The Way We Live – Sunday 25th July 2010: women in media

Recently I’ve been talking with someone who is planning a “women in media” seminar for Queensland high school students.  The idea is to have a panel of women from a variety of fields – radio, print, TV, magazines and the blogosphere –come together to share their collective wisdom. It’s always interesting to hear how people got their first jobs.  What they wish they’d known in the early days.  The biggest stuff-ups they’ve made. It’s the type of event I would’ve loved to attend when I was a teen in the 80s.

In the 20 years since I left school it’s easy to think the way women are represented in the media is changing for the better. And it is. I think.

Turn on the Channel Seven news at night and you’ll see the superb fifty-something Kay McGrath.  I love the fact McGrath’s been reading me the news since the 80s when she was at TV0.  But it says a lot that McGrath – an award-winning journo in her early 50s – is apparently the oldest of the female newsreaders on Australian TV. We seem to be perfectly comfortable allowing older men on our TV screens for as long as they want to be. But a fifty-something woman reading our news? For starters, she’d better look good. Really good. And even then the media will routinely speculate when her time is up.  Meanwhile her male co-anchor can have a BMI of 35, the face of a dropped pie and be wearing a toupee.

When Channel Ten announced it was doing its own female talk show, The Circle – some media commentators predicted the show wouldn’t work unless there was conflict amongst the women. This is the strategy behind the US talk show The View where staunch Republican Elizabeth Hasselbeck has been known to fly into a rage at her left-wing co-hosts. But Ten management and Executive Producer Pam Barnes knew better, opting for laughter and inclusiveness over catfights when choosing the hosts (Denise Drysdale, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes and Gorgi Coghlan). As a result the show’s ratings have doubled since it started six months ago.  Perhaps this time it was media commentators rather than a network that under-estimated what female viewers truly want to watch.

Meanwhile in radio, it’s only been in recent years in Brisbane that a woman’s name has actually led a commercial breakfast radio team.   In 2006 when 97.3FM started seriously chasing the female listener market they hired the formidable Robin Bailey and put her in the driver’s seat.  Today “Robin, Terry and Bob” are the number one station amongst women aged 25-54. Similarly on Nova, it is the hilarious Meshel Laurie whose name leads their breakie crew.  It may sound insignificant but when women have been – and continue to be – hired as the ‘ha ha’ girls in commercial radio, it’s refreshing to see smart women given top billing for a change.

As for the Women In Media seminar, I’ll let you know more details as they come to hand. As they say in TV-land … stay tuned.

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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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