Both Michelle Obama and Ann Romney's celebrated convention speeches last week highlighted their role as mothers rather than using the moment to discuss the issues women face in the workplace, including the pay gap.
And the media seemed to largely ignore these issues as well, despite some moments from the conventions that could have clearly worked as news hooks. "The decision was made that the mom message was what we would be hearing," Joanne Lipman, journalist and former deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal told WNYC radio.
Ann Romney told the RNC that "it's the moms of this nation -- single, married, widowed -- who really hold this country together," while the First Lady told the DNC her most important title is that of "mom-in-chief." Beyond Romney and Obama, both events focused on traditional ideas of women, and neither spent much time on women's work issues. The major exception being Lilly Ledbetter's speech on the Fair Pay Act that bears her name, which Michelle Obama did refer to in her address.
That seemed like a good moment, for example, for the media to drill down on some of the issues facing women in the workplace. Lipman says: "There was very little coverage by the media [on women and work issues]. One reason, frankly, is there is still a gender a gap in the media, where you have men and women covering the issues but the men generally are still the ones either making the call or just drowning out the women by talking louder."
The gender gap in the media is reflected in statistics compiled by the Women's Media Center in its 2012 report on the status of women in the media. Women made up 28% of TV news directors in 2008 and 18% in radio in 2011. The Media and Gender Monitor reported that, globally, 24 percent of news stories are about women.
Before joining the The Story Exchange, which covers women and their working lives, I worked for several major news organizations in television, radio and online. Having many friends who do as well, I can tell you that Lipman has got it right.
On many occasions my female colleagues and I had stories on women's topics that we thought "must be told," but we found it difficult to convince our male superiors. So stories that we felt were important didn't get covered and that was that. The guys in the room were calling the shots.
Broadcast anchor and journalist Maria Hinojosa, who I produced for on the broadcast television news magazine, NOW on PBS, told me: "I have always had a difficult time selling most senior news executives on stories that are about particular women's issues, whether it's violence or the pay gap or sexual assault, whether it was 20 years ago or two years ago. It doesn't surprise me because most of the time I have been pitching to men."
Hinojosa says there are exceptions, adding that sometimes even women senior editors shy away from these stories because they think male viewers or readers won't care. She says the lack of diversity in the media is why she started her own production company, Futuro Media Group. "At a time when journalists are getting laid off left and right, who is really going to fight for coverage of women's issues?"
The tough part about this lack of coverage is pretty simple. If the media isn't reporting a problem, it's much less likely to get solved. And this is precisely why we need to get more stories about women's issues out there. Let's hope that at the next conventions, if the political parties chose to largely ignore issues related to working women, the media will know better and put them on the radar anyway.
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