No Girls Allowed?
Posted November 5, 2009
When she was in charge of National Public Radio’s West Coast operations, Cinny Kennard (pictured) was one of a growing number of female executives at media organizations across the country. Now, as head of a new research group at USC Annenberg's Center on Communication Leadership and Policy exploring the state of women in communication leadership, she’s working to make sure she and her fellow media superwomen make it even farther up the corporate ladder. USC Annenberg is familiar territory for her – she served as a journalism professor and researcher from 1999 to 2003. UCS Annenberg's magazine, Annenberg Agenda, checked in with Kennard at her home in Santa Monica.
Annenberg Agenda: Why is it important to have gender balance in management of communication enterprises?
Cinny Kennard: In the early part of 2000, I conducted a study of the characteristics of war coverage by female correspondents working for American broadcast networks. We studied three different wars – the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf, the war in Bosnia and the second war in Iraq. Our study revealed a systematic difference in the reports filed by women and men. When women are in decision-making positions on content, they filed more victim-based stories than men. When filing stories about human rights, women filed three times as many stories than men. Men tended to focus on politics and weapons and deployment. We were able to demonstrate that when women are in decision-making positions, they bring balance to the workplace and the content. That is why it is significant when women are deciding on greenlighting films, or publishing books, or launching a Web site. There is clearly more balance and a different perspective, and thus a different impact.
AA: In your opinion, how has the role of women in the communication industries, including journalism, changed over the past 10 years?
CK: There have been some gains, and that is good, but they really are not as significant as necessary. Women still are not in enough executive positions to make the final content and hiring decisions. At the Center for Women in Communication Leadership, which Geoff Cowan has asked me to launch, communication professor Stacy Smith, and I have started a research project to determine the current media landscape and the role women play. We are studying a group of media conglomerates, including some of the leading digital companies, to assess where women are on the boards of these companies and where women are in the executive management structure of the day-to-day operation of the company. We hope to compare that to a previous study done in 2001 looking at the role of women in telecommunications, broadcast, cable and e-companies. Unfortunately, at that time the study reflected that for executive positions and boards it appeared the glass ceiling was firmly in place.
AA: Has the explosion of digital media and electronic journalism changed the status quo for women in these areas? With a lower barrier to entry, what role have women played in the digital media revolution?
CK: I was recently in Silicon Valley for a meeting of female executives, and I was thrilled to see the number of women around the table. They were 30-something sharp women largely responsible for the success of their companies. There were also female investment bankers at the table, women seeking the funding for digital start-ups and online companies. The only problem was when they started their roundtable discussions, the women were expressing deep frustration that they were still not at the helm of the companies in Silicon Valley, that they were in executive management but that it was still quite difficult to achieve the top job – the job of CEO. That barrier is what I hope to learn more about.
AA: It was announced last month that Diane Sawyer will replace Charles Gibson on “ABC World News,” meaning that, for the first time, there will be women anchoring two of the “Big Three” network evening newscasts. How does this affect the status of women journalists?
CK: Overall, this is good – we have two females at the helms of network newscasts, so young girls can see that a woman can broadcast the news to the nation in good times and bad. Women have made some gains in broadcast journalism, but not enough in the key decision-making positions. You can find television stations throughout the united states with females as general managers and news directors, and that is a shift from the days when I started in local and network television nearly 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the decision-making at the network news level – at the top, particularly – is still largely in the hands of males. The three network news divisions are led by male presidents, and the cable news channels are the same.
AA: Where do you see journalism in 10 years? Will there still be a major L.A. daily, or have those days passed?
CK: This is probably the toughest question for anyone in the profession to answer. Remember, I started nearly 30 years ago in local radio and television news, and then network television news, and then as a foreign correspondent covering wars, and then as a top news executive at National Public Radio. Just in my time in the business, it is a completely different newsgathering profession. The tools have changed, the technology has changed, and the demographics have changed. As you know, everyone accesses news in different ways today, and I believe that is exciting, and this will all evolve in a good way. We are in the transition now – we are right smack in the middle of the transition – so there is fear. There is always fear with transition and change. But I believe that when all settles down, there will be a news source in Los Angeles – a Los Angeles Times, because that’s a good brand – but I may read the paper on my cell phone or sit down in my living room at night and put the paper up on my flat screen TV, or maybe someone will read the paper to me through my Kindle. You know what? All of this can be done right now, and it is not so bad. So when it settles, there will be choices, and I truly believe this is good.
AA: What projects would you like to pursue through your research at USC Annenberg?
CK: We have already launched a study of the top media conglomerates – the major publicly owned media companies – where we’re looking at the numbers of women on the boards and in executive positions. In addition, we have partnered with California First Lady Maria Shriver on her initiative known as “A Woman’s Nation.” She’s working in partnership with the Center for American Progress to take a comprehensive look at the status of American women – something that hasn’t been done since 1964. The master theme is the movement of women out of the home in America and into the labor force. The report looks at education, business, economics and government policy. Are policies responding to the fact that most American homes now do not have stay-at-home parents? Communication professor Stacy Smith, doctoral candidate Amy Granados and I wrote a chapter for the so-called “Shriver Report” called “Sexy Socialization: Today’s Media and the Next Generation of Women” that looks at the portrayals of women in media today and what that means for the next generation of women in the workforce.
AA: You previously served as a professor in the journalism school at USC Annenberg. How does it feel to come back to campus?
CK: USC is more vibrant and exciting than ever. What struck me is the evolution of the campus and the academic rigor since I first started as a journalism professor here back in the late ‘90s. Certainly the Annenberg School continues to thrive, bolstered by the leadership of former Dean Geoff Cowan and now Ernest Wilson, and the incredible support of the wonderful Wallis Annenberg. However, it is hard to believe that there has really been no interruption in that trajectory. The Annenberg School has kept pace with the second-to-second changes in technology, providing a great scholarly atmosphere for students. I am in awe of what Steven Sample and Max Nikias have done in the five years I was away. It is extraordinary!
AA: As a media professional, what contributions can institutions like USC Annenberg make to help further the dialog on issues like this? How is Annenberg positioned to help influence the discussion?
Annenberg is a leadership name in communication throughout the country. The family and the foundation have communication leadership in their DNA, and the family has supported initiatives which have demonstrated that along with the classroom, there is need for research and publications to continue to build a great school and overall a great university.Enter USC Annenberg News Archive »back to top