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The Daily Tar Heel

DTH alumna and New York Times reporter talks gender equality in the newsroom

A portion of the 2016-17 staff of The Daily Tar Heel poses outside of their office.

“Little space for women,” is a campus brief in The Daily Tar Heel from 1951 — the same year that Glenn Harden was elected as the first female editor-in-chief of the newspaper for a full term. 

Though the brief referred to the physical constraints of housing women on the University’s campus, it also defined the lack of women in top leadership positions on the paper before Harden’s election. 

The same could not be said for the current staff of The Daily Tar Heel, where former editors recount female-dominated staffs.

Paige Ladisic, former editor-in-chief of the newspaper and now, national growth editor at McClatchy, said there was a female editor-in-chief three out of her four years on staff.

“I remember being a (City Desk) assistant editor and doing the hiring, and we got to the end of it, and we realized we were hiring no men at all because all of the applicants were women,” she said.

Before Harden, female news editor positions were made possible by the departure of many male students for World War II. 

“It just struck me that that isn’t that long ago,” Ladisic said of the wartime story. “The fact that that is in living memory for some people is really striking.”

Ladisic interned for two summers at The Charlotte Observer, a newsroom that she said was nearly proportional in terms of gender. After leaving UNC, however, she said that she was shocked by how many male-dominated newsrooms she visited around the country while working for McClatchy in various positions.

“I always have been so blessed and thankful since I started my journey in professional journalism because I’ve had so many women mentors,” Ladisic said. “The team that I’ve worked on since I joined the company has been women. That is not the experience of most women.”

While newsrooms with few women in leadership positions might be led by very talented men, Ladisic said visibility is important. 

“I can imagine being a woman out of college going to a paper that is male-dominated...makes it hard for them to advocate for themselves and push for themselves and make sure they’re getting the training that they need,” she said. “I didn’t have that experience, but so many of my friends and colleagues did and still do.”

According to the Women’s Media Center’s “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017” report, men receive 62 percent of byline and other credits in print, online, TV and wire news. The breakdown is about the same for solely print news and slightly higher for TV news, with men representing 75 percent of the evening broadcast reporters.

Men and women report on different topics, as well. The Center’s report said 11 percent of sports writers are women, whereas they make up 57 percent of lifestyle reporters and 54 percent of education reporters. Men account for 68 percent of crime and justice reporters, and 66 percent of national politics reporters.

Emily Steel, a reporter for the New York Times and university desk editor at The Daily Tar Heel from 2004-2005, said it is hard to compare working for the DTH to working at a newspaper after college.

“Everyone who works (at the DTH) is always young, and they’re always fresh,” Steel said. “For these people, there never was a way things were done before because they’re the ones doing it now.”

With so many changes between a college and professional newsroom, it is hard to pinpoint which ones might be related specifically to gender or sex, she said. 

Steel, who has worked at The New York Times for three and a half years, researched and reported on Bill O’Reilly and mounting sexual harassment allegations and secret settlements. 

“The editors at The Times after I published this story realized this was a big issue and wanted to put our resources behind it,” she said. “There have been a lot of women involved in those stories, but there have been a lot of men as well.” 

Steel said she worked on the O’Reilly story with fellow reporter Michael Schmidt.

“It helped us to see the world through two different lenses and think about how people talk to women, how people treat women and look at that through the lens of reporting,” she said. “With the sources we would talk to, whether it was that story or the story about Vice media, there were a lot of things, as a woman, that you can relate to or help approach reporting in a different way.”

Steel said that she knew she wanted to be a journalist before coming to UNC, and one of her first acts as a student was submitting her Daily Tar Heel application. Her mom saved the voicemail Steel left her after she found out she had been accepted.

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Her experience at The New York Times has been phenomenal, she said, and she has been grateful to do the work she has done there. 

“I thought there was real power in holding people in power accountable and telling a story that really changed the way we think about the world,” Steel said. “I feel like our reporting has really been able to do that, and I’m grateful for that.”