Some of San Diego’s most well known women journalists shared then-and-now stories about women in the media at an SPJ program on “Women in Journalism” Nov. 12.
The panel, moderated by former NBC 7/39 weather anchor Pat Brown and held at the University of San Diego’s Degheri Alumni Center, tackled everything from sexual harassment to sexy attire to work-life balance.
The panelists – former KGTV 10News anchor Carol LeBeau; KPBS “These Days” host Maureen Cavanaugh; former San Diego Union-Tribune reader’s representative and veteran reporter Gina Lubrano; and North County Times online editor Tracy Greer – said women are well represented in newsrooms today, but their numbers still lag in management positions.
“There has been a huge, tremendous, unbelievable change in the time that I’ve been in radio,” said Cavanaugh, who previously worked as an anchor for KSDO and KOGO. “It really has been a tremendous turnaround in the 25 or so years I’ve been in the business. We’ve got the numbers. Now, we’ve got to get the salaries.”
Lubrano said men still dominate in print newsrooms, although women have a definite presence.
“There are women in editing jobs now, a lot more than when I started, but it’s still mostly men,” Lubrano said.
LeBeau, who was part of San Diego’s first women-only anchor team when she paired with Bree Walker in the early 1980s, said women seem to fare a bit better in television news, at least in sheer numbers.
“Men have the short straw now,” LeBeau said. “It’s 55 to 60 percent women now in TV newsrooms.”
The panelists agreed that expectations for men and women in journalism are mostly the same today, but Cavanaugh noted that, at least in radio, some conventions still hold – such as an expectation that in a male-female anchor team, the male will take the lead.
“I do still believe people are more comfortable when women take a secondary position,” Cavanaugh said. “The woman asks the second question. The male anchor has to drive. … When I’m teamed up with a male anchor, everyone is just more comfortable if I let him go first.”
Greer, a former sportswriter, said another difference in expectations for men and women is peculiar to the sports beat. She said female sports reporters get “tested” more than male sportswriters – men will try to stump her with trivia and test her knowledge, even in areas she doesn’t cover, just to prove a point.
“I don’t think men get that as much,” Greer said. “There’s a higher standard of perfection for women.”
Women reporters might have one natural advantage over their male counterparts, though, Cavanaugh said – women tend to be good listeners.
“If you just sit and listen, a lot of people feel uncomfortable with the silence and will say things they shouldn’t just to fill it,” Cavanaugh said. “Women sometimes are better able to just sit back and let people talk.”
Lubrano said women, like men, have always had to pay their dues in journalism, but sometimes women have had to work harder for the privilege to do so.
“You had to work your way up,” she said. “You got the rotten assignments, the nights and weekends.”
Lubrano recalled a time when she was reporting on a plane crash and the law enforcement officials told her she could not have access to the crash site. Along came a male TV reporter, she said, and the police let him right through. When she complained, the police let her in to the crash site, making sure she got a good look at the human remains.
“I was there to do a job,” Lubrano said. “I wasn’t there to be protected. I didn’t ask for their protection.”
The panelists said they had never experienced anything they considered sexual harassment – at least not at the time.
“The things that happened in newsrooms in 1969 or 1970, if they happened today …,” Lubrano said. “But back then, we just dealt with it.”
Cavanaugh said newsrooms of old were pretty bawdy places.
“If it hadn’t been for sexual harassment and sexual comments, the KSDO newsroom would have been silent,” Cavanaugh joked.
Greer said that pioneering female sportswriters encountered a lot of sexual harassment, but women are much more accepted today in sports.
“Sports is sort of the last bastion of male-dom,” Greer said. “I’m lucky. I have never had a locker room issue. … Lord knows, what we encounter today is not even close to what women sportswriters encountered in the 1970s. It’s not perfect today, but it’s better.”
Greer said she follows advice she got from USA Today sportswriter Christine Brennan, who advised her to always carry a legal-sized notepad or a large clipboard, rather than a standard reporter’s notebook, when going into locker rooms.
“It keeps your eyes on your notepad,” she said.
Female journalists also have to think about keeping other people’s eyes off their figures, the panelists said. LeBeau said female journalists can be feminine, but they shouldn’t be “sexy.”
“In the workplace, there is a propriety you have to observe,” she said. “You must check your sexuality at the door. You may be feminine, but your sexuality will take you exactly where you don’t want to go.”
Wardrobe choices are easy compared to one of the biggest challenges for women in journalism – balancing career with family.
The panelists said balancing a journalism career and family is no easy task, and they noted that most women in high level positions in the media are single or have no children.
“I think if there were more equity at home, if there was more of an idea that having a child was a mutual job, there would be more women in journalism with children,” Cavanaugh said. “Let’s face it – having children is a career-ender.”
LeBeau, who is married without children, said women may self-select out of higher level media jobs and that women who take time off to have children may get mommy-tracked.
“It seems women tend not to gravitate toward management positions,” LeBeau said. “They like a little more autonomy. They want to be able to get away. They have children. … Women take themselves out of the workplace [to raise children], and that takes them out of the management track.”
She added that she and her husband were never blessed with children, but they had concluded that he probably would stay home with the kids if they had them.
Greer, who is married without children, said having a spouse in the journalism field helps.
“I married another journalist, so that was probably the best thing,” Greer said. “When news breaks and I have to go running, he’s right behind me. He understands.”
Cavanaugh said both women and men need to be vigilant if they want balance while pursuing a journalism career.
“If you don’t set some boundaries in your journalism career, it’s going to eat your life,” Cavanaugh said. “Now the ante is ramped up to such a degree, you have to set your limits. You have to say, this is when I’m home and I’m done. It’s all-consuming and addictive.”
SPJ San Diego Pro Chapter board member Christy Scannell coordinated the “Women in Journalism” program.
– Jodi Cleesattle