Little Ms. Journalist

Instead of hearing the words, "pencils down," college students are now hearing just the opposite. Increasingly, colleges are empowering women to take on leading roles in one of the most competitive industries -- journalism.

Earlier this month Barnard College announced that Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, will be this year's commencement speaker.

Debora Spar, Barnard College president, said that she hopes Abramson will serve as an example to the graduates of what is possible for women to achieve in journalism.

"Jill Abramson is a highly accomplished, widely respected journalist, and as the first woman to serve as executive editor of The New York Times, her career has set a new standard for what women can achieve in this field. We are confident that she will inspire and encourage our graduates," Spar said. "At Barnard, we place high value on the role that journalists play in bringing news to the public and ensuring a flow of information that is critical in a democratic society."

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Ms. Magazine -- the first national feminist publication-- other college campuses are vocalizing in support of women in journalism.

In January, Stanford University began its winter-long symposium titled, "Ms. at 40 and the Future of Feminism," which features over 25 lectures, panels, exhibits, screenings, and performances sponsored by over 30 departments and centers at Stanford.

According to Shelley Fisher Fishkin, a Stanford University professor and an organizer of the symposium, Stanford is hosting this symposium to "mark the milestone in feminist journalism that this anniversary represents and... explore the ways in which feminism has profoundly shaped such a broad range of fields over the last 40 years."

In coordination with Ms.'s 40th anniversary, Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine's founder and a major figure in the women's movement, has spoken at several college campuses including Barnard College and Columbia College Chicago this month.


The founding of Ms. Magazine in 1972 ushered in a wave of controversy, and media outlets anticipated that the magazine would only last six issues. The 40th anniversary of Ms. is a testament to the longevity of a magazine that faced enormous adversity in its early days.

Suzanne Levine, Ms. Magazine's first editor, said that it was difficult for her to confront the people that wanted to see Ms. fail.

"I remember going to cocktail parties and being afraid to say where I worked because I knew there'd be some man there who just couldn't wait to attack me," Levine said.

Today, Levine is glad to see that the magazine has sustained itself and that there are more women leaders in journalism, but she wants to see more of them.

"The community of women with impact in journalism has certainly grown, but the proportion is still less than it should be," Levine said. "Journalism is a very hard profession. It's hard to get a job anyway, and a tiny bit harder for a woman."

It is certainly true that there are more women working in newsrooms than ever before. The Women's Media Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making women visible and powerful in the media, released the results of a study this month on "the Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2012." The study's results show that in 2011 women represented 40.5 percent of newspaper newsroom employees, whereas in 1999 women comprised only 36.9 percent of newsroom staff.

The WMC study also found that in 2008 the majority of television news anchors, reporters, producers, writers, assistants, and executive producers were women.

Alexa Hess, a sophomore studying broadcast journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, said that she has not encountered gender discrimination while interning at a local news station.

"I think discrimination of gender tends to be a thing of the past," Hess said. "Some may still have these ideas of female inferiority, but for the most part they are nonexistent."

Women now hold high-power positions in broadcast journalism, but some feel that they are still not taken seriously by men.

CNBC anchor, Maria Bartiromo, said earlier this month at a White House sponsored Urban Economic Forum that she still faced adversity for being a female news anchor. She said that when she was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, men didn't take her seriously.

"These guys, they don't think I'm for real," Bartiromo said. "So I made it my business to make sure I knew what I was talking about. Study. Be that go-to person. Make sure I owned it."

America Hernandez, a sophomore at USC's journalism school, said that "the challenging part is definitely holding your own in hectic social situations and making people believe you are in charge and know what you're doing."


Women are rising in the ranks of journalism, but feminist journalism is still under-reported.
Steinem said that smaller feminist publications exist, but she wishes they had more readership.
"I'm sorry to say it [Ms.] is still the only woman-owned [national] magazine in the United States," Steinem said.

Although large-scale feminist publications are not prevalent in print journalism, Danielle Menona, a student at Stanford University, wrote in an assignment for her Feminism and American Literature class that "the internet is a powerful tool that feminists are taking full advantage of, from blogging to social networking to product sales."

Online journalism has the ability to destigmatize gender in journalism, Hernandez said.

"I think under the surface, the old stereotypes are there: that women are either submissive and can't get the job done, or are bulldogs who bark to get answers out of you. That's the great thing about digital and multimedia journalism: It's faceless, and your work can really stand alone and shine," Hernandez said.

As women empowerment in journalism is gaining attention on college campuses, Menona said she thinks younger girls should be hearing this message too.

"If little girls are raised being empowered and encouraged, then in a generation or so, we'll see a more equal gender ratio in leadership."