Throw — and code — like a girl

Back in the early days of the Internet, some feminists theorized that “computer-mediated communication” would erase the lopsided power imbalances of gender. Online, they imagined, “male” and “female” might not matter so much.That, alas, is not the case. Gender constructs still exist online and, worse, the conversation on the web — like in the physical world — often defaults to male.

Case in point: Software used by Little League Baseball to write game stories from box scores called Mo’Ne Davis “him” in a lead describing Davis’s powerhouse pitching

In case you missed it, Davis has made sure that the phrase “you throw like a girl” will henceforth be a huge compliment. She’s a 13-year-old girl from Philadelphia who’s been hurling baseballs at speeds up to 70 mph in the Little League World Series. That’s as impressive as it sounds. Most boys in the league, reports NPR, throw at 50-60 mph. 

It’s easy to blame the pronoun error on a computer glitch, but it’s not a glitch at all. Rather, the software was following directions, strings of code written by a programmer who probably didn’t think twice about assigning the male gender pronoun to all baseball players. (While boys are the majority of Little Leaguers, girls have been allowed on the field since 1974.) 

The error is a powerful example of how gender imbalance in technology fields can damage the credibility of the journalism we’re creating in the digital world. It’s likely that software programs like the ones used to generate basic game stories will become more common in the future, and it’s important that they’re created by programers from diverse backgrounds. 

Found in Montreal

Just got back from a quick trip across the border for a workshop on teaching entrepreneurial journalism. Stay tuned for a rundown of what I learned. Meanwhile, enjoy what may be the finest piece of schwag I’ve picked up in a long time:




See the gap

Here’s an impressive  -and depressing – interactive graphic that shows the extent of the racial and gender inequalities at the top levels of American media.  The project was commissioned by Stratch and includes some impressive research into the leadership history of big-name publications. Do give it a read and spend a few minutes clicking around.


All politics is local (journalism)

One of the many political opinions on display lately. Photo/Meg Heckman

One of the many political opinions on display lately. Photo/Meg Heckman

It’s been a decade since the bitter cold winter when I started covering politics. Plenty of Democrats wanted a chance to unseat President George W. Bush, so New Hampshire was bustling with candidates. It was a rare stump speech that  didn’t reference 9/11, and most voters I met knew at least one person stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Everyone who turned out to hear the potential challengers or, later, the president himself believed that this election would somehow make things better.

Sure, politics has plenty of problems. There’s too much money. Too much celebrity. Too much disconnect between the loud debates and the everyday lives of most Americans. But the political process is also beautiful. A campaign is a microcosm of a community: coalitions, networks, passions that bring people together and drive them apart. In the months before an election, voters become more public with their anger, their fears, their hopes. They display their opinions on lawns, on car bumpers and with pins on their lapels. Collectively, we consider who we are to ourselves and who we want to be in the eyes of the world.

And, as a journalist on the campaign trail, it was my job to find them at their coffee shops and their town halls, flip open my notebook and listen.

When I decided on the career shift that would eventually land me a teaching job at UNH, I assumed I was done covering politics. I was wrong. Which is awesome. Because I really missed it.

Since early June I’ve been filing dispatches from New Hampshire for the Boston Globe’s new political section, a visually stunning effort called Capital that appears Fridays in print and throughout the week online. (Here’s Poynter’s take on the project, and a look at the section’s design philosophy.) Capital was great when it launched, and it’s only gotten better since then.

As for my own contributions, I’ve written about the new proprietor of an old political landmark, the GOP’s quest for a perfect site for the 2016 Republican National Convention and Bob Smith’s return to politics after a 12 year hiatus.

Tonight, I’m heading out to work on another piece, and I’m looking forward to hearing what stories New Hampshire’s voters have to tell.

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This month’s goal: $12,000 for JAWS

Updated 7/3/2014: Thanks to dozens of generous donors, this project was a huge success. We raised nearly $9,500 during the month of June, and we’re confident we’ll reach the $12,000 mark by the end of the summer. Running the campaign was a lot of fun — but also a lot of work, which is why things have been quiet around here for the last month. I’ll be back to my regular blogging habits after Fourth of July weekend. — MH 

Crowdrise_logo_151x48-1For the next 30 days, I’m leading a crowdfunding campaign to send 10 early-career female journalists to a conference organized by the Journalism & Women Symposium. Our goal is to raise $12,000 — enough to provide these talented women with several days of mentorship, networking opportunities and leadership training.

Programs like this are crucial to newsroom diversity, and newsroom diversity is vital for telling accurate stories about all segments of our society. Although women are the majority of entry-level reporters, they are far less likely than their male peers to rise to management positions. Supporting emerging female journalists is one way to counter that trend.

I gave $25 to the campaign this morning, and it’s my goal to convince 10 people in my social and professional networks to do the same by the end of this week.

Please visit our CrowdRise page, watch our fantastic video and consider supporting this important cause.


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More data about gender, tech and journalism

Some of my research into women’s leadership in digital journalism has been published in the latest edition of Media Report to Women. Read it here.




J schools reboot for next generation needs

Journalism education — much like journalism itself — is in the middle of a massive reboot, one with the potential to redefine how news is produced and consumed in the decades to come. Students still learn the basics, but digital is the default, and the most innovative schools are churning out graduates with skills newsrooms may not yet know how to use.  Read the full story at


Abramson aftermath

I have no idea what caused the firing of Jill Abramson and, unless your name is Arthur Sulzberger, neither do you. So I’m not going to opine on why it happened or what it means. It is, however, worth reviewing the conversation that’s followed her ouster. Here are three things I’ve learned in the last week:

1.) Female journalists get paid less than male journalists. An Indiana University survey — cited in this release from the Pew Research Center — found that women working in news have salaries about 83 percent lower than their male peers. Amanda Bennett, former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, explains how this can still be true:

I have managed at five organizations over nearly 20 years. At each of them I saw women paid less than men in what I thought were identical positions. Was everyone lying who said they were committed to equal pay? I came to believe not. It was worse than that. It became clear that we saw things differently. I saw two people who, I believed, were doing the same work but being paid unequally. Those above me saw a story and a history, something that they thought caused the man to deserve higher pay: This one had just stepped down from a senior position and taken his higher pay with him. That one had been hired from a higher-paying organization. Yet another had been offered a job with a competitor. How many women in the past decade have been promoted past their peers, only to see in the spreadsheets the sad evidence that their own stories were apparently not as persuasive?

In the days since the Abramson story broke, I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by female journalists in my networks. For many, this feeling of worthlessness caused them to leave leadership jobs they loved or abandon journalism altogether.

2.) There’s something called the “glass cliff and it makes life as a female editor really, really hard. Susan Glasser, editor of Politico Magazine, has another name for the dynamic: editing while female.

There are shockingly few women at the top anywhere in America, and it’s a deficit that is especially pronounced in journalism, where women leaders remain outliers, category-defying outliers who almost invariably still face a comeuppance…These women editors have done most of the things the professional women’s empowerment class recommends. But still, they were not really able to succeed. They—and I—remained stuck in a trap not of our own making. It’s called editing while female.

Other top female editors have written similar accounts in the last week. Here’s one from Kara Swisher and another by Amanda Wilson.

3.) Sexism in journalism extends far beyond the corner office. For some examples, check out this new Tumblr called Journalism While Female. It’s full of accounts from female reporters, editors and producers who have faced sexual harassment, discrimination and other gender-based problems on the job.

But, as the always amazing Robert Hernandez reminds us, the answer isn’t to give up. Instead, do the opposite. Entrench. Push back. Make them change:

School’s out for summer

What the hell happened to the last month? Actually, I know exactly what happened: finals. Lots and lots of finals to grade. And portfolios and projects and essays to read. And students dropping by my office to talk about their summer plans* or ask advice on applying for jobs. It all unfolded at a pace similar to the week before an election: dizzying, thrilling and, in hindsight, rather blurry.

It’s over now, and I’m looking ahead to a summer of consulting, freelancing and — here’s the tricky one — wrapping my head around what it means to be a writer in a beautiful, fascinating and overwhelming digital world.

The consulting is already underway. I’m spending a few days each week in the newsroom at the Concord Monitor, the newspaper where I worked as a reporter and, later, web editor for many years. The paper’s staff is young and talented, and it’s my job to help them build stories with all the digital tools at their disposal. (I suppose it’s a little like a professional version of last year’s Summer Tech Camp.)

I have some stories in the works for NetNewsCheck, and I’m hoping to finally start a reporting project that’s been on my list for years. (Details to come.)

As for modern writing, I’m heading to a workshop in a couple of weeks that explores the intersection of writing and yoga. I’m not sure what to expect, but I hope to understand why I seem to struggle more now than ever before to put a few decent sentences on a page.

I’ll be blogging about it all, so please stay tuned.

*Speaking of summer plans, be sure to follow my colleague Tom Haines as he embarks on the first leg of a journey through what he calls “landscapes of fuel in America.” He launched his blog last week, and it’s already a great read.


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