Why Are Newspaper Newsrooms So Sexist? I Ask Veteran Newspaper Reporter "Moi"

Illustration for article titled Why Are Newspaper Newsrooms So Sexist? I Ask Veteran Newspaper Reporter "Moi"

Here's something we can all agree on: Boy's clubs = bad! An angry editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette just resigned with an awesome if not entirely coherent screed subject-headed "Fuck The Glass." Apparently Marilyn Mitchell had enough of their casual harmless N-world wielding and penis size comparing! Also, she had gotten into a newsroom dispute over...uh, storm coverage! So the feminazi circumciser squad over at Feministing decided to weigh in. "This really resonates with me because I've worked for daily newspapers, and I really hated the newsroom culture at a few of them," writes Feministing's Ann. The editors were homophobic lechers that gave dudes all the assignments! Well, it may shock you, but I have to side with the femiragers on this one: having worked at a few newsrooms myself, I think it is safe to say there is a LOTT of chauvinism out there! The mystery, of course, is why.


Not only do reporters get into the business because they are generally willing to forego good money in order to do some service to the world — srsly! — a newsroom is ideally one of the most meritocratic workplaces possible. It's all about the bylines, baby! So I consulted my career history for clues.

The first newspaper I worked at was my college rag, the Daily Pennsylvanian. The "glass ceiling" there was the "crime" beat, and I think there was some uncertainty among the editors as to whether I'd have the same rapport with the cops as their manly English-majoring Radiohead-listening selves; needless to say, when I got the job I had much better rapport. Because cops are often sexist! And they say much stupider shit to women. Most real newspapers have women on their police beat for this reason!

Ummmm, next I worked for the Philadelphia Daily News. They loved ambitious girls there because they could boss them around and get them to do hard-hitting pieces such as the Playmate of the Year stories. No one there struck me as particularly sexist or racist until, for some reason, the boss who liked me (a dude) went on vacation and no one would give me assignments and a veteran lady reporter told me it was because they were all sexists. Determined to overcome adversity, I spent months digging around for scoops and learning everything I could about the city's total lack of funding for drug treatment. I even found out the new police chief had a junkie for a daughter! Which no one else knew at the time. The editor — I think he hailed from the Trentonian, the last American paper to still run pictures of naked ladies — did not want to run anything I found out about. He did not seem to "trust" me. Did he not trust me because I was 20 years old? Or because I was a 20-year-old girl? I think the latter, because who doesn't encourage an ambitious dude? He could turn out to be the next Bob Woodward, after all! The third newspaper I worked at was the Washington Times which did not seem like a sexist place mostly because what self-respecting woman would want to work there? The only place to eat that was remotely nearby was Checker's. I was a terrible Washington Times employee. I actually faked appendicitis to get out of work, for which I was paid $8 an hour.

The next places I worked — Asiaweek, Time and the Wall Street Journal — were all highbrow, and that's a totally different scene. The only type of sexism I encountered at those places was the sort of "oh you are poorly organized and bad with deadlines and quaintly obsessive and unafraid of saying "fuck" to your sources and your desk is a mess because you are a self-destructive female" psychoanalysis sort that you get when editors feel a Nikki Finke vibe coming off you. (Seriously, my desk was nothing compared to some male reporters with actually important beats, but whatev.) And I can't really argue: I was a self-destructive female — still am! But I don't think I'd be so bad if I hadn't been a reporter.

See, when you're a reporter you have to get information from people. You can do that by expecting them to understand the media's role in the world and hoping they respect your work sufficiently to tell you shit, or you can do that by making them like you. (Or feel sorry for you; same diff.) I mean, inevitably you mix up those things, but it varies by beat and it varies by reporter. And at the end of the day, the person you wind up actually being is some weird result of those choices, applied to different jobs. You become a reflection of your relationship with the people you befriend and manipulate into giving you information, with a side order of how badly you desire to please readers.

Weirder still, you become so attuned to the prejudices and the faults of people you interview that you find yourself parodying them with eerie precision in your off-hours. It starts out as a joke — "wetback!" "Feminazi bonerkiller squad!" — and is seeps into your identity. My most sexist boss ever, a veteran sports reporter and Philadelphia boy's-club fellater who came after all this, is still positive it's all a joke. And to him, it was! But this self-destructive crazy female couldn't take it anymore. Thank god for teh blogz! I don't have to interact with the sexist, bigoted, provincial people who hold power over stuff ever again! Just you fucking dykes.


Jenna Sauers

My college paper was extremely female-led. At one point, the EIC, Managing ed, one of the two Arts and Culture eds (okay: ME!), two of the three Metro eds, the head designer, the head of graphics, one of the two Photo eds, and probably 60% of the overall reportorial staff were all women.

I think I became particularly conscious of our shared gender the day I came to work and found the cops reporter and the courts reporter crying in the lunch room together because they'd been covering a torture-and-murder case with an 8-year-old victim, and had just come from Bloody Raped Child Body Crime Scene Photo Day in the trial. They cried for maybe fifteen minutes, and then the EIC came up and wrapped them in a big bear hug.

We won a Pacemaker that year. (And it wasn't because of those bozos in Sports.)

I guess I like to think things are changing?