Women in Journalism: A Triumph Over Time


Currently, journalism is an occupation shared by both males and females. Not fewer than fifty years ago journalism used to be an almost exclusively male profession. Even though journalism was strictly a man’s occupation at first, some women battled the rough world of journalism. Women had to deal with issues that female journalists in today’s society don’t have to deal with.

Currently women in journalism are still working to earn equal rights, and eventually they will (Business line). Still, the early women of journalism paved the way for the young female journalist of today by showing men that women can be just as effective as males in the field of journalism. Even though women currently have more rights than they did fifty years ago; in the field of journalism they still have a long distance to go to reach equal rights.

Journalism was said to be a “man’s job” due to the fact that the people in the late 1800s and early 1900s thought that it would be too dangerous a job for a female (Nellie Bly Biography). They were afraid that women would be put into situations where they wouldn’t know how to react. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) women’s rights group says that many of the men, “Looked at women as frail little mothers whose soul purpose in life is to cook, clean, and take care of the children. Some women had a different look at things, however. These women were the women’s rights activists of journalism. They sought out to find and conquer anyone that tried to prevent them from writing.” (IFJ Women’s rights: Female Journalists).


One women who tried to work in the journalism field in a time when women were not allowed was Elizabeth Jane Cochran, also known as Nellie Bly. She became a great leader in the world of journalism because of her daring courageous efforts to show the men of the business that she could handle a man’s job.

Nellie was a female reporter desperately trying to get a job in the newspaper industry. Everywhere she went looking for a job, she was laughed out of the building because she was female. The men told her to, “Go back to the kitchen where you belong,” (Nellie Bly Biography). Nellie became angered by the way she was being treated so she decided to take matters into her own hands to prove the men wrong. She tried to prove to them that she wasn’t a frail little housewife and that she was just as brave and willing to go out and find a story as they were.

One example of her courageous efforts is when she had herself committed to a mental institution for ten days so that she could know firsthand how the mentally ill were being treated. She actually found that they were not being treated very well at all. They were treated like animals and once she released herself she wrote quite a story explaining to people what exactly goes on in a mental institution. After she wrote her story about the mental institution she was named by the New York Journal as the “Best Reporter in America,” (National Women’s Hall of Fame). Still, that wasn’t even her best work.

After hearing about the book, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, Nellie decided to challenge Verne’s daring character, Phineas Fogg by getting around the world in fewer than 80 days. This story became this biggest topic in America. She started out on the East Coast of America and set out heading east and she returned home in seventy-two days, six hours and eleven minutes. When she returned she was honored with a line of clothing in her name, songs written about her, dances named for her, and even parades held in her honor. Nellie retired a year after her husband died and right after becoming the first woman to cover the Eastern Front in the First World War (Nellie Bly Biography). All of this recognition because she was a woman who fought for what she believed in and didn’t let anyone stand the way of her dreams. Nellie was a fighter for women’s rights in her time.

In the late 1880s and 1890s, after all of her traveling adventures, she showed the men of the business how valuable she was. She became a reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper. This made her one of the first female investigative reporters. She set an example for women in journalism everywhere. With this she tried to show men that the women could do just as well as they could.

So, overall, the life of Nellie Bly shows that even though men still considered journalism a strictly male occupation, some women had the power and motivation overcome and succeed in a male dominated world. Nellie’s story was just a basic female problem of the males not seeing the females as hard news writers.

Another problem some women had concerning journalism was that of racism. So, what if there were to be a black woman journalist? Most people in the mid-1900s would call that preposterous. Yet somehow, Alice Allison Dunnigan managed to make it work. Alice would travel on behalf of President John F. Kennedy’s Committee of Equal Employment Opportunity. On her travels she encountered much harassment due to her color. Not only was she a woman trying to do a man’s job, she was a black women trying to do a man’s job.

An example of her unfair treatment is when she was looking for a hotel room and everywhere she went she was told, “No vacancies,” so she spent the night sitting up at the bus station. Since she was black many people either didn’t take her seriously or they didn’t care about a black woman. Many employers wouldn’t even consider hiring a white woman and they never even thought to hire a black one. Alice got harassed anywhere she went as a reporter. Since no one took her talent seriously she often felt like giving up her dreams of being a journalist (Women in Kentucky).

Alice had been writing small, one sentence items for the Owensboro Enterprise newspaper since she was thirteen (Women in Kentucky). She went on to go to what is now Kentucky State University, then went on to teach Kentucky history for the Todd County School System. While working there, she noticed that many of her students were not aware of the contributions of African Americans to the health and welfare of the Commonwealth. Alice then wrote what she called her “Kentucky Fact Sheets.” She gave them to all her students as required text for her class. By 1939 the articles were collected into a manuscript, however there wasn’t a publisher to publish them.

Miraculously, in 1982 the Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition was finally published. She then moved to Washington, D.C during World War II and there she became the first African American female correspondent to receive White House credentials. She did what no one in that time figured a black woman could do. She became the pacesetter for African-American female news reporters as she chronicled the progress of civil rights in America.

What Alice Dunnigan did for African American women of America could be compared to what Nellie Bly did for all women. Alice stood up for what she believed in, African American civil rights. She stood up for the equality of blacks and, in the end, it paid off for black women journalists everywhere. She was finally taken seriously by not only women in the journalism field, but by the men as well. This is something that was once considered impossible. (Women in Journalism) Even through the hardship she had to deal with by being black she still stood up for what she believed in and paved a way for the black journalists of today.

There became an expansion in the field of writing among female writers during World War II while all the men were away at war. People still wanted to read what was going on and since there were no men to write about it they had no choice but to let women take some control. This also was a good opportunity for women to show that they were actually capable of writing more than just cooking recipes and home and garden tips. This gave them the opportunity to write about some hard news stories with hard news facts. This meant that they actually had to get out and do something that most people would consider being a “guys job” (IFJ Women’s rights: Female Journalists). This was a big step for women’s rights. Too many men were afraid that if their wives learned how to get “real jobs” they would end up leaving them. Many men were afraid of this so they protested against letting the women work by holding up big signs ordering the women to go back to their kitchens where they belonged. This just made the women even more stronger. They saw what impact it had on the males and so the females wrote of the male riots against females in journalism. This story, of course, made front-page news. Once the men came back after the war many of the women lost their spots as journalists and many women no longer even wanted to be journalists. They decided that the men were right and that they needed to go back to the kitchen and raise a family. But, that still left those determined women that weren’t stepping down. It took those few women, that stayed in the field of journalism, to show the returning war men just exactly what had gone on while they were away. It was just a small piece of the women’s rights movement but it had quite an impact for female writers expressing their facts and opinions.

Another famous lady in journalism was Eleanor Roosevelt. When she became the First Lady she began to hold weekly press conferences. In these press conferences she spoke only to women journalists about women’s issues (Gale Group). In 1935 she started writing a column called, “My Day.” “My Day” focused on the concerns of women. By 1939, however, Roosevelt was addressing general political topics in her column. The “My Day” article ran from 1935 to 1962. During those years the article ran six days a week, the only interruption being when her husband died. The issues of her articles were on key events such as Pearl Harbor, Hollywood and HUAC, television, Cold War, and space. She also wrote on race segregation. Examples of this were the Civil Rights bill, desegregation, Brown vs. The board of education, Jews in Europe, and the invasion of Poland. Another big issue was that of women’s issues. There were articles like women in war, housewives, women and employment, and women and work. Since she was the first lady she seemed to have a kind of power over her husband president. So, she made sure African Americans were receiving relief from New Deal programs. She used her articles to persuade readers into believing her views on society. She also helped found the National Youth Administration in 1939. This organization gave thousands of high school and college students part-time work.

The stories of Nellie Bly, Alice Allison Dunnigan, and Eleanor Roosevelt are just three of the thousands of stories of women and their struggles to make it in the cruel and hectic world of journalism. Currently journalism can be a man or a woman’s job. However, this opportunity to be a female journalist is not accepted in many countries. Some countries continue to feel that women should not be allowed to be reporters. In the developed countries, the percentage of women journalists ranges from 30%-40% (Women in Journalism). The number of female journalists in Asia differs considerably between the countries in South Asia and South East Asia. While the Nepal Working Journalist Association only has 65 female members out of a total of 452 members total. Today there are more women journalists than men working in Philippine television (Journalism & Mass Media). In Africa, women represent less than twenty percent of workers in media organizations. The numbers range from fewer than 10% in Mozambique to 30% in Zimbabwe or Tunisia (Women in Journalism). But the number of women in journalism has increased over the last few years. In Tunisia they reported to have had a 37% increase in female journalists since 1998. Every year more and more countries are letting women become journalists, but this slow process takes time for the other countries to get used to (IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists). This just goes to show that America has improved greatly since the early 1900s. Many countries still haven’t caught on to women’s rights. Americas strengths on women’s rights shows other countries that women can do a great job in the journalism field if they are given the opportunity. Many countries still don’t trust that but many are switching over to follow America’s example.

The trend towards more women in journalism is confirmed by the number of female journalism students worldwide. A study carried out in 26 countries in 1993 found that women in some cases account for up to 70% of the journalism students (Journalism & Mass Media). Most were in the United States, Mexico, and Bulgaria. The average percent of female students is about 40% and this higher than the female percentage of working journalists (IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists). These statistics indicate two things: One, that women are coming up and stepping into the journalism field and two, that since more women go into journalism than come out they are changing their minds about this occupation while in school. There is nothing to show exactly what the different reasons are that many females decide that journalism is not the correct occupation for them. Surveys have been conducted asking women journalists about the problems that they have faced. Some problems have been stereotypes, lack of equal pay, sexual harassment, and conflicting family and career demands (IFJ Women’s Right’s: Female Journalists).

A problem that women journalists have encountered is being able to balance between family responsibilities and career demands. Job segregation results in women getting assignments considered being less important, which in turn makes it harder for them to get a name for themselves in the profession. Instead the woman winds up becoming a secretary for the local newspaper. Even those women who are keen on becoming managing editor are often passed over in favor of male colleagues with fewer qualifications for the job (IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists). While quite a few publishers and broadcasters are interested in hiring young female journalists, employment practices in a lot of media organizations result in discrimination of women. One example of that is the issue of equal pay. The right to equal pay is enshrined in national legislation or collective agreements in most countries of the world but still in most cases women journalists still earn less money than their male colleagues (IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists). A man and a woman can have the same job in a media organization but the man will have an extra title, personal benefits which mean that in the end of the day he takes more money home than his female colleague (IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists).

Much progress has been made in recent years and a number of media organizations have adopted programs to help facilitate equal rights between men and women in the work place (Broncianno). These organizations are trying to get rid of these non-equal rights and make the more qualified person get more money. But the representation and participation of women in journalism organizations is still too low to make as big of a difference as they would like. Even though they often represent around 30% of the membership, only few women are members of the women’s union governing bodies (IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists). And even fewer organizations have women presidents. There is a women’s committee called the Syndicate National de la Presse Marocaine (SNPM), and it clauses on maternity leave and promotion procedures, which were included in the collective agreement negotiated between the SNPM and the Moroccan publishers. If female journalists want to improve their employment situation, it is essential that their concerns be taken up in negotiations between journalist’s unions and media employers to ensure equal opportunities are enshrined in national collective agreements. This would give female journalists equal pay for equal work, equal access to training, fair and transparent promotion procedures, reconciliation between work and family responsibilities, and action against sexual harassment (IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists).

The problems and resolutions women have encountered over time have helped shape America not only in journalism but in life as well. Many people, even women, still think that males can always do a better job in the work environment. People such as Nellie Bly and Alice Allison Dunnigan have proven that women can survive in a male dominated world. Women still have to face a lot of the issues that the women back in the early 1900s had to face. It just makes the women stronger and more willing to push for what they believe in. If they want the right to write then let them. Let them show off what skills they may have and if they are better than some of their male colleagues then why should that be any different than if two guys were comparing each others writing. Even though many changes have been made since the days of Nellie Bly there is still many more that the people need to do for equality between the sexes.


Bibliography

American Experience, My Day. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/sfeature/myday.html. PBS Publishing, Online. 1999.

Brancaccio, Lou. Press Talk: What’s up in the World of Journalism., Vancouver, Wa. 2001.

Business Line. Journalists on a journey of self-discovery. Online. http://www.indiaserver.com. June 2000.

Cook, Clanche Weisen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Viking, 1992.

Folkerts, Jean. Journalism and Mass Communication. P.34-57 New York, NY. 1989.

Franklin, Jon. Modern Journalism. pp. 12-25. Chicago, Illinois. 1998.

Gale Group. Eleanor Roosevelt. http://www.galegroup.com/freresrc/womenhst/bio/rooseve.htm .Online. Gale Group Inc. 2001.

IFJ Women’s Rights: Female Journalists. www.ifi.org/working/issues/women/background.html. Online. 1998.

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National Women’s Hall of Fame. Nellie Bly 1864-1922. http://www.greatwomen.org/bly.htm. Online. 1998.

Nellie Bly Biography. http://www.az.essortment.com/nellyblybiogra_rsls.htm. Online. 2001.

Women in Journalism. http://npc.press.org/wpforal/ohhome.htm. Online. Washington. Press Club Foundation. Washington, DC. 1996.

Women in Kentucky. Alice Allison Dunnigan. Online. http://www.womeninkentucky.com/site/journalism/dunnigan.html. 1998.

Vercelli, Jane Anderson. Eleanor Roosevelt, Chelsea House, Chicago.1995.

2 thoughts on “Women in Journalism: A Triumph Over Time

  1. Not undermining or underestimating females potentials in d field of journalism though, bt i stil assert dat journalism is too dangerious, hazardous, n tedious a job for female 2 toil wit. Women should b keep in there normal position or better stil engage in other jobs befitting of women.

  2. To Orgun Mike,

    clearly your ignorant comment is underestimating women potentials in the business of Journalism. How dare you say something so vile and very discriminating towards women. There are TONS of female journalists who handle the business just as good as any other man. The problem here is that men like you fear the power and knowledge of what a woman can bring to a business, especially a business like Journalism. We do not need a “easy pass” to go, we do not want to be placed in a safe haven and we certainly will not bow down and accept what is given to us that is Just suitable foe women.

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