Why Women Journalists Love—and Leave—Their Newspaper Careers
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.