Can female students change Britain’s media industry?


The author wrote on the trends from the view of Kettle Magazine editors. (Photo: Red Chilli Publishing Ltd.)

One trend that has been present as of late in the US is the rise of women studying journalism. However, this trend does not apply just here, but also in the UK, where recent research from the university application charity UCAS showed more women were studying journalism compared to men. This trend also comes in Britain as more women are taking places at university courses.

Despite that, there is a similarity between the two countries – more men are getting jobs, an issue cited in research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. What does this research mean when it comes to the transition from degree to employment?

Recently, Kettle Magazine, the publication to which I work for, did a Women’s season, devoting 4 weeks to women’s issues and portrayals. I wrote a piece on how the issue plays out among Kettle’s 28 editors, 23 of whom are women, indicative of current educational trends and against the culture of the industry.

Indeed, research cited by the Epigram student newspaper of the University of Bristol in England showed that 64 percent of student publications in the UK have a female editor or co-editors where one is female.

In addition, the chairs of the Student Publication Association in this and the previous academic year are women – Jem Collins for 2015-16, and Sophie Davis for 2014-15. For the record, Kettle is a member publication of the SPA, and I hold a personal membership. Collins did not respond to requests for an interview for this blog post.

Yet, What I found among my colleagues was while the concern of sexism was present, the main focus was on the journalism. However, women can play a role in changing the norm, as my colleague Kealie Mardell said in the piece.

However, my colleague Rebecca Parker says it’s quite the opposite when it comes to women entering the industry in the UK. Parker was able to find a job almost immediately after finishing her degree at Canterbury Christ Church University, and says it’s all down to being proactive.

“It’s just in a state of flux at current,” Parker said in an email interview with SPJ. “The issue of the decline in print meant that there were a lack of job prospects, however as the media moves in sync with the digital age, more job opportunities are becoming available.”

Parker notes however there are still some issues, but they can be solved.

“It is merely an individual’s motivation and drive that will allow them to succeed, regardless of gender. I do acknowledge that women are not equal in terms of pay and this needs to be addressed accordingly in the form of campaigns, however women can only achieve this by what they’re already doing – working hard and being proactive.”

It is unclear in light of these trends what the response will be as far as the media industry is concerned in London and across the UK. However, these trends raise the question of should there be change in Britain, would other countries, like the US, follow?

For the moment, the ball is in the industry’s court.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to the SPJ blog network on British media issues and social media’s role in the future of journalism.

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Co-Student Life Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ International Journalism Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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The UN General Assembly Is Meeting: Put Press Freedom on the Agenda?

Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists has a featured piece in Columbia Journalism Review on how the United Nations should — but really can’t — do something about press freedom.

What can the UN do for press freedom?

Bottom line: Not much, but it can make some nice statements.

Responding to an upsurge in media killings, particularly of journalists working in conflict zones, the UN has prioritized the issue of journalists’ safety in recent years. In 2012, UNESCO, the UN agency charged with defending press freedom, launched a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The following year, the General Assembly passed a resolution to create an International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists, marked each year on November 2.

In July 2013, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, become the first ever journalist to address the Security Council. She noted, “Most journalists who die today are not caught in some wartime crossfire, they are murdered just because of what they do. And those murders are rarely ever solved; the killers rarely ever punished.” Last May, the Security Council passed a historic resolution reaffirming the international legal protections for journalists covering armed conflict. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regularly condemns the killing of journalists, and calls on member states to take action.

All of these measures are important, and have tremendous symbolic value. But it is difficult to point to concrete advances in response to UN action. In fact, the level of violence against journalists has increased in recent years, and imprisonment of journalists around the world has reached record levels. Recent high-profile cases—including the conviction of three Al Jazeera reporters in Egypt; the ongoing imprisonment of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in Iran; and the seven-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to renowned investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan—demonstrate that when it comes to imprisoning journalists, repressive governments are increasingly unresponsive to international pressure.

Simon argues journalists, diplomats and other human rights defenders need to use the occasion of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, when leaders from around the world come to New York to argue for more action to protect journalists in their home countries.

Over the years, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which I head, has used the General Assembly to secure commitments from a number of heads of state, including former President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who agreed to appoint a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who committed during a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations to receive a CPJ delegation in Ankara.

Simon says this one-on-one approach should not let the United Nations, itself, off the hook, but it appears to the only way — for now — to get things done.

He argues journalists should demand accountability from the leaders who speak a the UNGA for their violations of press freedom. By just reporting the speeches and not looking at the records of the speakers, journalists become accomplices in efforts to whitewash media repression.


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Thailand: Where Exporting Free Press Is An Issue

The Thai printer of the International New York Times refused to publish the Tuesday, September 22, edition because of a front page story about the health of the Thai king. Seems the printer thought the story insulted the king, and such insults are forbidden by law.

Thai printers refuse to publish New York Times edition over article about king

Roy Greenslade at The Guardian has a wonderful piece on how this episode shows the difficulties in promoting press freedom around the world.

Thai ban on New York Times shows difficulty of exporting press freedom

Strict lèse-majesté laws in Thailand crimimalise those who are adjudged to have defamed or insulted members of the royal family.

So a factual front-page NY Times article reporting that 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is in declining health and that the succession is in doubt was deemed too sensitive to allow to appear in print.

Thailand’s ministry of information has form in terms of censorship. It has blocked blogs and news websites, including Mail Online, for articles that refer to the colourful private life of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has been divorced and/or separated (no-one is sure which) from three wives.

Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in lèse-majesté convictions. But they are hardly new. In 2002, a local distributor of the The Economist withheld its publication because it made an “inappropriate” reference to the monarchy.

The  Times made it clear the decision not to publish came from the local printer and was not endorsed by the Times.

Basic information about the leadership of a country is considered standard fare in countries with free press, but not so much in other places.

We already know how news about the health of Chinese government leaders is treated like a state secret. (The Soviet Union was the same way, in the bad old days of the Cold War.)

Now a printer in Thailand is taking its reverence for its king to an extreme illogical point by not publishing a newspaper that has factual information about the health of the monarch. And, let us not even go into the whole restrictions on free speech that lèse-majesté imposes on the Thai people and visitors to Thailand.


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Lessons from the Wright Brothers’ First Flight

Steve Buttry has a great piece: Media lessons from ‘The Wright Brothers’: What historic stories are we missing today?

The lesson here is to be open minded and look for the unusual.

Today this can also be applied to looking for connections between international and local events.

Maybe local reporters may not be missing out on history, but they could be missing out on excellent stories by not digging deeper into local immigrant communities or economic connections with the rest of the world. (And again, I am not talking about Chinese-made products in the local Wal-Mart or the local Hyundi dealership sales.)

Many American companies are owned by foreign companies. Here is an excellent list: Ten Classic American Brands That Are Foreign-Owned

What they did not mention was how IBM sold off their computer operations to the Chinese company Lenovo. Or how Ben & Jerry’s is really owned by Unilever out of the UK or how a Chinese company now owns the AMC movie theater chain.

Yep, there are a lot of local-global connections, all that is needed is some imagination and willingness to look beyond the surface.

First published at Journalism, Journalists and the World

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Justice Breyer: US Laws Are Linked To The Rest Of The World

Just as the U.S. economy is connected to the rest of the world, so too are our laws and courts.

Many thanks to Nina Totenberg at NPR for her interview with  Supreme Court Stephen Breyer on the connections between the rest of the world and the United States. (Law Beyond Our Borders: Justice Breyer Is On A Mission)

“I began to understand the important divisions in the world are not on the basis of race or nationality or country or where you live,” Breyer said. “They are really between people who believe in a rule of law as a way of deciding significant issues and those who do not believe in a rule of law — who believe in force.”

In the following years, he began noticing that the Supreme Court docket was very different from when he first became a justice in 1994. Instead of just a handful of cases involving the interdependence of law in this and other countries, he estimates that the cases involving foreign law now have grown to as much as a fifth of the docket.

Just as Main Street USA is linked with factories in China and banks in England and companies in Brazil**, so too are many of our laws. This is just one more example of why local journalists need to be curious about how local events are directly affected by global events.

**Just in case you were wondering: Budweiser is owned by a Brazilian company. So people who enjoy a cold Bud while watching a game, you are also helping the Brazilian economy.

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Journalism and Human Rights Groups Call on Obama to Pressure China

Chinese president Xi Jinping will be in Washington later this month. A group of human rights groups, including free press organizations, sent President Barack Obama a letter asking him to raise the issue of China’s violations of basic human rights, including freedom of the press.

One of the primary targets of the Chinese government’s hostility is also one of the country’s greatest human rights success stories in recent years: an independent and increasingly vocal civil society. In the face of risks ranging from arbitrary detention, torture, harassment of family members, and being disappeared, members of these groups have pushed for urgently needed transparency at national and local levels. It is these individuals who have reported courageously on official wrongdoing. It is this community that has provided legal counsel, and public health services, and spearheaded campaigns against discrimination and for the rights of diverse groups, ranging from ethnic or religious minorities to persons with disabilities.

The letter continued:

A number of non-governmental organizations have been forced to shut their doors as a result of legally baseless official harassment; writers and journalists are being silenced through spurious charges and prosecutions…

The history of the Chinese government’s animosity to free press and independent journalism is well documented.

The China Media Project in Hong Kong is a great source for more information. Likewise, the China Media Bulletin at Freedom House is another excellent way to keep up to date with China.

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Sports and Local-Global Connections

Writing about international connections does not mean getting a passport and spending loads of money visiting another country. A lot can be done right at home. (And this has to be good news to cash-strapped local news’ desks.)

A recent post at Journalism, Journalists and the World discusses how a soccer match between the US national men’s team and the Peruvian national team could have been a good excuse to look at the Peruvian community in the Washington, DC area.

Using Sports To Make A Global Connection


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Lessons China Needs To Learn From Hong Kong

As usual, journalist Frank Ching is spot on in his analysis.

When Hong Kong was handed over to China, people were saying Beijing could learn from Hong Kong how to enter the modern world of finance and politics. But there are lessons Beijing just does not seem to want to learn.

For example, when a major issue dominates the public’s concern, the Hong Kong government sets up commissions to investigate and report back to the people.

Such commissions are part of Hong Kong’s tradition. The British colonial government, between 1966 and the handover to China in 1997, set up commissions of inquiry 12 times to look into such issues as the cause of riots, a fire on a floating restaurant that claimed 34 lives, and the flight from Hong Kong of a police chief superintendent wanted on corruption charges. The strength of such inquiries is that they are conducted by individuals of standing in the community who, while appointed by the government, act independently. Often, such inquiries are headed by judges.

The latest issue is the discovery of lead in the Hong Kong drinking water. The pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong reacted in a way that does credit to the recent history of Hong Kong. They set up a commission.

[T]he commission is headed by Justice Andrew Chan, a high court judge. The commission’s terms of reference are to ascertain the causes of excess lead found in drinking water in public rental-housing developments; to review and evaluate the adequacy of the present regulatory and monitory system in respect of drinking-water supply in Hong Kong; and to make recommendations with regard to the safety of drinking water in Hong Kong.

Frank also points out that the people of Hong Kong know what the local standard is and how it compares to the World Health Organization standard. BTW, 10 micrograms per liter for both.

Now take the explosion at Tianjin — as Frank did — as an example of how not to investigate a major incident that have people concerned for their health and safety.

Premier Li Keqiang promised to “release information to society in an open and transparent manner.” But the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus has moved in as usual and demanded: “Use only copy from Xinhua and authoritative departments and media…. Do not make live broadcasts.”

Cyanide has been detected in the soil near the blast sites, but a Chinese official, Tian Weiyong, director of the environmental emergency centre of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, was quoted as saying that the level does not exceed the national standard. However, we are not told what the Chinese standard is and how it compares with WHO guidelines.

And just as a side note, Frank points out that even if China revealed the “Chinese standard,” it would probably not be of much comfort to the people. In the case of the Hong Kong lead-in-the-water situation, it would never come up as an issue in China. While the readings in Hong Kong exceeded WHO standards by four times, they would have been within Chinese standards of 50 micrograms of lead per liter of water, or five times that of the WHO.

Frank’s bottom line is something a lot of us have argued for years. When the Chinese people know the information they are getting has been carefully sifted and purified, they reject the official statements and turn to rumors for information. Rumors cause panic. And yet, the Chinese leadership says controlling information is necessary to preserve social stability. They really don’t seem to see how their actions are actually adding to instability. (Or at least they are acting as if they don’t see the connection between media control and social instability.)

Independent commissions to investigate disasters and access to the commission reports have provided stability to Hong Kong society. People may not like the results of the studies, but at least the process is public and the public knows how and why the conclusions were reached.

Frank points out

China can learn from the outside world is the creation of an independent body, such as a commission of inquiry, to show its determination to uncover the truth, regardless of where it leads. Such commissions are used around the world, including by the United Nations.

Setting up such a commission lifts a huge burden from the government’s shoulders. The trouble is that, in China, the Communist Party won’t let anyone else investigate.

He adds another problem finding individuals trusted by the people to serve on the commission. “After all, there is no independent judiciary,” he wrote, “no Independent Commission Against Corruption and no Office of the Ombudsman where people of integrity may flourish.”

This item originally appeared in Journalism, Journalists and the World.

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Summary of how Chinese authorities hinder Tianjin reporting

China Digital Times put together an excellent summary of how authorities are preventing Chinese and foreign media from covering the Tianjin explosions.

Tianjin: Journalism Stands as Official Line Stumbles


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SPJ Observes World Press Freedom Day

On May 4, SPJ’s International Journalism Community hosted a panel discussion via Google Hangout to mark World Press Freedom Day. Observed on May 3 each year, World Press Freedom Day “celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession,” explains UNESCO’s website.

Organized and hosted by IJC member Jennifer Karchmer, the community’s hour-long discussion included such topics as mounting threats to journalists worldwide; the lack of public understanding of the work and resources required to produce quality reporting; U.S. government policy regarding American hostages; SPJ’s role in supporting international journalists and fighting for press freedom; and best practices for safety while covering stories in difficult locations.

Panelists included four members of the International Journalism Community in addition to two other journalists doing important work on behalf of imprisoned reporters:

  • Benjamin Bathke, journalist, mediapreneur, and IJC member in St. Louis
  • Jennifer Karchmer, independent journalist and IJC member in Montpellier, France
  • Dana Priest, author, veteran investigative reporter with the Washington Post, academic at the University of Maryland and team leader of Press Uncuffed
  • Kami Rice, freelance journalist and IJC member in Marseille, France
  • Lejla Sarcevic, campaign director of Press Uncuffed and investigative and political reporter in Washington, DC
  • Elle Toussi, freelance journalist covering the Middle East, founder of In One Minute, and IJC member in Southern California

The event was reported using these social media hashtags: #SPJWPFD #PressFreedom #WPFD2015.


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