It feels like an exciting time to be a woman in media these days—and it seems almost everywhere one looks, women are rising the journalism ranks and are increasingly becoming leaders within the Fourth Estate.
Sally Buzbee just became the Editor in Chief of The Washington Post. On the Opinions side, longtime political reporter and columnist Karen Tumulty is deputy editorial page editor. At the New York Times, Kathleen Kingsbury is now overseeing the Op-ed Page. Swati Sharma is editor in Chief of Vox News. 19th News has been doing fantastic work telling stories and reporting from the perspective of women. And there are so many women across the country in local outlets in digital ventures that are creating spaces for the stories that matter to us all.
Still, we work in a male-dominated industry that has been so for a long time. Women have been minimized, pushed aside and too often erased from history. It has been heartening to see institutions trying to rectify this. The New York Times’ “Overlooked” project attempts to unerase the accomplishments from years past by giving them the obituaries they never received while they were alive. Ida B. Wells, the pioneering black journalist who exposed the scale and brutality of lynchings across the United States during the Reconstruction era was awarded with a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020.
It is not just that women are making strides in creating stories. Women’s needs are also part of the movement to ensure better working conditions for journalists. And as more unions and guilds begin to form across the media industry, we’ve seen increased efforts to fight for pay equity, maternal leave, and mental health resources. I am reminded that this is the legacy of the pioneering black journalist Marvel Jackson Cooke, the first black woman to work at a white newspaper, who organized a chapter of the local newspaper guild in the 1930s.
Still, I worry. The field is far from fair or level. Black women journalists are still underrepresented, underpaid, and under-retained at many journalism institutions. With the rise of social media, women journalists find themselves facing more online abuse and digital violence than their male counterparts. Women journalists are increasingly finding themselves the victims of furious bad-faith disinformation campaigns that threaten their employment. And around the world, from Rana Ayuub of India to Maria Ressa of the Philippines, women still find themselves at the risk of government targeting, or even prison for the work that they do.
Despite my worries, I am buoyed by the fact that the space for women in journalism is opening up. Our industry—and the world—will be the better for it.
–Karen Attiah, Columnist, The Washington Post
Karen Attiah is the recipient of the 2021 Washington Women in Journalism Awards’ Star to Watch.