assumption that equality would be a natural process was faulty. Women hold about a third of all full-time journalism jobs at daily papers, but that is the same percent we held 25 years ago. The WMC intends to be a part of finishing the efforts of full participation of women and people of color in the media.
The Women’s Media Center just announced that applications for the 2009 Progressive Women’s Voices (PWV) classes are out and the deadline for the first class is December 15. Can you tell us more about these classes and who should apply?
We are so proud to be able to offer this program. There are not enough progressive women’s voices in the mainstream media, and this program aims to change that and “Change The Conversation” in general. We are looking for women with diverse expertise (economics, health care policy, LGBT rights, etc.) who have the ability to make their voices heard in the media. PWV is a fully underwritten three-month training program which teaches women how to do just that. We select 10 women per class, and train them intensively on messaging, interviewing, op-ed writing, blogging, radio, television debating skills and much more. After the training we pitch those women to the media. Feministing’s own Courtney Martin is one of our past participants and we encourage anyone who is interested, especially younger women, to visit our site and consider applying.The deadline for the first class is December 15! There will be two more classes later in 2009.
What are some upcoming events or projects the Women’s Media Center is working on?
We are launching our next year of the Progressive Women’s Voices program. We are continuing to advocate for more inclusion of women in all levels of media, and to hold media accountable when there is sexism and bias against women. We commission about three pieces of journalism a week from women writers, showcase their work, and tell their untold stories on our website and to our subscribers.
And what can readers do to advocate for the inclusion of women in mainstream media? Any recommendations for President-Elect Obama on the next FCC post?
Visiting and participating in Feministing – which we love over here at the WMC! – is a great first step. Readers should also visit the WMC’s site and sign up for our Daily News Brief and weekly newsletters to be kept up to date on the fight to make women visible and powerful in the media. Everyone should take a look at the Progressive Women’s Voices page, to be inspired by our past participants and what they have accomplished, as well as consider applying themselves. Finally, stay tuned for more advocacy campaigns and the release of our first WMC book (Unspinning The Spin). “Hot Button Words” from the book are regularly posted to our site, and anyone can participate in discussions of women’s representation in the media on our blog, Majority Post! All found at www.womensmediacenter.com.
As for who should take over the FCC, there are two good men on the FCC who’ve waged the fight against consolidation, and for free internet access: Copps and Adelstein. We’ve shared the stage with them and know how hard they fought — we need that spirit. Our friends at Free Press are running a want-ad for the position and we share their hope that Obama appoints a man or woman with a profound commitment to diverse media ownership, who will pave the way for a permanently free and open Internet that reflects the tremendous media and cultural transformation we are living through in this digital age.
My personal pick for FCC Chair would be Pamela Thomas-Graham, a gifted Harvard lawyer/MBA who was CEO of CNBC and the first African-American woman to become a partner at the prestigious McKinsey & Company. She knows both broadcast and the internet, first-hand, and is brilliant.

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 6, 2008 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    wow…What amazing women! And beautiful too.
    Thanks for the interview Feministing. It was a pleasure working with these two women over the summer as a part of PWV. I look forward to seeing lots of young feminists in the next classes!

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