High-profile and active roles: Women in Idaho journalism defy national stats

By Melissa Davlin

The statistics paint a bleak picture for female newshounds. According to the Women’s Media Center, women make up only 36.9 percent of newspaper staff in all positions, and male bylines outnumbered female bylines three to one in front-page presidential coverage in 2012.

But the Idaho Press Club — which boasts women in both its executive director and president positions — spoke to female reporters and editors to get their take. The consensus: Women play high-profile and active roles in Idaho journalism.

The 2012 Idaho Press Club Journalists of the Year — KTVB’s Jamie Grey for broadcast and Idaho Statesman’s Audrey Dutton for print — are both young women. The managing editors of three of the state’s largest daily newspapers are women — Vicki Gowler of the Idaho Statesman, Vickie Holbrook of the Idaho Press-Tribune, and Autumn Agar of the Times-News. Shawn O’Neal said since he became the student media advisor at University of Idaho, eight of the last 10 Argonaut editors-in-chief were women.

Kelcie Moseley, reporter for the Idaho Press-Tribune and 2011 graduate of University of Idaho, said many of the journalists she admires are women, especially young women.

Newsrooms in both Twin Falls and Nampa have several women younger than 30, including Rebecca De Leon, Alison Smith and Kimberlee Kruesi.

Billie Stanton, city editor at the Times-News in Twin Falls, has worked with multiple female editors since a woman hired her at the Denver Post in 1988.

“I’ve had long, rich experiences with newspaper women and newspaper top dogs,” Stanton said. “It’s not new to me.”

And young women have a lot to contribute, Stanton said. Reporters at the Times-News have taught Stanton about social media and its role in news sharing, she said.

“I’ve got to say I’m learning a lot from Autumn, who is 20 years younger than I am,” Stanton said of the Times-News editor.

There is still inequality in some parts of the newsroom, Moseley said, but it’s not necessarily the product of institutionalized sexism or gender roles.

“At the previous two places I worked, the reigning management was composed of males, but for the most part they were older men who have been in journalism for years,” Moseley said. “So from my view, inequality still exists, but I don’t know if it’s purposeful anymore so much as a product of the longevity of some of these careers. And younger people aren’t staying in journalism long enough anymore to really ascend to those positions, I don’t think.”

Freelance reporter Frankie Barnhill, formerly of Boise State Public Radio, said public radio has led the charge in gender equality with women in prominent news positions, but young women still face challenges.

“I think until the number of female news directors and editors equals that of their male counterparts, there is still work to be done,” Barnhill said. “It’s not purely a numbers game, but without women in equal positions of power, it’s harder for young women to envision themselves in those same positions.”

Emilie Ritter Saunders of Boise State Public Radio said two of the three news directors she worked for in the last eight years were women, making inequality in the newsroom a non-issue in her experience. But, she pointed out, women lead only 20.6 percent of radio station newsrooms, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association, and she has never met a female general manager.

“I do think the equality meter changes when I’m reporting in the field, ” Ritter Saunders said. “There are some settings where I feel being a young, female journalist has meant I don’t get the interview I want, and that I may not be taken as seriously as some of my male colleagues. Luckily, I’d say those experiences have been few and far between.”

And with more young women rising in the ranks, perhaps those attitudes will change.

“It has been a great experience to work for that many strong, hard-working women, and the field could always use more of them,” Moseley said.

Melissa Davlin is the new co-anchor of Idaho Public Televsion’s Idaho Reports and a Idaho Press Club board member