Women journalists from across Europe have joined forces to disrupt the news industry and address its lack of women at the helm. Each day they curate stories from their home countries, answering the question, what happens when women choose the news?
News, and the media in general, are powerful institutions that select and represent the social and political reality, shaping how we see the world and what we think. It’s essential to address the lack of women in editorial decision-making and top management roles, and this is what NewsMavens is doing.
For the first time, women newsmakers from 27 European countries are given total editorial freedom over the news they want to put forward. Each story they recommend is accompanied by a short summary in English as well as important facts justifying their choice. They are then all compiled in a daily round-up published on NewsMavens’ website, showing women’s views on European current affairs.
The initiative originates from Gazeta Wyborcza, the main liberal newspaper in Poland. The project is innovative, however the idea of providing a woman’s perspective on news isn’t, editor-in-chief Zuzanna Ziomecka told NADJA.
In fact it goes back to 1989, when Gazeta Wyborcza was created by journalists involved in the Solidarity Movement to support the first independent elections after the fall of communism.
“Gazeta Wyborcza took a lot of time to define the kind of values they wanted to help build into this new society that Poland was embarking upon, this new chapter in their history,” Zuzanna explained. “And one of the things that was very important to the founders was equal rights for women.”
And thus, Gazeta Wyborcza’s women’s brand was born. “Do you know who was on the very first cover of Wysokie Obcasy?” she recounted. “They put Hillary Clinton on and said, ‘Lady President’. That was 20 years ago.”
Since its creation, the weekly magazine Wysokie Obcasy has been dedicated to women’s rights. According to Zuzanna – who was responsible for their digital platform before launching NewsMavens – it has fostered a community of female readers that teach their daughters to get a different perspective on current affairs, encouraging them to learn about their rights and to be responsible for themselves, their communities and the country they live in.
When Zuzanna learnt that only 27 percent of newsrooms in Europe are run by women, it all came together and NewsMavens was launched in September 2017, funded by the Google Digital News Innovation fund and Gazeta Wyborcza.
Europe’s alternative front page
So, does gender influence news? More specifically, does gender imbalance in newsroom management affect how the story of modern Europe is told? How do women choose the news?
A year after its creation, NewsMavens assessed the news content submitted by their journalists and highlighted two major trends.
The first one, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the prominence of stories featuring women and marginalised groups. NewsMavens curated many heartbreaking accounts of cultures or systems failing women, like the case of 15000 women in the Netherlands forced into unpaid labour by a Christian organisation.
The second trend that came to light is that women involved with NewsMavens are curious about what happens to regular people. While mainstream media often showcases the big players and global change makers, they showed more interest in those who do not impact politics or business, but whose lives are invariably affected by both. One of the stories they put forward, for instance, is the one of the parents of disabled children who camped out in the corridors of Poland’s parliament, and whose support funding was cut by the same government that paid out mass family stipends to win the last elections.
NewsMavens provides a strong evidence-based riposte to the common claim that news is objective – and therefore not influenced by gender. It exposes how gender inequality in news deprives media coverage of the richness that women’s perspectives can bring, and limits the media’s appeal to audiences.
“We’re all living in our own interpretations of what we see and experience. And what that means is that journalism is also biased. It is also telling stories from a perspective. And as this has become clear and understood by readers, they are now expecting more transparency from the makers of their news” Zuzanna told us. “People are not trusting every journalist because he or she is a journalist, they are trusting the journalists that share their world view.”
Therefore it comes at no surprise that NewsMavens’ readers are mainly women. Men, Zuzanna said, make up around five to eight percent of their readership, depending on the week. And regardless of how diverse their content is, it’s the women’s issues coverage that mostly attracts their readers. In particular personal stories of people overcoming a struggle.
“It’s this emotional reaction that drives most of our traffic,” Zuzanna explained. “Like yeah, I would like to read news that isn’t being filtered through a male perspective, and that’s what [NewsMavens] does because it’s inherently a feminist mission.”
Fighting misogyny and sexism in media
In just one year NewsMavens has already impacted the news industry in Europe. Zuzanna recounts how they played a role in exposing the shocking display of misogyny at The World Association of News Publishers’ (WAN-IFRA) annual Congress held in Portugal last June.
The WAN-IFRA is a global media event and an opportunity to network, learn about the future of journalism and the news business, and also reward outstanding media professionals. Although it had gender inequality on its agenda this year, the event was brimming with sexism and sexual harassment, specially coming from the President of the Portuguese chapter of WAN-IFRA , the host of the event.
“It was so telling to see the sexism on display in front of two thousand media executives from all over the world. This was a great opportunity to make our point” Zuzanna explained. “NewsMavens was part of an initiative where 13 media organisations from around the world published this open letter and petition about ending sexism in the industry, which went really far.”
As a result, several media organisations pledged to tackle these issues. “We have been a part of bringing this topic to the table and I’m very proud of NewsMavens’ contribution to this problem moving forward.” Zuzanna added.
Fighting against misogyny in the media is definitely something that NewsMavens will concentrate on in the future.
NewsMavens exposes how gender inequality deprives the media of the richness women’s perspectives can bring
Zuzanna told us about #FemFacts, a new project they have launched, dedicated to tracking and debunking damaging misrepresentations of women in media in Europe. From fake reports about women being biologically less talented at coding, to a woman running for office having to talk about domestic issues, NewsMavens will be setting the story straight.
Another project Zuzanna mentioned is their wish to bring the women’s movement in Europe closer together. They want to highlight women’s amazing work by asking readers to send tips and links to articles giving insights into what’s happening in their countries. They also want NGOs working in the fields of women’s rights, health, and safety to get involved.
“The connections between women’s rights activists internationally are tentative at best, in practice non-existent. And this is a weakness, particularly with regards to movements like neo-fascism, the anti vaccination movement or the anti abortion movement,” Zuzanna explained. These groups and causes are very well connected, funded and organised internationally, she clarified, and therefore they are very skilled at implementing their strategy in many countries. “We are very far from having this powerful integration of women in Europe. We hope, as NewsMavens, to start to build some of those bridges.”
Many will argue that NewsMavens is sexist, that it was created with the only purpose to serve the “feminist agenda” (women taking over the world perhaps?). That gender equality does not ensure quality journalism. However ridiculous or valid these points might sound to some, this much is certain: there can’t be real democracy as long as men’s and women’s voices are not equally heard in all spheres of power. And that includes the news industry. Until then, NewsMavens’ work will stay invaluable and relevant. To quote Barbara Kaija, recognised for her exceptional leadership in the newsroom and Editor-in-Chief of the Vision Group of newspapers in Uganda:
“If you don’t have gender equality in your newsroom, it’s like running on one leg. And in the current climate, the male leg is limping.”