This is one in a series of interviews with Colorado journalists.
By Ed Otte
Boulder journalist Sandra Fish became the president of Journalism and Women Symposium at the organization’s 30th annual conference Oct. 9-11 in Whitefish, Mont.
According to its website (jaws.org), JAWS brings together working journalists and journalism educators from across the country to share resources, support, training and information about issues that affect women in journalism. The CAMP acronym for the annual conference, which will be in Roanoke, Va., in 2016, describes the organization’s mission: Conference and Mentoring Project.
JAWS was founded in 1985 in Colorado.
Fish is a data journalist with New Mexico In Depth and an independent journalist for Colorado Public Radio, Al Jazeera America and other news outlets. She also is the secretary for the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists board of directors.
Fish worked at newspapers in Iowa, Florida and Colorado, including the Daily Camera and Rocky Mountain News. For eight years, she was a journalism instructor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, teaching entrepreneurial media, graduate reporting and editing. She also created CU News Corps, which provides explanatory multimedia reporting from the College of Media, Communication and Information journalism students to off-campus news organizations.
Question: What issues dominated discussions at the conference in Whitefish?
Fish: We always talk about women’s roles, as well as diversity, in media and management, and Los Angeles Times Managing Editor S. Mitra Kalita gave a great keynote talk on these topics. Her message that “there is not a path forward for any of us until there is a space for all of us” really resonated with the 190 women at the conference.
We also had a daylong session on data and visualization, a Friday workshop on nonfiction books, a couple of panels on covering the 2016 election, a plenary session on diversity and a Saturday luncheon panel looking at the history and the future of both JAWS and women in journalism. And the breakfast conversation where recently retired Associated Press reporter Linda Deutsch interviewed her longtime friend Edie Lederer, who covers the United Nations for AP, was a fascinating look at Edie’s international career.
Question: The latest Women in the States report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that Colorado women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work. Does the same pay disparity exist in journalism?
Fish: I haven’t seen any industry statistics for journalism but my suspicion is that pay disparity does exist. More concerning is the lack of women in newsroom leadership. It’s great that Mitra is ME in LA, but Jill Abramson was unceremoniously shown the door at The New York Times. We have a couple of members looking at women leaders at the top 25 newspapers and it appears there are less than a handful, a significant drop from, say, 11 years ago. Patti Dennis at 9News in Denver is one of the exceptions to the rule. And the same goes for nonwhite leaders in newsrooms. There aren’t enough of them.
Question: An incident in September involving disparaging tweets about a female ESPN reporter following her story about the Washington Redskins quarterback situation indicates women sports writers still face professional challenges that men do not. How can those attitudes be changed?
Fish: That’s a great question. In fact, Graham Watson, who lives in Colorado and is Dr. Saturday for Yahoo Sports (covering college football), was refused entry to the Jacksonville Jaguars locker room after a recent game along with another woman reporter. We all thought longtime JAWS member Melissa Ludtke solved this problem when she and Time Inc. successfully sued the MLB in 1978 for the right to cover the postgame locker room as a Sports Illustrated reporter.
One of the goals in JAWS is to support our members through mentoring and conversations at our annual conference a well as regional offerings. There, women can talk about obstacles we face and focus on solutions. It’s also important to share stories with younger women journalists about those who came before them – people like Melissa; Betsy Wade who sued The New York Times for gender bias; Edie, the first woman AP correspondent to cover the Vietnam War.
Media coverage is important in these situations too – that’s what raises awareness and hopefully reduces the frequency of these situations.
Question: There are several high-profile women newspaper publishers and editors and broadcast news producers and directors in Colorado but men still dominate those management positions. Why?
Fish: We touched on this during several sessions at our October conference. One reason men tend to dominate management is because managers tend to hire people who remind them of themselves, people who look like them, have a similar cultural experience. But we also see women leaving journalism for higher paying careers in public relations, social media management and even nonprofit organizations. Some of the women I know became discouraged because of the pay and because they don’t feel they’re taking as seriously as male counterparts. JAWS hopes to do some regional training next spring to help our members prepare for leadership roles and hopefully keep them in journalism.
Question: Do advancement challenge discourage women from pursuing college journalism degrees?
Fish: That’s the irony we see. Women make up the majority of students pursuing journalism degrees in most programs. That was certainly the case when I taught at CU where women were the majority in most of my reporting classes. But once they get into the industry, I’m not sure they get the sort of support or encouragement from mid- and upper-level editors that their male counterparts get.
Question: Are the mentoring programs promoted by JAWS enough to quicken the pace of professional changes?
Fish: We are doing what we can, but we also need male allies in newsrooms to do what they can to integrate women and people of color in the newsroom. What can they do? For sure, they can be more open-minded in hiring. But they might also consider refusing to speak on all-male panels at conferences – and suggest women and people of color to join them. JAWs does a lot of one-on-one mentoring, but diversifying the media is something that everyone in media needs to be working on.
Question: What women role models do you cite in discussions with college students or young journalists?
Fish: I’ve mentioned a few of our members – Edie Lederer, Betsy Wade, Linda Deutsch, Melissa Ludtke. But also Betty Anne Williams, formerly of USA Today, Pam Moreland, formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, Dawn Garcia, managing director of Knight Fellowships at Stanford University, the late Dori Maynard of the Maynard Institute. I also look farther back to women like Ida B. Wells, Nellie Bly, Ida Tarbell. And Gwen Ifill of PBS and Mindy Marques Gonzalez of the Miami Herald also come to mind. There are plenty of women to look up to.
Question: What do you hope to accomplish in your two years as JAWS president?
Answer: I’m hoping to create some regional training events for our members, one-day events at different locations around the country to focus on specific topics. We also plan to gather many of our documents and photos – JAWS was founded in Estes Park in 1985 – and donate them to an archive that will preserve our history. And we want to continue to diversify our membership, getting more younger women and women of color involved in our goal of “supporting the professional empowerment and personal growth of women in journalism” while “working toward a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.”