The New Media Message For Women
| October 21, 2008
While the old boys’ network continues to dominate mainstream media, women are tending to look elsewhere for their news and information. This year, the blogosphere has emerged as a powerful venue for women’s political activity as well.
“The Time Warner Summit: Politics 2008,” held last week at its headquarters in New York City and co-sponsored with CNN, was a corporate branded event with big name heavy-hitters taking on questions about media, news, and the election. After attending both days of the conference, it reinforced my belief that digital media was the future for pushing out women’s stories, concerns, and dialogues.
There were many prominent women featured. Campbell Brown, CNN anchor, moderated the opening keynote roundtable comprised of four men. Candy Crowley, senior political correspondent at CNN, spoke during the Media Power vs. Political Power session. One of the most dynamic speakers over the two days was Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for CNN. Her persona and delivery style popped during a discussion with colleagues Wolf Blitzer and Fareed Zakaria and former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.
Whether you consider women and minorities successfully enmeshed in the total media picture or their specificity overlooked depends upon your point of view. But the conference was definitely a contrast to a presentation I recently attended at St. John’s University, which totally focused on the intersection of race and gender with the election story. There, a majority of the speakers were law professors presenting academic work.
The Time Warner symposium included one panel entitled Women and the 2008 Election: Playing Politics with Gender—Media, Candidates and the Majority Vote. Led by Lisa Witter, Fenton Communications COO and co-founder of SheSource—a “brain trust” of female experts—six women explored women as swing voters and the cultural phenomenon of Sarah Palin’s candidacy. In reference to Michelle Obama, they also discussed whether you could be an outspoken black woman without being described as “angry” by media pundits.
As Witter pointed out while speaking to a full room of women—“wish there were more you!” she joked to the sprinkling of men—59 percent of primary voters were women. At the end of the discussion, Carol Jenkins, Women’s Media Center president, posed questions going forward for the media. She called for continued examination of “who is calling the shots, who is making the decisions, and who is missing from the picture.”
With the understanding that women do not get their narratives adequately told—if told at all—the need for a fresh playing field is palpable. In the new media, women have an opportunity to create their own communities and their own brands. Whether on the left or right of the political spectrum, a mommy blogger or a political blogger, women are flooding the Internet. A BlogHer/Compass Partners survey found 36.2 million women were actively participating in blogs. Of women online, 53 percent were reading blogs, 37 percent were posting comments, and 28 percent were writing or updating blogs.
I contacted Elisa Camahort Page, COO and co-founder of BlogHer, to find out what effect the election has had on the site. She told me that “an explosion of women were injecting themselves into the political conversation.” Previously on their blog directory, there were fewer than 300 entries devoted to politics/news. There are now 3,000. Camahort Page said that the most active conversations were political, and the top ten search terms included the four names of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. BlogHer created a voter manifesto targeting the topics of health care, the economy, Iraq, and the environment. Michelle Obama was a BlogHer contributor.
Like the more than 20,000 who signed a MomsRising letter to Sarah Palin— asking for her policy positions, women and “stay-at-home moms” feel the personal empowerment of being able to engage. “It’s a new world,” Camahort Page concluded.
Certain buzzwords and phrases were cited during the Time Warner conference with regularity, such as “democracy with a small d,” and “grassroots groundswell”; 2008 was dubbed the year of the “first Internet election.” As Jim VandeHei, co-founder of Politico pointed out, “Now, anybody can drive a story.” The founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, Andrew Rasiej, explained that while at one time people would talk about things “over the back fence or around the water cooler,” individuals are now “moving the message” via the web.
At a panel on The Digital Election: The Activist System and the Political Blogosphere, the relationship between activists and bloggers was parsed. With the social media movement allowing groups of people to “coalesce” around a niche interest or concern to inform and mobilize, the future trend–—in respect to flexibility and adaptability—is “granular.” As the shift to more mobile usage continues, activity will be even more intense. The days of a monopolized source of information are over.
Forty years after the advent of the second wave of feminism, a new set of tools are available to women. If embraced and set in motion, it could play an important role in irrevocably altering the glass ceiling that picked up 18 million cracks during the primary season.