City Desk

Where Are The Women And Non-White Media Critics?

A hearty congratulations to City Paper alum Andrew Beaujon on accepting a gig at Poynter as the site's "new Romenesko." There, he'll be writing a media blog edited by Julie Moos that will replace the work of Jim Romenesko, who left Poynter last year and launched his own blog.

With all of the changes happening in journalism, it seems to be a good time to opine and report about the media. Plenty of blogs and bloggers do so brilliantly, but so do a few hearty souls in traditional outlets. A quick brainstorm session brought forth a list of high-profile names: Romenesko and Beaujon, yes. But also, The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz, NYU's Jay Rosen, the Maynard Institute's Richard Prince, plus four more City Paper alumni: Reuter's Jack Shafer, the New York Times' David Carr, former New York Observer media beatster Tom Scocca (now at Deadspin) and the Post's Erik Wemple.

Aside from Prince, all of these people are white men. It's generally accepted that diversity (geographical, economic, gender and race) bring differing perspectives to the newsroom and can enhance coverage. That's why journalism has been fighting (and some could say, losing) a battle for greater diversity for decades.

Beaujon has a theory for why white men are so prevalent in the field: "Media criticism, which is a fly-in-the-soup job, is fundamentally an alt-weekly pursuit, and alt-weeklies' DNA is heavily white and male. In turn, I have a couple theories about that, but my working one is that it's because working at such places gives white males such as myself a chance to feel like an underdog for once in our lives."

I think he's onto something. Alt-weeklies—including the one you're reading right now—are super white. And this particular alt-weekly has at various points employed half of the critics listed. (Maybe the real problem is diversity at City Paper? Hmm.)

At any rate, reporting on longtime acquaintances, colleagues, and even friends, can be a pretty rough business no matter what your demographic background. A willingness to be frequently unpopular—something all journalists have to learn to deal with, though usually not within their cohort—is definitely part of the description.

But maybe more importantly, the ability to criticize probably comes a bit easier for folks who don't ever have the question, "Should I even be here?" hanging over their heads as they look around a room and don't see anyone who looks like them. To that end, it seems highly unlikely that media criticism will diversify until newsrooms do.

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  • Steve Buttry

    You make some good points, but I don't think you've covered the full world of media criticism.

    I think you overlooked Michele McLellan and Amy Gahran, who do a lot of media criticism in their News Leadership 3.0 blog for the Knight Digital Media Center:

    We also should note that Andrew was hired by one of the most diverse organizations in journalism, with an African American female president, African American dean, and their senior faculty members in visual journalism, ethics and leadership are who African American or female. And lots of those people (as well as other female staffers such as Mallary Tenore) do media criticism for Poynter's website, too.

    The world of media criticism is heavily male and white, as is too much of the media in general. But it's more diverse than you acknowledged, especially Andrew's new organization.

  • Keith B.

    Did Mo's work at WCP count as media criticism? I didn't understand half her posts, even though they were mostly well written.

  • Legba Carrefour

    Shani, I am loving your shit more and more every day. Thanks for this.

    Trying to talk to journalists about issues of white or male privilege/representation all too often elicits blank stares of confusion, as if objectivity serves as a magic wand of detachment from the issues they report on.

    You should have seen the hilarious reaction we got when we used progressive stack at a press conference at the occupation.

  • Wrack

    Do you seriously look around the room, see people who don't look like you, and want to go home? I'm all for diversity, but that's a damn lame way to phrase it. Is diversity about coddling the anxiety of employees or about getting a good variety of viewpoints? (Of course, on that point, are viewpoints solely based on race and sex? Hell no!)

  • Moe
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  • Typical DC BS

    Shani, maybe you'll help expand the universe of critics. I've enjoyed your writing and commentary so far!

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  • robjh1

    This article gave no insight on anything.

    The reason women and non whites are critics is because networks (stacked with white men) think they know how to interpret the news for everyone else. One of the most glaring facts of this comes to racism. Whenever someone is perceived to be racist who makes the call? This is really sad.

    For the distance this country has come black President black and all, and still blacks can't be decision makers of the news. Sure we find blacks popping up on different networks to appease or give the appearance blacks are present, but to be honest they aren't.

    "and we are not saved..."

  • Tish Grier

    Great article! and points out something very important: the lack of women in mainstream media "media criticism." Not too many in the papers of note, or appearing on tv....

    as for Steve Buttry's assertion we Amy Gaharan and Michelle McLellan, I know both of them--they're pretty good friends I might say--but neither appears on tv as much (although Amy does tech reviews for CNN) and neither is quoted as extensively as, say David Carr. Their work is known mostly in academic circles and in the ranks of "media criticism" as it is practiced among journalists. Think about it: how many people in the general public know many of the names listed in the article because they appear from time to time on TV, and appear in major mainstream publications??

    Women just aren't in those spaces--with the exception of, perhaps Xeni Jardin who's appeared from time to time on The News Hour.

    Women overall just are not called on, nor considered, when the haute mainstream wants a pundit. Is it that we're not capable of the sort of punditry that the men noted above are capable of? Hardly. We just aren't thought of in that sense in general and perhaps because of the roles of women in haute manistream, which are usually those of object rather than of one that can think.

  • Donna

    Women and people of color are more than capable and willing to critique. They are not called upon for numerous reasons. a) The arts industry is dominated by males in regards to production/direction and writing and as artistic and liberal as they claim to be, they do not value the criticism of women or people of color because they do not consider them to be their peers. b) Real writers, critiques or otherwise, know going in they will irritate people with their writing and most don't mind. Most of us didn't get asked to our prom and I can't speak for other writers but I consider that a badge of honor and am perfectly okay with not being popular. c) More importantly. Media Management is as archaic, as the Ad Agencies they are beholden to. Older people support the majority of the arts with their patronage. Unfortunately, they tend not to be very opened minded about reading the opinions of women and people of color. And they have a lot of pull at the publications because d) They also tend to sit on the boards of the media and have companies that also do business with the Ad Agencies, and why we can't break the cycle of cronyism.

    The editorial boards of my towns local media, both public and private are a reflection of this truth in that they are not diverse. Diverse to me doesn't me only 1 out of 10....

  • Lauren

    There are a lot of sharp ladies writing regularly for the Columbia Journalism Review: Liz Cox Barrett, Erika Fry, Alysia Santo, etc.:

  • Lynn Beard

    I think Rachel Maddow does a pretty good job of smacking down BS when it's justly called for!

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  • Robin J Phillips

    This is a great article and an important topic.
    Steve, Michele McLellan and Amy Gahran do great work, but they aren't really mainstream. We do lack diverse voices in mainstream media criticism.

    And one or two is not enough. I think somebody should hire Gail Shister and get her back in the game.

  • Jessica

    On the Media's Brooke Gladstone is a woman as are many of the reporters on the WNYC radio show. I think your sample of what is media criticism needs to be expanded beyond big city dailies and blogs. But that said, of course we need more women, more people of color, more people of international backgrounds to strengthen media criticism. Maybe you can spend some time seeking out the voices that don't have as many page views and introduce us to a diverse array of new media critics.

  • Fed up in the press room

    What I find especially sad is that a woman had to point out these disparities to the white men. This means they are so used to representing all sexes and races that they don't even find the 1950s-staffing weird. When one of them leaves for an even better job, then they simply add another white male to do the thinking for all of us. No need to work or listen to women and minorities--or deal with them as equals. They, and only they, represent all viewpoints. That's why the best candidate is always a white male.

    Thanks for the gutsy story, Shani. And check out the all-white male panel on the Washington Post opinion page. Every featured writer. It's shocking in 2012. I thought things would have changed by now.

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  • Valerie

    You should include the incredible commentary and work of Callie Crossley. Callie's been a regular media critic on Beat The Press, shown locally in Boston on WGBH (PBS) for more than ten years.