It sort of snuck up on us. But women now lead or co-lead the major US media outlets.
There’s Kimberly Godwin at ABC News, Wendy McMahon at CBS News, Rashida Jones at MSNBC, Rebecca Blumenstein at NBC News, and Suzanne Scott at Fox News.
And, within the past few years alone, women’s leadership has stretched beyond traditional TV. There’s CEO Meredith Kopit Levien running the show at The New York Times; there’s Executive Editor Sally Buzbee frontrunning stories at the Washington Post; there’s Vanity Fair’s Editor-in-Chief Radhika Jones. There’s also a whole roster of women leaders at outlets like Reuters, Fortune, and McClatchy. (And just in case you missed it, Chris Licht’s tenure at CNN was cut short following a meltdown, just over a year after he stepped into his CEO role. The network is now managed on an interim basis by Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, and Eric Sherling.)
Let’s take a minute to appreciate that. And to applaud them.
And also to note that this feels sort of right, given that so many of the men who ran these businesses were felled by #MeToo scandals or what felt like ego-driven playground behavior. Which says something about the culture of these spaces.
And that matters.
Because it matters a lot who calls the shots in journalism, since their beliefs and biases certainly color and flavor what they report –– and how they report it. A prime example: Matt Lauer (yes, that Matt Lauer) interviewing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and his differing degrees of aggressiveness. Or even Tim Russert quizzing Hillary on obscure world leaders’ names and asking Barack Obama about his favorite Bible verse, a double standard that was so obvious that Saturday Night Live turned it into a skit.
Maybe when you watch the news, you consciously notice this particular discrepancy in how different people are treated, or you notice another discrepancy. But these different standards become part of the air that we breathe, and we internalize them. One example: I have a woman relative who views herself as a full-throated feminist, yet finds every woman politician we talk about to be overly aggressive, or too shrill, or too ambitious, or doesn’t like her clothes. And never likes her laugh.
(As an aside: We think about the potentially corrosive power of the media a lot at Ellevest, concerning the messages we all internalize around gender and money. American media delivers very positive, affirmative messaging to men regarding money — all about growing their wealth. Meanwhile, two-thirds of articles written to women about money are negative. And most of those, in turn, paint her as a spendthrift.)
So we should 1,000% celebrate these enormously accomplished women in the media. And we should acknowledge the ray of hope for a more balanced reporting and positioning of the issues (and better women-centered workplaces).
That said … there’s unfortunately an “on the other hand.”
These women may be on the proverbial glass cliff. This happens when women are pushed out on a ledge when business is poor or during periods of crisis, and no one else (*cough* men) wants the job.
I’ve been there before: when I was brought in to turn Merrill Lynch around after Bank of America bought it, and when I was brought in to turn around Citi’s conflict-ridden research business after it had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for said conflicts. So I know from experience that the glass cliff can be a lonely place: trying to fix big business problems — problems that other people made and were unable to fix themselves — and doing it in the public eye.
Traditional media is almost the dictionary definition of a glass cliff: Ratings at CNN are at all-time lows, and an ongoing writer’s strike with the Writer’s Guild of America is bad news for the broader media business. Looking beyond that, the outlook for traditional media is pretty poor with the advent of generative AI, which today can write a pretty passable article, and is only improving. (More broadly than this tangible risk to traditional media, AI’s demonstrated gender and racial biases represent further risks for all of us.)
With the upcoming election — and the potential for misinformation, deep fakes, and more climate disasters — the stakes here are pretty high. So you can find us all continuing to look for different angles to journalism in a few of our favorite places like The Meteor and The 19th, even as we cheer for these women in their powerful roles.
And we can’t help but wonder, following all the applause, where this progress will take us next. Will the victory be too short-lived to tell? If a trend like this continues, and more women start infiltrating these powerful spaces, how much of that inspiration can drive the creation of more opportunities — and wealth — for women everywhere?
We’re willing to buckle up for the ride to find out.