Panel Highlights Female Innovation in Digital Journalism

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Ben Gill
Staff Writer

A throng of reporters, media officials, and other tech-savvy individuals converged on the Twitter offices in downtown San Francisco on Feb. 3 for a panel on the impact of women in global journalistic innovation. Hosted by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), the event featured four leading figures from around the world sharing their efforts and experiences to enhance the role of women in next-generation news. 

The panelists included: Mariana Santos, founder of Chicas Poderosas, a network that “empowers women to work at the intersection of technology and media in Latin America;” Justin Arenstein, creator of Code for Africa, which inserts technologists into newsrooms to prepare journalists to utilize and visualize data in stories; Vivienne Irikefe, a reporter at TVC Nigeria using new technology to track the spread of Ebola; and Sandra Crucianelli, a Knight International Journalism Fellow helping transform Argentina’s largest newspaper, La Nación, into a digital-first publication.

This event, and others like it, seek to expand the knowledge of students and ordinary citizens in the Bay Area by bringing global voices to a local audience.

While women have made significant strides in penetrating the traditionally male-dominated field of journalism in recent years, female involvement in the development of new technologies for 21st century reporting have been lacking, according to ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. She said, “Female involvement in software engineering [within the United States] has dropped from 37.1 percent in 1983 to 17.6 percent in 2010,” as evidence of this trend.

To counter this narrative, people around the world are utilizing a wide variety of tools to encourage and foster women to shape the future of online reporting.

Panelist Mariana Santos is utilizing collaborative meetups throughout Latin America to achieve this aim. “With Chicas Poderosas, they [female journalists] meetup for three days and learn how to scrape data, how to find information, and how to build a story [utilizing their data],” she explained.

Thus far, “we’ve done more than 80 projects across Latin America.” In doing so, Santos gives women the toolkit they need to implement their ideas in newsrooms at home. The meetups also serve to breakdown the barriers that restrict female involvement in digital storytelling by empowering them with newfound knowledge.

“Women in newsrooms have formed creative ways for breaking and going around the glass ceiling,” said South African Justin Arenstein. “In Africa, women manage the household economy [and thus hold a lot of community power]…female reporters expand the range and depth of content.”

Through his organization, Code for Africa, women “are becoming incredibly adept at becoming disruptors, at finding ways of working around power authorities in existing newsrooms.”

“By targeting them and training them in our African newsrooms, kind of pairing them up with digital storytelling skills or getting them to understand just how to speak to a coder–knowing what’s possible or what they can ask for–suddenly they understand that they’ve got an edge that they can use against this ‘boy’s club’ in the newsroom,” said Arenstein.

As a result, he has seen female journalists begin to go after stories “that people really care about,” such as health insurance, access to education, and access to financial capital; all of which have attracted massive web traffic and audience participation.

With all of these efforts, the end goal is fostering empowerment and participation. By giving easily-accessible learning opportunities to women in news, especially in the developing world, these individuals are helping set the stage for an upheaval of the status quo and a radical rethinking of the faces behind the print.

Photo Credit: Joe Finberg/Foghorn

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