Opinion | Women’s history month Community Chat lights fire under female journalists

At the March 26 Daily Iowan Community Chat honoring women in journalism, one DI Managing Editor reflects on her role as a leading lady in news.


Alexandra Skores, Managing Editor

Shania Twain said it best.

On March 26, The Daily Iowan diversity, equity, and inclusion team hosted four prominent women in journalism to talk at the fifth “Community Chat” event the newsroom has ever held.

In my own newsroom, women make up approximately 72 percent of the workspace, according to a 2020 staff audit. I know this isn’t typical for the industry. When I step into my first professional newsroom out of college, I know I may be staring at a table full of men. Hearing from the women in the chat ignited a fire within me.

Caroline Cummings, reporter at CBS Minnesota and former statehouse reporter for Des Moines, has enjoyed all things politics and investigative in her career. Lyz Lenz, author of “God Land” and “Belabored,” has written countless stories on her identity and moderated a town hall with U.S. presidential hopefuls.

Roxanna Scott, Managing Editor of USA TODAY Sports, has directed coverage of national and Olympic Games for the network. Andrea Sahouri, news reporter for the Des Moines Register, has served as a prominent figure in journalism, after recently being acquitted by a jury for charges brought against her for covering a Black Lives Matter protest for the Register.

It’s no question that these women are badass. Someday, I want to be just like them.

All four talked about their identities and how that plays a significant role in the field of journalism they work in.

Cummings discussed the added visual elements of being a female broadcaster. On air, one can see the female reporter and her reporting, and she often takes comments on what she is wearing and the way her hair falls. She also said women on camera often face the added discussion of their merits and are told they didn’t get the job for any reason other than looks.

According to a report done in USA TODAY, women represent approximately 52 percent of the population, but are only seen on TV 38 percent of the time.

“When I was in Iowa, I did everything by myself,” Cummings said. “Lugging 30 pounds of equipment up and down capitol steps, setting up the camera, doing the reporting, doing the editing of the video … despite all of that work, all people seemed to care about was how I looked and how I dressed.”

Lenz has written many columns on her identity and other perspectives, and said she surrounds herself with a support system when she is receiving constant feedback from others on her work.

According to a 2014 report by the International Women’s Media Foundation, nearly one-third of female journalists consider leaving the profession because of online attacks and threats. She stressed the importance among writers of saying something of value and how that triggers a response within others.

“One, you’ll level up. Two, the more successful you are, the more people will try to pull you down, so just get used to it,” Lenz said. “Three, people are allowed to criticize so just log off.”

At USA TODAY, Scott made changes in her own network after being named managing editor in June 2020.

According to a 2018 report of about 75 different sports-media companies by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, only 10 percent of sports reporters at the time were women. Scott said being intentional is one of the most important parts of making calls in sports journalism.

Noting sports journalism’s heavily male audience, Scott has made her staffers think about the language they use in identifying sports and calling it like it is. Men’s basketball or women’s basketball, etc.

“Language is so important — and when you have a platform like ours, everything counts,” Scott said.

Sahouri said she is a bit naive on the state of journalism after her own experiences and the threats that have increased against journalists. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there were 131 arrests/detainments of journalists in 2020. There have been nine in 2021 so far. Noting the arrests made in Los Angeles just the night before, Sahouri said she feels this has opened her eyes to the career before her.

“I don’t think I would have been taken to trial if the state hadn’t been trying to send a message,” Sahouri said.

These four women exemplify what it means to overcome and persevere, despite the obstacles women are faced with in the field. I am grateful to have such amazing women to look up to and follow as I head on to my next chapter in reporting.

As Shania once said, “Let’s go girls.”

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.