Journalism Is a Boys Club
Last week, I attended the Investigative Reporters & Editors conference in New Orleans. Here are some thoughts about my experience there. tl;dr Journalism is a boys' club.
What's up, dicks up
There are many reasons why I'm not really an ideal fit for a conference like this. I'm a freelancer, and many of the attendees were institutionalized, which is to say with bigger media outlets. I'm an introvert, and there were something like over 1,800 people in attendance. The event took place in New Orleans, and the last time I was there was in 2005, when I got wiped out by a hurricane.
A lot of the time that I was there, I felt sort of overwhelmed: staring at the long, snaking line to register on the first day, sitting in the back of conference rooms while panelists mumbled on about PowerPoints, milling around mixers trying to read the name tags of people I didn't know. If fashion is branding, there was a real lack of people in black, girls with rings through their noses, and interesting tattoos. The fleet of beings that most fascinated me where the Broadcast Girls, who stomped from presentation to presentation in skintight, primary-colored sleeveless dresses, their hair styled just so, their makeup on like pancake spackle. I suppose their investigative journalism falls into the category of HOW YOUR LOCAL BUSINESS IS RIPPING YOU OFF!! but who am I to judge? I was the one in the Gap men's khakis wondering what the fuck I was doing.
There was a reception on the second night I was there. It was at the aquarium. I went by myself because I didn't really know anybody, and eventually, mostly because my husband told me to via text, I managed to start walking up to people and talking to them. I am six feet tall (more than that, actually), but I am shy. I got to talk to people with various cool outlets: stringers for the New York Times, and a shooter for the Washington Post, and a nice man who wrote an entire book on the Pulitzer Prize. The fish floated in their tanks, and a shark darted through the water, and at one point I got into a HURRICANE SIMULATOR and paid a few dollars to find out what it was like to stand in 70+ per mile an hour winds and mostly just smiled inside its plastic tube. At least with the hurricane winds, I didn't have to talk to anybody.
Somewhere along the way, between the panels I loved hosted by the Dart Center, and the advice about how to be a better business person with your freelancing career, and the stories about the data journalism and the FOIA chatter, I realized that this was a boys club. Sure, there were women in attendance. Yes, there were ladies on the panels. I met some really cool chicks there. But there was something distinctly bonerific about the entire event. I think that was in part because of the investigative aspect. It was like the media's version of having a professional erection. Like, you had to prove how manly or how tough you were by doing battle with some giant lummox, and that, let's face it, at least how I understood it, was a man's job.
The most helpful time I had there was at an event at a bar in the French Quarter that was for freelancers. I ended up sitting across from a woman at a long table, and while she and I had very different beats, and we lived in different parts of the country, we had a great conversation. Here's what she did: she listened. Right now, I'm working on two book proposals: one is about X, and one is about Y. This is me; this is two versions of me. X is more wild. Y is more academic. This is how we compartmentalize. This is how women compartmentalize. I am X, I am Y. This is who I am. But it is hard to be two people, isn't it? What this woman made me realize, by asking wonderful questions and by listening really, really hard, was that maybe I should be working on one chimera of a proposal, and that proposal is XY. Or, no, maybe it is Z. The end of the alphabet. Like, you know, the conclusion of everything. So that's what I'm going to try: combine the two into one. Because who wants to exist in a fractured existence? I know I don't.
I get it. Sure, I've got it wrong about the conference. Journalism really isn't a boys club, and while my experience is valid it's probably wrong. Or, you know, maybe I'm right. The data boyz with their FOIA bonerz seemed to be engaged more in some sort of locker room battle over the lengths of their dicks than their ability to ... write. In fact, that is what I missed most and heard so little about at this conference: writing. Even with your data buckets and your FOIA requests, you still have to turn the thing into a fucking story. Where is your narrative? What's your meaning? Or maybe for you guys it's all just posturing. I'm looking for something bigger, something deeper than that. Something not quantifiable but ultimately far more real.
I was going to write some other sections of this, but that's all she wrote, fellas.