Yesterday, a “gender justice writing and technology training workshop for women of the diaspora” took place in New York. Its aim was to improve the way topics concerning women are reported in the media. What does this title mean exactly, anyway? Often the western media overlooks the nuances that need to be considered when reporting on issues about women whose identities require more complex consideration than usual. We saw what happened with the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ blog hoax (a white American man posing as a female, gay, Syrian blogger, for those who missed it). Here Latoya Peterson from Racialicious asks when the media environment got “so skewed that fictionalized accounts by white writers get more media attention than actual accounts by people of color?” Would a real Syrian lesbian have been just as widely read?
This is one of the issues the workshop was trying to raise more awareness of. One exercise involved looking at a report by a top mainstream news organization. Unfortunately, the report had a tired old and way too simplistic perspective of a white British nurse going into an African hospital and becoming horrified and distraught at the conditions the natives worked in. Discussion by the diverse set of women who attended the workshop threw up many different ways the story could have been approached – not least and pretty darn obviously, getting more perspectives from the African nurses working at the hospital already. It is surprising (or sadly, maybe not) at how often this kind of limiting reporting happens in reputable news organizations.
There were also attempts at showing how stories by women of the diaspora relate to a global community. This is rightly becoming a more important consideration. It is a way of connecting women who are first, second or any generation immigrants, with their heritage while they live in another society. This can be an empowering tool for them personally and also helps to foster understanding between that country and western communities.
Hats off to two great, innovative media organizations, Women’s E News and Global Press Institute for organizing the event and highlighting these lessons. Experts from Google also trained the chosen participants in how to use social media tools like Google Voice, Google Translator, Blogs, to leverage their voices across more than one media platform for maximum effect.
In the UK, women make up only 30% of reporters and 33% of editors. This is worse than the global average. Only 3% of ethnic minorities are National Union of Journalists members, according to Jess McCabe, blogger at feminist blog, The F-word. Therefore I wish more of these kinds of events would take place in the UK. But whenever I have attended such gatherings in the UK, they seem limiting, tokenistic and throwaway. Like they are taking place to appease either – those who notice the flaws in media coverage or maybe just a guilty conscience.
In contrast, the New York event was focused, confident in its aim and managed to be useful for fresh graduates and those with more experience. Perhaps more importantly, there was an attitude that despite the technological changes in our profession and the wealth of information out there, there is a need for incisive minds who don’t just know how to dig out and present a good story, but also have an awareness of the context and the perspective that should be taken. In a more connected world, this makes a story more relevant and accessible. Doing this is not necessarily always down to a writer or journalist’s gender or ethnicity either – it just means challenging yourself enough to become a more adaptable journalist who thinks further and smarter.