Dear Rita Skeeter: Women are underrepresented in media despite their historic contributions

Ivy Tsang/Daily Trojan

In my journalism classes at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, I’m often one of few men in the classroom. However, the same isn’t true in American newsrooms. According to the 2018 American Society of News Editors Newspaper Diversity Survey, which analyzed the gender breakdown of 292 newsrooms across America, 59 percent of workers in newsrooms are male.

Even worse, women are also underpaid in newsrooms. According to the News Guild of New York, men working for The New York Times’ newsroom made $9,516 more than their female peers on average as of April 2016. Similarly, and perhaps more egregiously, male reporters at the Los Angeles Times made $14,334 more than women in the same role on average, according to an April 2018 L.A. Times Guild study. 

This, obviously, isn’t due to a lack of interest or excellence among women pursuing journalism. Plenty of women are studying journalism in college — Annenberg’s 2018 class profile of its M.S. in journalism students said that 82 percent of its students were women. 

So in honor of International Women’s Day this week, I’m highlighting a few female journalists who have made significant impact in the journalism industry throughout American history.

Ida Tarbell 

Coming to prominence in the early 1900s, Ida Tarbell was one of the founding reporters who developed muckraker journalism — the precursor to modern investigative journalism. Tarbell is perhaps best known for her exposé of the Standard Oil Company, a monopoly owned by John Rockefeller, according to Smithsonian Magazine. 

Tarbell became interested in the story because her father’s small oil company was run out of business by Rockefeller. By getting close to sources within Standard Oil and spending two years diligently reporting the story, Tarbell was able to obtain internal documents that revealed the company colluded with railroad companies to put other oil providers out of business. 

Tarbell’s exposé spurred government action against the Standard Oil Company. In 1911, a Supreme Court decision found the company in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Smithsonian Magazine said. 

Not only did Tarbell’s journalism cause meaningful changes for small oil producers and consumers, but it also spurred decades of investigative journalism that drove political reform throughout the early 20th century and directly influenced modern watchdog journalism that helps keep government in check. 

Katharine Graham 

Played by Meryl Streep in the 2017 Steven Spielberg film “The Post,” Katharine Graham is known for her tenure as The Washington Post’s publisher in the ’60s and ’70s. As the only female publisher in the industry at the time, Graham led the newspaper through major historical events despite regularly combating sexism in the field — her own father made her husband The Post’s publisher before he died because he didn’t think a woman was fit for the position, and Graham only took over when her husband died, Smithsonian Magazine said. 

“The Post” details how Graham navigated the difficult decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, a trove of documents related to the U.S. government’s handling of the Vietnam War. While lawyers urged her not to publish the papers in fear of government retaliation in court, Graham decided to print them, exposing major concerns about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers also led to a landmark Supreme Court decision that barred the government from blocking newspapers’ publication of any story or document in most circumstances, The New York Times said. 

But Graham is responsible for much more beyond the story of “The Post.” Her leadership transformed the newspaper into the prominent news source it is today. While she isn’t mentioned in the film “All the President’s Men,” which detailed The Post’s historic investigation into the Watergate scandal, she was the publisher while the reporting was ongoing. The major decisions she made during the investigation allowed reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the resources and time they needed to report the story when other papers might’ve dismissed it at first because of the reporters’ initial lack of adequate sourcing, Graham’s book, “Personal History,” said. 

Christiane Amanpour

Through her war reporting and commanding television presence, Christiane Amanpour helped define CNN’s brand as it grew into a major television news network. Now, she hosts her own global affairs show for CNN International: “Amanpour.” 

Amanpour displayed the news judgement and careful reporting necessary for war correspondents early in her career. She brought stories of conflict from around the world that no other news organization was covering, and her authoritative yet compassionate approach to reporting made her appealing to American viewers. She would take seemingly irrelevant stories, like conflict in Bosnia, and illustrate their importance to Americans — she strongly believed that American intervention in foreign affairs was vital, The New York Times said. 

As she established herself at CNN, she became the network’s first real television personality — unlike most news reporters, American viewers began to see her as part of the story rather than merely telling it. This quickly thrust her into stardom among television networks. Major news networks offered her seven-figure contracts to leave CNN, but she ultimately chose to stay on at the network that helped her grow because she wanted to reach an international audience, The New York Times said.  

Karan Nevatia is a sophomore writing about media ethics and literacy. He is also an associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Dear Rita Skeeter,” runs every other Thursday.