Working as a reporter, and in my case, also as a part-time opinion columnist, you open yourself up to comments both good and bad.
No matter how long I’ve been at this, I still struggle not to take nasty letters and comments personally while it seems it’s the exact opposite with my male colleagues who appear to revel in controversy.
Maybe it harkens back to our genetic makeup with many men I know being not just willing, but actually aggressive when it comes to protecting their territory, be that a possession or opinion, without losing one wink of sleep. It’s a trait I’m striving towards.
So I was delighted to come across a blog post on the Informed Opinions website with the headline “Ignoring the Haters” while compiling research for this column. Informed Opinions, a project of Media Action, specializes in assisting women in having their opinions heard, be that in print, online, TV or radio. Media Action: Fully Clothed Female Role Models promotes gender equality through media analysis and action.
While reading the “Ignoring the Haters blog,” I was overcome with relief to realize I’m not the only female columnist on the planet who struggles with how best to handle the hate mail, trolls and anonymous online bashing. So I’m looking forward to learning more at an upcoming day-long workshop called Writing Compelling Commentary organized by Informed Opinions.
To get a better sense of the workshop, I spoke with Shari Graydon, the catalyst behind Informed Opinions who is also a former newspaper columnist, TV producer, and commentator for CBC Radio and TV. Graydon’s impressive list of accomplishments is too lengthy to list here in full, but needless to say when it comes to women and commentary she’s more than qualified.
When it comes to editorial and op-ed pieces written about politics, policy-making, technology, finance, health and education, women remain woefully under-represented compared to men, says Graydon. (The Courier is an exception with strong representation of female voices.) “Women need to recognize their own expertise because they often undersell themselves,” says Graydon.
An example, says Graydon, is how often female experts in a field are reluctant to comment when approached by media. Despite the fact women now make up 61 per cent of university graduates and are finding success in many previously male-dominated fields, their voices in opinion media are outnumbered four to one. Graydon has found that despite their successes, many female professionals routinely refuse to give media interviews, let alone submit written commentary on the subjects they know best.
“More often than not, quotes you read are from men,” says Graydon. “One reason is because it’s harder to get a hold of women on the phone because they’re working. Then they’ll often say, ‘I’m not the right person for this story.’”
Graydon says women need to realize their worth and the importance of their voices in media. She adds because women are so chronically under-represented at all levels of government, their perspectives and priorities are less likely to be reflected in decisions and policies being adopted.
Graydon says the lack of women’s perspectives in Canadian news media doesn’t reflect a lack of female expertise, but instead suggests they’re unaware of how best to submit their ideas to print, broadcast and electronic media. And some women are unsure how to frame their opinions and analysis into accessible, short-form commentary.
Informed Opinions is working to help women overcome these challenges through their workshops, which include access to a group of volunteer editors including reporter Debra Black from the Toronto Star, columnists Daphne Bramham from the Vancouver Sun, political journalist Susan Delacourt, national CBC reporter Susan Harada and Kate Heartfield, an editorial writer and columnist from the Ottawa Citizen.
The Writing Compelling Commentary workshop takes place at the YWCA Metro Vancouver, 535 Hornby St., June 15. For more information about the workshop, visit informedopinions.org.