Out­siders Still

Why Women Journalists Love—and Leave—Their News­pa­per Ca­reers

Herizons - - Arts & Culture -

Vi­vian Smith

Univer­sity of Toronto Press

Re­view by Michele Lands­berg If you’ve ever worked in a news­room, you’ll rec­og­nize that retro mi­asma: Even now, it’s mostly male, over­whelm­ingly white and an­kle-deep in a sed­i­men­tary layer of sex­ist en­ti­tle­ment.In my early days at the Toronto Star, a cel­e­brated pho­tog­ra­pher passed around a snap­shot of his in­fant son, al­tered to show him with a huge erect pe­nis. I was the only one who didn’t guf­faw.

Most of the two dozen women in­ter­viewed in Vi­vian Smith’s book (new­bies, mid-ca­reer and se­nior print re­porters and ed­i­tors) ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar sex­ist in­sults, even if the youngest women flip­pantly brushed them aside as unim­por­tant. What they didn’t note—though the older women did—was that, although overt sex­ist id­iocy has sub­sided, the pa­tri­ar­chal un­der­pin­nings of news gath­er­ing re­main largely un­changed to­day.The req­ui­site struc­ture and styles of work are male, and so are the cul­tural as­sump­tions of what is im­por­tant and what con­sti­tutes lead­er­ship. This suf­fo­cat­ing mas­culin­ism mat­ters, be­cause news­pa­pers are read by eight of 10 Cana­di­ans ev­ery week, and they still strongly in­flu­ence pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal agen­das.

Out­siders Still is a well-writ­ten but dis­cour­ag­ing book: Even as the news­pa­per in­dus­try thrashes about in what may be its dy­ing days, it can’t seem to adapt, evolve and change. In­stead, it cheats it­self of the in­vig­o­rat­ing boost it might re­ceive from em­brac­ing true racial, eth­nic and gen­der equal­ity.

Many of the tal­ented women in­ter­viewed by Smith left the news jobs they loved be­cause they saw no fu­ture on the hi­er­ar­chi­cal lad­der and no sane way to com­bine moth­er­hood with the pun­ish­ing hours. “Women ev­ery­where are get­ting pushed out,” wrote a Wash­ing­ton Post writer after Jill Abram­son was fired as New York Times ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor. An ed­i­tor at the Win­nipeg Free Press mourned “a lost gen­er­a­tion” of women who left the pa­per in the ‘90s. That wide­spread con­di­tion not only cre­ates a gap in cov­er­age of women’s is­sues, Smith notes, but elim­i­nates fe­male can­di­dates for more se­nior po­si­tions.In a time when new hires are al­most non-ex­is­tent, that gap re­mains per­ma­nent.

Smith’s book is a use­ful fem­i­nist doc­u­ment for aca­demics and a goad for me­dia ac­tivists.I wish I could be­lieve it will be avidly de­voured by the men who still dom­i­nate this doomed in­dus­try.

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