Monday, 10 September 2012

Soft women, hard news

A couple of years ago, I took a course called Politics and the Mass Media, taught by Dr. Shannon Sampert, at the University of Winnipeg. One of the topics we discussed in class was the concepts of hard news and soft news.

Hard news refers to stories about politics, crime, and war, while soft news refers to human interest pieces about arts, entertainment, and lifestyles. To be honest, I quite prefer the latter.

But that's the issue.

There is a stereotype in the industry that women are more likely to report soft news and men to report hard news. We later learned that social science plays a part in this dichotomy; women are "more gentle" than men and therefore report on subjects that suit their "personalities", such as stories about family, food, and style.

Anna North, author of the article entitled "Why Women Can't Get Away From 'Soft' News", states that "women may pitch more editorials on 'soft' subjects because 'they're convinced that no one's going to convince their expertise there'".

I personally agree with that claim. I like to report and write stories about things I am already familiar with so I can provide a story filled with enriching detail and knowledge. I automatically redden at the thought of sounding like I don't know what I'm talking about in a story and having someone call me out on it.

However, North also writes that "while women were disproportionately raised to be modest and humble [...] they need to get over that conditioning when it prevents them 'from sharing information that can actually help the world'". Agreed!

Of course, not all women fall under this bias. Katie Couric is a successful, hard-hitting journalist. But we can't all be Katie Courics. One can dream.

Here's a graph from the Op-Ed Project, finding that women's contributions to hard news topics such as the economy, justice, and technology were frighteningly small. More information can be found here.

North writes, "media consumers and producers alike are able to ignore women's thoughts on major, life-or-death issues [...] not because women don't care about these issues - it's because no one is asking them". Well, frankly, I don't think women should be waiting to be asked.

What slightly frustrates me is the misconception that - and this might just be my own opinion - women are not considered "real" journalists unless they report on hard news. That's the feeling I'm getting.

What do you think? Should a female journalist's career be defined by the kind of news she reports?

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