Staff Columnist

Driving the politics we need

A 2-year-old places hands on the wheel of an experimental toy car, developed to allow a broader range of children to steer it. (Kristen Norman/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
A 2-year-old places hands on the wheel of an experimental toy car, developed to allow a broader range of children to steer it. (Kristen Norman/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

You must be the media you hope to see in the world.

I spent several minutes yelling that statement at my computer monitor, but the monitor didn’t care. So, I decided to see if putting it in ink would make a difference.

A handful of opinion pieces sparked my outburst. The one that pushed me over the edge was written by Lauren Leader for the Hill, “We seem to be ignoring the women running for president.”

A quick summary: Female presidential candidates, despite having stellar qualifications, aren’t receiving the same level of media attention as their far less qualified male counterparts. The attention the women do receive is largely unflattering. (Media tracking by FiveThirtyEight and a study by Storybench support these assertions.) Reversing this tide requires reconfiguring the media, which remains, even in this era of #MeToo, “the domain of men.”

This last assertion is backed up by a statement from the Women’s Media Center that “male journalists continue to report most news, especially for wires and TV prime-time evening broadcasts.” I don’t doubt the research; as a female member of the media, I have a front-row seat.

What I do doubt is Leader’s solution to these problems: Demand 50-50 gender representation in the media. As CEO and a co-founder of “All In Together” and author of a book on diversity, Leader’s solution is very much aligned with her broader beliefs about equality. For the record, these are beliefs I largely share, even as I disagree with her proposed method of change.

From my view as a somewhat media insider, we’d be better off charging onto our driveways and demanding our cars drive us to paradise. Even if the car was capable and willing, it’s never been there and doesn’t know the way. If we want our car to take us to a specific destination, we’ve got to be willing to drive it.

Likewise, if we want something different from the media (or from our computer monitor), we’ve got to do more than yell at it. We’ve got to drive it.

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Fortunately, most readers of this column are well positioned to hop into the driver’s seat: We live in Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state. As things heat up, Iowa political activists won’t be able to sneeze without a cable network or parachute journalist recording the moment for prosperity. It’s time to actively steer that attention.

How many national and international news outlets carried stories a decade ago about the group of women who gathered in rural Iowa to knit and talk politics? In my time covering Iowa politics, I’ve written about several such gatherings — breakfast or lunch clubs, sewing circles, knitting groups, postcard parties, wine tasters. I wonder, because these have become so commonplace, if Iowans have lost sight of their value — as a vital part of the fabric of our communities, and as a driver of the national conversation.

And, if you need something even more direct, write up your thoughts and submit them as a letter or guest column. The editorial team actively seeks more opportunities to amplify underrepresented voices. Hint: if you are a woman offering an opinion on policy or politics, your voice is underrepresented.

If you want to change the direction, you have to take the wheel.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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