Appearance over Abilities: The Regressive Psyche of the Newsroom

Since the birth of modern feminism in the 19th century, women have striven to obtain equal rights as men. Despite our immersion in what is called the third wave of feminism, women continue to be discriminated against in many fields of life.

Gender disparity can be seen prominently in the workforce, and in particular the media arena. A recent study in the US, which analysed the balance of gender in American public radio and television, revealed that women, despite constituting 51% of the population, are severely underrepresented in all newsroom roles – from hosting positions to leadership capacities.

These figures, although varying slightly depending on the country, are predominantly synonymous with the global media stage. Women are simply not as present in the industry compared to men. Why? A recent NiemanReports study suggested a few potential reasons: Women are too weak. Women are too brusque. Women are more family-orientated.

The dissemination of these stereotypical scripts has often created a negative stigma regarding women in the media workforce.

As a woman on the cusp of a journalistic career, I am undoubtedly concerned with how, especially, I will manage both a family and career in the years to come. Will I be fired if I choose to “opt out” and have children? Furthermore, will I be discriminated against if I continue to work for as long as possible during a pregnancy?

Facing discrimination for pursuing a natural process of life may be considered ludicrous, and is most definitely illegal in the workplace, but the truth is – it is happening. Only last month, Global B.C. weather reporter, Kristi Gordon, disclosed on air the vast amounts of hate mail she has been receiving regarding her appearance. Gordon is six months pregnant with her second child, and has received comments about her maternity wear such as:

“Nowhere on North American TV have we seen a weather reader so gross as you.”

This astonishing example perpetuates a larger problem of double standards inherent to the global media industry. Women in the media workforce face much more pressure than men when it comes to their appearance, a follow-up article on the story exposed. They are regularly attacked on the basis of their hairstyles and clothing choices.

“I’ve been told I’m bad at my job because of the way my hair looks,” Global Edmonton news anchor Quinn Ohler admitted.

In any workplace, no matter the arena, I believe ability should always be considered more highly than appearance. It is dispiriting that we live in a society that values hairstyles and brand choices over journalistic integrity and talent. Clearly, we have a long way to go to bridge the gender gap and place women on equal standing with men, especially in the newsroom and media industry.

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Dogs are Pets; Chickens are Dinner; and Cockroaches Should Be Killed

The Paradox in Our Animal Affections

There is one aspect of moving house that can make anyone consider packing up before even taking a step through the front door: creepy, crawly cockroaches. We’ve all encountered it: the all-too-familiar experience of wielding a variety of household utensils in a vain attempt to vanquish the winged creatures. The majority of us, myself included, feel a great sense of relief in exterminating these critters from the home.
cockroach

It may then come a surprise to realise cockroaches have dynamic personalities. Roaches exhibit sociability and bravery, and are known for their, “affinity for protection and groups.” However, with the smack of a shoe, we have the power to take this all away.

There is hypocrisy in our treatment of animals. As Rob Sharpe from the Independent says, “as a society, we cage and consume some animals, but treat others like valued members of our families.” We would never handle our household pets as we do cockroaches.

This in an example of animal speciesism: discrimination based on membership in a different species. Cases of speciesism are rampant in everyday life. In the Southern Highlands of NSW, only 50 minutes from Wollongong, you can find Dogue Country Retreat, a luxury boarding house for dogs where the ‘guests’ can enjoy, “divinely designed sleeping suites,” “day spas,” and “evening entertainment…including watching reruns of Lassie.”

A 'dogue' enjoys a full body massage at the Country Retreat

A ‘dogue’ enjoys a full body massage at the Country Retreat

Now I’m not saying we should open a holiday resort for cockroaches, but this example highlights the paradox in our treatment of animals – an inconsistency that may have a deeper psychological explanation.

According to the BBC Ethics Guide, organisms are classed in a moral hierarchy in which sentient organisms that are aware of their own existence deserve more moral consideration than organisms that lack this self-awareness. In turn, this may inherently affect our judgement on an animal’s likeability and potentially its right to live.

On a more basic level, our preference for certain species may simply boil down to a subconscious choice. Psychologist Hal Herzog concludes in his book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat:

“The arguments over many moral judgements, which take place in the subconscious, are much like whether or not we like a painting. You instinctively decide whether you like it. These things can’t be explained by logic.”

Whether an answer to this paradox lies in a subconscious decision or our active discrimination, there is no doubt we are inconsistent in our treatment of animals. In turn, this may underpin our tolerance to their suffering, and ultimately our choices: squash or save?

Images sourced from: http://www.sydneyweekender.com.au/images/episodes/ep7/Dogue/SEG2%20-%2010.jpg http://global3.memecdn.com/cockroaches_o_1048929.jpg

The Financial Industry of Suffering

Faced by a plethora of media and news channels that routinely disseminate images of war, famine and disease, it is often argued that the media is directly responsible for desensitising the population to violence and suffering. The development of ‘poverty porn’ reveals an active attempt by the media to exploit human suffering.

Poverty porn is defined as any type of media that exploits the representation of poverty and lack of material resources in order to generate a strong emotional response from the viewer, often for financial gain.

Empathy is an important concept in this discussion. Poverty porn is utilised by many humanitarian aid organizations who ‘pull on our heartstrings,’ manipulating our emotions with images intended to generate an empathetic response, which in turn encourages us to donate to their cause.

Sarcastic Poverty Porn

Satirical news organisation ‘The Onion’ makes a comment on the financial industry of poverty porn

While there are organisations and companies around the world who may use this exploitation for honourable ends (which in itself holds a level of irony), there are others who have ‘exploited the exploited’ for far less honourable means.

A CNN ‘Keep Them Honest’ report published in 2014 revealed that the Joseph Indian School in South Dakota annually sends up to 30 million forged letters to homes across America as their own form of poverty porn. These letters are written by the Native American students of the school who, in their correspondences, plead for help and money, often to escape an abusive father or a drug-addicted mother amongst a host of other scenarios.

When CNN approached the school late last year, they discovered the children who had supposedly ‘written’ the letters did not exist. The school received over $51 million in total donations in 2014 from this elaborate marketing ploy. While the money is being used to support the students, many members of the public and local community are outraged by the means of its acquisition.

At the core of the condemnation is the claim that these fake pleas propagate stereotypes and turn a proud people, in this case Native Americans, into a charity case. Is such exploitation acceptable in this, or any scenario? As the Huffington Post writes: “ Is the profitability of poverty porn worth the perpetuation of false ideologies and stereotypes?” Sure, there may be more honest means of raising money for and awareness of an issue. However, as aid is ultimately a financial industry, the sad truth is that this honesty may not be as effective. ‘Recognisable’ suffering is what we, as the audience, have come to know through poverty porn and it is to this suffering we are perhaps most likely to respond.

Image sourced from http://www.theonion.com/articles/for-only-5-per-month-you-can-help-continue-photogr,10457/ 

But First, Let Me Take a Historical Selfie

While there is a general consensus that the selfie, in all its duck-faced glory, displays the narcisstic, self-indulged tendencies of today’s youth, there is no denying the significant impact this new genre of ‘art’ is having on photography and meaning itself.

Jerry Saltz describes how the #selfiemovement is changing the way in which we communicate. Selfies provide instant visual communication and imply, “control as well as the presence of performing, self-criticality and irony.” Selfies are an intrinsic part of creating a digital avatar- the ‘virtu-real’ you.

A relatively new selfie-nomenon is what we will call in this blog the ‘historical selfie’: there are scores of selfies taken at heritage sites of historical significance around the world. Some of these selfies are causing controversy, in particular those taken at sensitive locations such as Auschwitz and the 9/11 memorial in New York. These selfies are seen by many to violate the solemnity and respectful memory inherent to these sites.

Selfie at the 9/11 memorial- New York

Selfie at the 9/11 memorial- New York

However, we cannot always be so quick to judge the nature of these photos as disrespectful. Thomas P Thurnell conducted a study in 2009 on youth visiting Auschwitz. His findings displayed that every person who took a photo at the camp did not have a desire to convert the site into a spectacle, but rather to create a meaningful documentation of their personal experience.

As such, perhaps these selfies convey an attempt to connect time and historical significance in a process of place-making, as Elizabeth Losh writes, allowing the sense of a place to be constructed around a tourist’s personal context and insights.

A perfect example of selfies having the ability to encapsulate such profound meaning can be found on the Tumblr blog Selfies at Serious Places. In line with the name, here selfies from ‘serious’ locations around the world are published; however the artists are given the opportunity to explain the meaning behind their photos.

One photo, taken by Jake Fletcher, shows Jake standing; mouth agape, in front of the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine.

Jake's selfie at Chernobyl

Jake’s selfie at Chernobyl

It was here in 1986 that a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred, with the ensuing contamination affecting an estimated 500,000 workers. Jake’s caption reveals a more meaningful evolution of selfies.

That expression on my face is meant to be shock, not some vacuous, feeble attempt at narcissistic irony… I hope that some people will now think about images like mine for just a bit longer before bemoaning that they show society’s failures laid bare before them.

Jake’s profound comments demonstrate that we cannot so easily dismiss the selfie as an act of narcissistic self-affirmation in a digital world dictated by a currency of likes.

Raising Aliyah- A Reflection

When a person genuinely opens up to you, it is almost as if you are linked by an invisible bond. Every emotion and nuance is passed through this channel, and for a short time you are given a rare and precious insight into the life of another.

This assignment was not only an exercise in creating a cohesive audio report, but also in empathy. While it is one thing to convert an interview into a coherent sound bite, it is a completely different task to truly capture the raw emotion of a personality in only two minutes.

Although I prepared a list of questions for my subject prior to the interview, I did not anticipate which questions would generate a strong reaction. Caitlin, who I see at least once every week, transformed into a completely different person as she confided in me her innermost thoughts and feelings. One of the most difficult parts of the interview was when she told me that she cries herself to sleep every night. This is something I’m sure very few people know about her; which makes it all the more precious to be told. It made me realise that one of the most important things to establish in an interview is trust.

Technically, this was achieved by conducting the interview in a small, quiet room which created an intimate environment. I sat adjacent to Caitlin and held the microphone on the table between us so as to minimise any potential disruption from moving it back and forth.

Cutting the interview down to two minutes was also difficult. With 20 minutes of raw material, it would have been possible to create a dozen different stories depending on the quotes I extracted and the angle of the story I chose.

In Caitlin’s case, there were about eight sections that stood out as the most powerful parts of the interview. These were the times when she had spoken about Aliyah’s future and how her own life has been affected by raising a special needs child.

Caitlin was an extremely strong and articulate subject. For this reason I ensured that any music and sound effects that were added to the recording in post-production complemented the personality of her speech, while not overpowering her. In the end I believe the instrumental track I chose fits well with the timing of the piece and helps to create a poignant, yet uplifting tone. Furthermore, the pauses between each section are essential, allowing the music to rise and the significance of Caitlin’s words to be absorbed.

One of the tricks I discovered in using the editing platform Hindenburg Journalist Pro was to fill the gaps between Caitlin’s speech with ambient sound from the interview. This eliminated the often abrupt cut-off of the recording. Adding a fade to these additions also helped to create a smoother transition between each section.

The final product exceeded my expectations of what I believed I could achieve. I did not expect to be granted such an incredible insight into a very personal topic, although I think that I did justice to both Caitlin and her story in the finished piece. While every interview I conduct in my future as a journalist may not always yield as successful results, it’s a privilege to be involved in such a case when it does.

Stephanie Allman

The audio report Raising Aliyah can be found at https://soundcloud.com/steph-allman/raising-aliyah

A Life Lesson

“The world’s a big place. You can’t do or be everything, nor should you. Life is bigger than any one man. But when you read about other people’s lives, when you read their stories, you catch a glimpse of a world bigger than your own. You may never travel a hundred miles from where you were born, but if you read stories, you’ll get to see the entire world.”Steve Dublanica

It’s funny how your perception of the size of the world changes as you grow up. As a child, your house is your nation, the backyard your countryside, and the fences your national border. A play date at a friend’s house is the equivalent of travelling overseas, as you are whisked away to a foreign land bursting with strange and exotic sights, sounds and smells.

There are many times that I wish I could be transported back to this blissful ignorance of childhood. As our knowledge of the world ripens with age, so too does our responsibility as global citizens to act on the injustices that face us all. Poverty, famine, war, asylum seekers. As a university student studying in a first world country, these issues, like a difficult math equation, are almost impossible to fully grasp. Growing up in a prosperous environment, where both food on our plates and clothes on our backs are a careless given, it is difficult to fathom the hardships suffered by many people around the world. We are caught up in our own microcosmic bubbles. A bad day is when our phone prematurely runs out of battery before the sun sets, when we step in a puddle with our new Gucci heels, or the only milk left in the fridge is skim. First world problems.

And yet, when it’s all that we know, we can hardly be blamed in our exaggeration of these struggles. BCM 111 has opened my eyes to the world beyond our horizon. My global ‘consciousness’ has grown through exploration of key concepts including globalisation, transnational film and television, hybridisation and glocalisation. Furthermore, it is the insight into the lives of other people and their stories that have expanded the borders of my international knowledge exponentially. While this personal growth may seem like a drop of water in the ocean of truly tackling global issues, this education is what I believe to be the first step towards enacting real change, and to making a difference on the world stage.

Global Warming- Have You Thaw-ed About It?

My grandpa is a man of habit. Without fail, come 6:00 am on a weekend visit (when even the resident magpies are only just greeting a new day) the thunderous beat of military marching music compiled from the centuries reverberates down the hallway. This rude awakening, mischievously rousing all sleeping souls to consciousness, is followed by a perfectly cooked cheese soufflé for breakfast, made light and fluffy in an attempt to soften the trauma of reveille. Grandpa is also a man of firm beliefs; the youth of today are lazy, technology (especially the mobile phone) is distracting, and climate change is a political hoax.

While the former two may be considered blatant subjectivity, the last notion holds a more substantiated truth. In a superficial global media environment in which ‘objective truth’ appears to increasingly be an ideal rather than an attainable reality, fair and balanced reporting of such issues is often overshadowed by political and economic agendas. Climate change reporting in Australia certainly follows this trend, reported through the lens of politicians, pundits and commentators who frame the issue as a political conflict rather than a matter that requires an urgent, global-scale response. In an attempt to present an ‘objective’ view on climate change that is in line with journalism ethics of being “honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information” (reading), an ironic conundrum has become apparent in associated media reporting. Over 90% of scientists worldwide agree that climate change is real. And yet the documentary A Burning Question, reveals that the media remains contradictory in its reporting of the issue by utilisinga form of informational bias known as ‘false balance’.

Climate Change- A political tool rather than an urgent issue?

Climate Change- A political tool rather than an urgent issue?

Evidence of climate change is now undeniable. Rather than addressing active responses to the issue, the media is stagnating in itsexploration of authenticity.For this reason it is little wonder that my grandpa, along with many others, remains sceptical of climate change. A balanced media perspective on the issue justifies this scepticism; however this approach needs to altered. Rather than those who hold the power to enact real change using climate change as a political tool for self-promotion and controversy, the media needs to address its pressing implications, such as the imminent effect of climate change on small island states in the Pacific.

While a healthy media should strive to present news with objectivity and balance, the reporting of climate change needs to be converted from a heated debate to a considered response.