Herizons Spring 2010 by Janet Nicol
Media Action’s Informed Options plans to build a knowledgeable, skilled bank of women to speak to and write for media outlets.
Women’s voices are still not heard in the media on a basis equal to men, according to media expert Shari Graydon, founder of a new project called Informed Opinions.
In concert with Media Action, Graydon hopes to change that imbalance by training female scholars and other experts to write opinion pieces for newspapers and internet news sources. She also plans to set up an online database of female experts who will be accessible to the media.
“Many journalists try to contact women to speak on issues,” Graydon explains from her Ottawa office, but some respond by saying ‘I’m not the best person.’”
The result is that despite their expertise in many fields, women’s perspectives are not being heard. Graydon says the project will benefit media outlets because journalists tell her they are interested in gaining more diverse expert contacts.
Graydon looked at Globe and Mail bylines in October and November 2009 and observed that the male to female ratio of authorship on columns and opinion pieces was three-to-one. So what is the holdup?
“There are many reasons,” Graydon says. “Some women are reluctant to be a target. They don’t want criticism of their gender, rather than their perspective. Others, don’t have time. They still work a double shift—at work and at home. And many professional women tend to work in smaller, non-profit organizations with fewer resources, making them less accessible.”
Women are still under-represented in politics and large corporations, Graydon points out, and the decisions made by leaders in those arenas affect many people, and are considered newsworthy.
The news media remain influential in setting the public agenda. A former columnist for the Vancouver Sun, Graydon has first-hand experience with the influence of media. “I was hired to bring a perspective that wasn’t reflected elsewhere in the paper,” she says of her time at the Sun. “I appreciated the opportunity to basically write a memo once a week to potentially 300,000 readers.”
“We all lose out not having more of the female perspective,” she says.
Graydon is working with universities, non profit organizations and agencies, as well as media outlets, to reach expert women in diverse fields and disciplines.
Her project was inspired in part by the Op Ed Project in the U.S. Graydon’s workshops will give women skills and strategies to communicate their ideas.
“We’re showing them how to hook their issue or research to a news story, reviewing key elements of an op ed, and sharing the steps to writing and submitting opinion pieces to a newspaper. These skills can also be used for online news journals, blogs or radio or television interviews,” she says.
Fourteen women participated in a recent pilot workshop held at the University of Ottawa.
“They realize they have spent years developing their expertise and there is a value in sharing,” Graydon says. “Women’s perspectives need to be part of the public discourse.”