Funders, Please Step Up On Crisis in Women’s Media

The current homepage of Rewire News (Photo Credit: Rewire News)

The failure of the feminist movement to tackle changes in public media policy may be one of the most significant shortcomings of my generation. Take these few facts as proof. According to a report from the Global Media Monitoring Project by Margaret Gallagher entitled Who Makes the News?, the percentage of women in newsmaking roles stagnated at 23% from 2005 to 2015. And the output from media that focuses on women? Even more dismal. According to the report, “Across all media, women were the central focus of just 10% of news stories – exactly the same figure as
in 2000.” And just a few more statistics to get your hair standing on end: women only directed 8% of the top 250 grossing films in 2018, and women-directed films reach just 2.75% of screens in the U.S.

Challenging the image of women was a founding goal of the National Organization for Women in 1966. A year later, more radical women raised addressing media stereotyping of women as one of four demands made at the National Conference for New Politics. I am learning about all of this and will be telling the longer story of the evolution of feminist media in an upcoming book. Alarmingly, though, in just the past month of my research, two major feminist media outlets have announced either closure all together and/or dire drops in their funding and major layoffs. In this time – when Roe v Wade is threatened, immigrant children in camps are sexually abused, and women of color leaders are asked “to go back to where they came from” – it is deeply disturbing that the strongest and most experienced feminist voices in media might be curbed.

Rewire.News, the foremost daily on-line publication ”devoted to evidence-based reporting on reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice, and the intersections of racial, environmental, immigration, and economic justice,” announced July 29, it “is restructuring in an attempt to maintain our capacity for long-term sustainability, including making painful cuts in staff.” This included firing many reporters. This a program expense under ‘other salaries and wages’ that was just shy of $1.7M according to its 2016 990 form. A not-for-profit publication, the funding short fall has been building for several years. Rewire’s major funders selected other venues for their support. Rewire’s “The Public Disclosure” copy of the 2016 990 form leaves blank who all the donors are. In 2016 a total of 6 contributors gave from $10,000 to $3,017,740. A missing donation the size of $3 million in any year going forward would be disastrous.

WAM/ Women, Action and the Media grew out of a 1970s women’s bookstore, Center for New Words. Right after 911 the bookstore conceived of the idea of a woman in media conference as male-dominated mainstream media beat drums for war. The national conference continued through most of that decade, then morphed into chapter driven gatherings. A vibrant, sometimes volatile listserv grew of the attendees. It remains an important forum and information exchange for over a thousand feminist journalists, media makers and activists. For the last several years the once more action oriented non-profit has operated leaderless. A month ago, the Board announced to the list it “is no longer in a position to run the nonprofit” and will “wind down the formal non-profit organization.” The NYC chapter will hold a last one day conference, Nov 2, 2019. There was been some push back on ending the 501(c)3. There is hope, too, that the list serv will continue.

Here at Philanthropy Women, editor Kiersten Marek is talking about reworking the long-term business plan for the organization, given the importance of the subject, but funding for such a venture is not easy to find. Yet, those who want to support some of the most effective strategies in philanthropy would do well to pay attention and fund news and analysis about the strategies contributing to gender equality movements.

Kathleen Loehr, with 35 years of experience in philanthropy, underscores that “women are the fastest growing segment of wealthy individuals.” Loehr sees that women’s role in giving will have growing impact in the field. Being able to report on the evolutions in women’s giving can keep this community and its leadership vibrant. To explain women’s inherently different support scope to others in philanthropy and the general public is paramount.

The massive turnout for the Women’s March, the rise of #MeToo and #TimesUp have translated into more progressive women in Congress. Alexander Ocasio-Cortez was almost completely ignored by the mainstream media prior to her winning her primary against an entrenched incumbent. The freshest perspectives do not exist in corporate media. These dynamic feminist voices blossom in grassroots venues. They are most critical now.

Indivisible, in its July email to its base, asked this question: What Does Saving Democracy Look Like? Media Democratization was one of the five points. And for my own brand-new Congresswoman, Xochitl Torres Small, Media Justice was number 3 of five issues she implores Congress to address.

It is a vital moment to vastly increase support of feminist, women-identified media where the strongest voices and fullest analysis will evolve. We need to double and triple that support. This is not a moment to step back or get overwhelmed from the onslaught we are all under, but to march forward, be bold, expansive, generous, and loud.

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Philanthropy Women covers funding for gender equity in all sectors of society. We want to significantly shift public discourse, particularly in philanthropy, toward increased action for gender equality. You can support our work and access unlimited and premium content with one of our subscriptions

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Author: Ariel Dougherty

Ariel Dougherty is a teacher, filmmaker, producer and mentor for women directed media/culture of all stripes. SWEET BANANAS (director, 1973) and !WOMEN ART REVOLUTION (Producer, 2010) are among the hundreds of films she has worked on. She writes at the intersections of women-identified media, especially film production, women's human rights, and funding for film. Currently, she is working on a book entitled Feminist Filmmaking Within Communities.

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