Liveblog: Women in Media Changing the Game

On Thursday, August 27th, we gathered for this month’s Philanthropy Women webinar: Women in Media Changing the Game. With guests Lori Sokol, Ruth Ann Harnisch, and Johanna Derlega, we discussed the under-funding and under-representation of female journalists and women’s media outlets, as well as ways funders can work to fix this under-representation.

How To Increase Funding for Women in Media

Editor-in-Chief Kiersten Marek kicked off the call with a reminder to breathe, and introduced today’s theme: Women in Media Changing the Game.

“We know now more than ever how important women’s leadership is,” she said. “COVID has taught us that women leaders in countries around the world have had much better success with managing COVID. And that’s just one example of the women’s leadership differential—the ability to prioritize health and the well-being of others.”

Next, Kiersten introduced today’s three speakers: Lori Sokol, Ruth Ann Harnisch, and Johanna Derlega. “All of these leaders bring a unique perspective on women’s leadership in media and how we can change the game.”

Lori Sokol on Thirty Years of Women in Media

Editor’s Note: Due to connectivity issues, much of the quotations from Lori Sokol’s presentation have been summarized.

Lori Sokol, Editor-in-Chief, Women’s eNews.

“I have been in the media world for over thirty years,” said Sokol, Executive Director/Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews. “Things have changed, but in some ways they’ve stayed the same.”

Sokol’s book, She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World was published two weeks ago, and is already on its second printing. “Already that suggests that this is a very important topic,” said Sokol. “Women leaders of countries and the ways they have handled the pandemic and limited its impact—for example, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Germany—says something about the leadership of women and the way governments are managed.”

Sokol also spoke to the historic under-representation of women and people from marginalized communities in traditional journalism. “Too often, even though women comprise more than 2/3 of people with degrees in journalism and mass communications, the media industry is still only 1/3 women, and even fewer women in color. Editors are overwhelmingly male and white, and men still receive 62% of bylines in print, online credits, TV, and other outlets.”

The Intersection of Constant Media Exposure and Media Under-Representation

Sokol addressed the constant exposure we have to media, through our smartphones as well as through TV and online news sources. The problem here is that women are traditionally underrepresented in the field.

“As new cycles shorten… the nature of the broadcast becomes more challenging.”

Sokol also shared the difficulties of women who handle unequal distributions of the work within the home, and still have to balance their own work lives. The impact is even more severe for people working from home during the pandemic, as well as for women of color working to speak up as voices of their communities.

Adding more voices to the story “lessens the possibility of ‘fake news,’” said Sokol. “It’s very important that we recruit more women to report on the neighborhoods where they live, to share the true stories. That way we can respect and trust the news coming out of those neighborhoods.”

Ultimately, Sokol encouraged funding for more women—and particularly women of color—to take positions of leadership within the field of journalism.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Kiersten. “This is an issue that needs so much more attention, and an action plan to get this to work.”

Ruth Ann Harnisch: “Media is More Than Just News”

Ruth Ann Harnisch, Co-Founder, and President, The Harnisch Foundation.

Next, Kiersten introduced donor activist, media funder, and foundation leader Ruth Ann Harnisch, one of the founding donors of Philanthropy Women (thank you, Ruth Ann!) and The 19th.

Harnisch took the focus of the conversation away from specifically news, speaking to her personal experience funding different kinds of media.

“What is the message you are trying to get across?” Harnisch asked of donors, encouraging funders to consider the audiences they are trying to reach and the actions they are hoping to kindle in those audiences.

“I wanted to encourage a gender lens that isn’t the predominant gender lens,” said Harnisch of her own history of media funding. “There’s been a gender lens all along—it’s just been male!”

Expanding the Concept of “Media” to Create More Outlets for Women

Speaking to the large mix of journalistic outlets available today, Harnisch encouraged listeners to invest in creative outlets for women. As an example, Harnisch shared a project that highlights “Real Women” as statues in Central Park, or suggested the impact of unusual “media” like billboards, merchandise, and internet outlets.

“Your coffee cup is media. My masks are media. I’m giving feminist statements and sending a message every time I put on a mask,” she said. “If you are interested in getting your messages out, there is a medium for you to consider.”

Harnisch also shared the importance of funding documentaries, such as Netflix’s Athlete A and HBO Max’s On The Record, both of which highlight sexual abuse and misconduct stories that came to light because of the bravery of women and the hard work of women in media. From feature films to shorts and everything in between, including the vignette project Unladylike 2020, offer new and unique media outlets for female journalists, directors, and producers to share their critical stories.

“I’m on a postcard!” Harnisch said. “That’s because Pat Mitchell used the medium of postcards to tell her story. We invest in journalism not because of just the people who are making it, but the people who are studying it.”

Harnisch encouraged funders to support places of education: whether that be training programs for future journalists, scholarships, schools of journalism and media research, conventions, or simply buying massive amounts of books to support the authors who put in such critical work.

“That’s a lot of media, don’t you think?” she joked.

“We are leadership givers who fund storytellers who don’t always have a chance to tell their stories,” said Harnisch. She also espoused the importance of “hiring the under-hired” and investing in other under-served media outlets, like the games industry, where the Harnisch Foundation has founded a series from Anita Sarkeesian as well as a hotline for women who have suffered harassment in the games industry.

“Find new ways for your philanthropy or your personal interests to pay for new creators—women, people who are disadvantaged.”

“Figure out where you can connect with media—and explore it. Try different things,” said Kiersten.

“Find out what works for you!” Harnisch agreed.

“How can we grow women’s media?” asked Kiersten. “One way is just by growing our own thinking about it and branching out as much as we can.”

The 19th: Highlighting Policy, Politics, and Women

Johanna Derlega, Chief Revenue Officer, The 19th.

Next, Kiersten introduced Johanna Derlega, Chief Revenue Officer of The 19th, a new center for media surrounding women in politics.

“What have you seen from your perspective on funding for women in media,” asked Kiersten. “How might we increase that funding?”

Derlega began with a short overview of The 19th as the first nonprofit nonpartisan organization covering politics, policy, and women.

“Our mission is to give underrepresented women the information and tools they need in order to engage in democracy. We believe that if you don’t see yourself reflected in media, then you’re less likely to be engaged in it. Our name is The 19th in homage to the 19th Amendment, but with a big fat asterisk after it—100 years ago, only white women were given the right to vote. This is still unfinished business. Representation is an unfinished business. The only way you can achieve true representation in a news source is to make it completely free.”

“The current landscape in the news business is that over 70% of editors are men, and most of them are white men. There is already a gender lens on our news.”

Derlega explained that editors are the ones who choose what to feature in the news, when to feature it, and who to feature. In an effort to focus a female gender lens on the news, The 19th is 90% staffed by women.

Stories of Success as a Nonprofit

The 19th broke the story about Breonna Taylor, along with studies on how the pandemic has impacted women, particularly older women. Other stories include coverage of black sororities and their relation to politics, and the rise of women GOP candidates in US politics.

“We are a nonprofit, but we’re a very entrepreneurial nonprofit. We rely a lot on foundations and philanthropic support from individual donors, especially in the midst of a pandemic. We paused and thought, ‘Can we do this right now? Is this wise?’”

Outside of mortality rates, said Derlega, women are being impacted by coronavirus exponentially more than men—the percentage of women who make up healthcare workers, teachers, and other frontline workers is staggering compared to that of men, and covering these discrepancies is critical.

“All of our content is completely free, but for those readers who feel that we are achieving our mission, they have the opportunity to support us more directly. As of yesterday, over 6,700 members since we launched have raised more than half a million dollars—most of those donations in increments of $19.”

How can we fund women’s media in troubling times like today?

“It’s tough going right now,” said Derlega. “A lot of corporations are pushing pause, or have had to furlough workers. [These] corporations are seeing this racial justice conversation and making decisions on how to proceed with their internal strategy as well as their communications strategy.”

“I’ve spent more than twenty years in media, and I’ve always felt that it is mission-based work,” she added.

Derlega argued against putting content behind a paywall, encouraging media outlets to offer their content in the interest of educating their readers to become more active and informed political citizens. However, it’s difficult to scale a news outlet without paid “premium” content. So how do we find a balance in that dichotomy?

“For us, it is about the journalism that we’re delivering to our audience. 97% of our audience has taken some sort of civic action in the last two years, from voting to volunteering to writing letters. We want to grow that—we don’t just want the people who are already civically engaged, but to offer access to people who haven’t been so that they CAN become civically engaged.”

The 19th: A New “Gold Standard” for Newsrooms

Proper funding allows media outlets “to do what we want to do,” said Derlega. She added that balancing the needs of a business with the expectations of a mission can be nigh impossible for women’s media outlets—and additional funding would help with that issue.

“We want to grow a newsroom that could potentially be a place where people can move along into editorships and continue on in their careers. We do that by offering six months of paid parental leave, four months of paid caregiver leave, and the ability to always work from home.”

“We hope that we will empower journalists to stay in the game, and become a gold standard for other newsrooms. We want to keep women engaged in being reporters—and turning into editors, and leading newsrooms, and growing other organizations.”

Derlega shared the exciting start of The 19th’s journey, including Kamala Harris’s first interview after being selected for the VP nomination. In two weeks of launch events, The 19th celebrated nearly 180,000 views of its content.

“Obviously, we’re going to get blowback—we’re nonpartisan, so we’re going to be bringing news stories that may not fit within your perspective. But after the 2016 election, a lot of people sat and scratched their heads. A lot of very well-read people did not see what was happening. But as a reader, I want to be informed—I want to understand what’s happening in the country, and how people who are not me feel about different issues. We will continue to cover these perspectives, find new members, and find new donors as time moves forward.”

“It’s inspiring to hear how successful your platform is, and how impactful it could be, especially now,” said Kiersten.

Creating a (Viable) Workplace for Women in Media

Harnisch chimed in to share that she was one of the founding funders of The 19th, and asked about the ways The 19th is creating a workplace for women in media, where women are traditionally underpaid and underrepresented.

“I’ve always been on the business side,” said Derlega. “I certainly never saw women at the top—not in a single place I worked. Obviously, that’s very different here. We also have amazing benefits for our team. The work-life balance is so important—we really do make sure that people take the time that they need. Beyond that, our health insurance is 100% paid for the employee. I’ve never paid less in terms of my out of pocket healthcare expenses.”

“There’s a lot going on here—we’re not a top-down organization at all. Everyone has a voice. We have weekly meetings and a Slack channel where people are very active about the things that are going on.”

Derlega shared an example, in that team members have spoken up about The 19th’s coverage of nonbinary and trans people, which has resulted in open team conversations and plans to address and improve over time.

Derlega also spoke to a common issue in other newsrooms, where journalists feel like they do not have an individual voice, but they also don’t feel comfortable speaking up and finding their own platforms.“Most newsrooms do not encourage that,” she said. “But for The 19th, it’s an ongoing discussion.”

How can women’s media outlets find proper funding?

Harnisch asked outlets grant seekers to answer three “why questions for potential donors: “Why me? Why this? Why now?” When speaking to potential funders, said Harnisch, media leaders should position their arguments to show why their offering is unique, how funders could best help—and more importantly, why YOUR organization is the only organization that can offer what you’re trying to provide.

In terms of accepting submissions, Derlega encouraged writers to reach out to hello@the19th.org and media@19thnews.org. However, she reminded listeners that The 19th currently does not accept opinion pieces.

Kiersten also encouraged freelance writers to share their pitches and ideas for stories feminist giving with Philanthropy Women. Interested writers can email Kiersten directly at kiersten.marek@gmail.com with their pitches and suggestions.  

“We are grant-funded and donor-supported,” Kiersten said of Philanthropy Women. “I love the encouragement here for funders to open their minds to new opportunities for media.”


Related:

What is Feminist Leadership?

Male Domination Prevails: Detailing Media’s Gender Imbalance

What Feminist Leadership Looks Like for Me In Real Life

Lori Sokol: Making Women’s Media with Truth and Transparency

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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist headquartered in Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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