The relationship between race and gender issues and the news media was discussed Monday night in a panel discussion, "Media Messages, Missteps and Inside Stories from Newsrooms and Campaigns." Media coverage of Hillary Clinton's cleavage, Hurricane Katrina and domestic violence were among the topics discussed by the panel of three top journalists.
Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute, Lisa Green, senior producer of NBC's "Weekend Today," and Glenn Proctor, vice president and executive editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch spoke to students, senior citizens and local high school students. Roberta Oster Sachs, associate dean for External Outreach at the T.C. Williams School of Law and a former producer of "Dateline NBC," moderated the discussion.
"We can't look at race, gender, class and sexuality without looking at the media," Sachs said before introducing the panelists.
Woods began the discussion by separating the current state of the media and race and gender relations into three cause and effect groups. The first group dealt with the rapidly changing industry — fewer people are reading newspapers and watching television and finding their news elsewhere, he said.
"Our attention spans are constantly challenged by new widgets and blidgets and blogs. Oh my!" he said.
The second piece concerned the decline of minority leadership in the industry with the two most prominent Latino journalists leaving their jobs at The New York Times and Los Angeles Times during recent months.
Finally, Woods said, the changing face of diversity is making things difficult for the media.
"People are more diverse, so they're colliding with each other in more ways. The media should be able to do something with that information," he said as he discussed events such as the Jena 6 and Sen. Joe Biden's apology for calling Sen. Barack Obama articulate.
Woods said the media was probably more important today than at any other time in the country's history because, ultimately, somebody has to add context to information, which should become the evolving role of the media.
Green focused on gender relations and media coverage, commenting on a July 20 Washington Post article concerning Hilary Clinton's newer and lower necklines, written by a reporter who won the first Pulitzer Prize for fashion reporting.
"If you don't want to read an insight into Senator Clinton's wardrobe, you can go elsewhere," Green said. "I'm here to say that if we're looking at gender, as women, we have to be careful not to be too defensive. Fashion is a mirror to our thinking."
Proctor said the media's main job was to fairly and accurately cover the news, but the job was becoming more difficult as race and gender issues impact coverage.
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When Sachs asked the panelists if the media was focusing too much on race and gender during its coverage of the 2008 presidential elections, all of the panelists agreed that the coverage needed to be about the qualifications of the individual, aside from their races and genders.
"I want to know how race and gender affects these people but I also want to know how he thinks about the war," Woods said about Obama. "Don't come to me and ask 'as a black man,' how do you feel about the war or about Hillary? Ask me about the war. Journalism does a bad job with that."
Green agreed that at times, the coverage of the candidates has focused too much on race and gender, "but I think coverage has moved away from 'will these people make it [as candidates]?'" she said.
At the end of the discussion, all of the panelists agreed that ultimately, news consumers wanted to find themselves in the story.
"Give me a story about love and redemption," Woods said. "It doesn't matter what the story is if I can find myself in the story. A good story is a good story"
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