Raise a New Year's toast to Arianna Huffington, for she is one of a small group of women who actually control a major media outlet. It's not surprising, however, that the Huffington Post became successful by leapfrogging over so-called mainstream media and into a technology that was at the time of HuffPo's launching just on the cusp of becoming the main source of news for an increasing percentage of Americans.
Bill Moyers has said, "The quality of democracy and the quality of journalism are deeply entwined." It follows that when the media does not reflect the vibrant diversity of the people on this planet, both the quality of journalism and the quality of our democracy suffer.
Yet according to the Women's Media Center:
- 3% of the "clout" positions in media corporations--those with the power to make determine budgets and make decisions the top level programming decisions--are women
- Women news directors manage only ¼ of TV newsrooms
- Women account for fewer than 10% of board members of major media and communications companies
- No surprise then that fewer than 15% of the talking heads on the Sunday morning political talk shows are women and globally, news stories including women tally less than 15%.
Breathtaking statistics as we approach 2008 when women have made such progress in so many fields. Fortunately a number of organizations with bold visions and courageous agendas have emerged to rectify that situation. So, after a lifetime of leadership in issue advocacy organizations, I choose now to contribute my volunteer time and money to groups working to close one of the last gaps in women's equality. I believe this work is absolutely essential to bringing forth simple justice for women, by bringing women's faces, voices, stories, and influence to parity in our media saturated world.
In so doing, I am convinced also we are creating a media that strengthens democracy and enriches public discourse. A media that is powerful, not a media that merely serves the interests of the powerful.
There are so many terrific nonprofit (501(c) 3 qualified, so contributions are tax deductible) women's media organizations I would be foolhardy to try to list them all. So I chose five representative ones with which I have some sort of direct experience. I'll disclose my relationship with each.
The Women's Media Center has as its vision statement: "Making the female half of the world visible and powerful in the media". WMC takes an integrated approach: recruiting spokeswomen and providing them with media training and pitching, maintaining a website news desk that aggregates stories of and by women from numerous sources and commissions original content as well, writing a unique guidebook to unbiased language that will be available to journalists and journalism schools next year, and forging alliances among women's media organizations and media professionals for mutual support and collaboration. Its new Progressive Women's Project will intensify the training and pitching for 15 women during the next year in order to make them known to journalists and the public as more than occasional talking heads. I serve on the WMC's board of directors.
SheSource: "Closing the gender gap in media", with a database for journalists of over 400 experts who are women, representing just about every field. It's a program founded and administered by the White House Project. Now, producers and reporters can't say "I don't know any women who are knowledgeable about (fill in the blank)." I am one of the SheSource roster of experts.
Women in Media and News: "A national media analysis, education and advocacy group" focuses on well documented media research and criticism. With a rousing feminist group blog and rapid response advocacy capacity, this organization is lean and agile in its work for fair and respectful treatment of women by the media. I contribute to the group blog on occasion when I get ticked off about sexism in the mainstream media (think Imus, for example, or the big deal made about Hillary's perfectly gender-normal cleavage and cackle).
Women's eNews bills itself as "the definitive source of substantive news -- unavailable anywhere else -- covering issues of particular concern to women and providing women's perspectives on public policy. It enhances women's ability to define their own lives and to participate fully in every sector of human endeavor." You can sign up for a free subscription to get its daily stories in your inbox as well as make use of its website resources along with 4 million others each year. I write commentary several times a year for Women's eNews.
One mother of women's media endeavors is Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS), also known as the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (BWHBC), is a nonprofit, public interest women's health education, advocacy, and consulting organization. Beginning in 1970 with the publication of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, OBOS literally fomented a global women's health movement revolution through its groundbreaking book that is now available in multiple languages and on-line resources. I serve on its advisory board and contributed to its book about menopause (no jokes about age-appropriateness, please).
Both Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president of the U.S. and the tragic assassination of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto attest to the growing power and the peril of women leaders today, and women's importance to the cultural story. Women's Media Center board member Jane Fonda, speaking to the 2007 National Conference on Media Reform sponsored by the Free Press, observed: "A truly powerful media is one that can stop a war, not start one." She concluded her speech by saying:
The opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy, but democracy. And a media that leaves women out of the picture harms everyone, male and female. No major national or international problem -- from the environment to the refugee crisis, from health care to overpopulation, from the economy to violence and crime -- can be approached effectively without including the needs, views, and talents of the female half of the population.
The only way to build a powerful independent media -- a media that can be a force for truth, for change, and for progress -- is to build an equitable media. But change cannot happen without change-makers. I know you won't let me down.
I trust you won't let yourself down either. As we write those end of year checks, let's all be sure to devote a portion of our giving to what Edmund Burke famously called "the Fourth Estate" in a nod to the extraordinary power of the media to interpret political events, tell the story that shapes our understanding, and thus determine the course of not just our individual lives but our collective future.
What could be more important?