Megan Clement: “Gender journalism is not activism”
Our “Peer-to-Peer” series is back! In this first episode of season 2, we talk about gender journalism and it means in 2023 with the editor of “Impact,” a newsletter at the intersection of politics and gender.
She’s one of the authors of “Gender is Part of Every Story,” a report on gender journalism in 2023, based on a survey of 100 media professionals across the globe.
As a reporter, Megan Clement has long covered different topics (politics, climate, migration, human rights…) with a focus on women’s perspectives. Today, she’s the editor of “Impact,” a bilingual newsletter at the intersection of politics and gender, and the co-founder of The Gender Beat, an international collective of gender journalists.
“I do think people need to know that gender journalism is not activism. (…) So that distinction, I think, really needs to be made clear, and newsrooms understand that gender journalism [is] not a kind of additional philanthropic thing that you have on the side to get money from a foundation. It should actually be fundamental to reporting accurately, and to reaching new audiences. I don’t think this is a time when newsrooms can afford to be leaving audiences behind.” — Megan Clement in Peer-to-Peer, season 2, episode 1
In a new episode of “Peer-to-Peer,” Megan explains the why, and the why now of this survey, and what finding has surprised her the most in the process. We also talk about her work with Impact, and what advice she would give herself if she were to get started with gender journalism today.
Ahlem Khattab (In the Balance) — Thank you so much for being here, Megan, and taking the time to have this conversation to talk about a few things, but it all has to do with gender journalism. First off, can you tell us a bit about the survey with 100 media workers across 34 countries, I believe?
Megan Clement — Forty-three.
Forty-three countries. That’s a lot of coverage of different areas of the world. And so, you tried to make this report really about the journalists who are covering gender. Why did you want to have this survey in the first place?
I think, for some of the same reasons that I am a journalist, I was just very curious. So I have been doing journalism about gender, about gender inequality largely, for… It feels like a decade, probably is even longer. And I have always sort of had this gender focus in my work. And it wasn’t until last year, when I got together with Eliza Anyangwe, who is the editor of As Equals, CNN’s gender vertical, and Tan Hui Yee, who is at The Straits Times, and Ankita Anand, who is a freelance journalist in India, who works with Unbias the News. The four of us came together, and that was kind of an amazing moment for me, because my experience of doing gender-conscious journalism is that it can be quite lonely. You’re either the only person in the newsroom who’s focusing on it, or you’re a freelancer, you’re trying to convince — often male — editors to take stories that are related to the rights of women and gender-diverse people.
So that was amazing, when the four of us came together. And what we wanted to know in forming the Gender Beat was — we knew about what our own experiences were, but we didn’t know if these were applicable to other journalists around the world. So we wanted, mainly, to know who else was out there, how many people were kind of taking this gender focus to their work, pursuing this type of journalism, which — not very much journalism is well-remunerated in 2023. Gender journalism, it’s even harder to place the stories, the kind of rates you can get are even lower. So I was sort of like, “who else is crazy enough out there to be doing this type of journalism?” So that was really where the idea came from.
And, you know, we had ideas. I’ve been calling myself a feminist, I think, for as long as I could talk. That’s not the case for everyone. We wanted to know, did people think of the journalism that they did as gender journalism, as feminist journalism, as something else?
And one thing that was really important to us was to — you know, you mentioned the number of countries, 43 — to really reach out as far as we can, and to prioritise hearing from people from countries that, in mainstream news organisations, we don’t hear so much from.
How did you manage to find all these people? Because you said you wanted to know who else is out there. But how did you find who else was out there?
So it was a lot of work undertaken by Ankita, my colleague. You know, we drew on our personal networks, we drew on a Telegram group that we have created called Noodle, which is a place where gender conscious journalists can kind of come together and share tips, share best practice, ask for advice, you know, showcase their work. And Noodle itself has a majority world focus. So we definitely encouraged people who were part of the group to sign up. And then Ankita just did a huge amount of very in-depth research – looking at bylines, looking at news organisations, seeing who was out there and doing this work, and writing to them and saying, “hey, can you can you tell us your experiences?” And we really made sure that we didn’t, you know, overprioritise the countries where we were. So I’m in France, she’s in India, Eliza’s in the Netherlands, and Hui Yee’s in Thailand. So we, you know, we wanted representation, but we tried – you know, I think in journalism, we really rely on our personal networks.
And that’s one of the great things about being a journalist is, you’re connected with people. But we wanted to go wider than that, because we knew that there were experiences that we wouldn’t capture if we just focused on who we already knew.
And why do this work now?
Oh, because… (Sigh) Bcause we’re not where we should be. And I think anyone who works in this field will acknowledge that. There are incredible journalists out there, and we spoke to a lot of them for this survey. But, you know, Luba Kassova has done a really fabulous report called “From Outrage to Opportunity,” looking at kind of what percentage, among other things, what percentage of news coverage is related to gender gaps, and that could be questions of ageism or pay inequality.
She has sort of eight measures, eight gender gaps that she analysed. And it’s 0.02%. And on a planet where there’s no country in the world that has reached gender equality. So this is literally an issue that affects every single person in the world. So it affects men, too.
It’s insane. It’s insane to me that so little coverage is dedicated to it. And I believe that it’s because we see gender equality as kind of the water that we swim in. We’re so used to it that we don’t analyse it. So, you know, some of my colleagues have much more admirably optimistic outlooks than me. I try and be an optimist, but mostly I’m fed up that there isn’t more support for this journalism which is so important. And for these journalists who, honestly, some of the people we heard from are doing incredible work. Often underpaid, sometimes unpaid, often just out of passion, and we know that passion is not enough to sustain an industry.
So we’re really trying to make a case that we need more of this journalism, that those journalists are out there, that they need support, and that we can all do a little bit better.
Throughout talking to all these different journalists, did you find out something that you just weren’t expecting?
Yes, I was, I knew, we knew that burnout would be high because burnout is high among the general population after the pandemic. Burnout is particularly high among journalists because of the kind of precarity that’s baked into our industry at the moment. But even knowing these two things, finding that 43% of our respondents had experienced burnout, that’s very high. So that was a surprise, and that was an unwelcome surprise.
But there were some positive things, too. I mean, I wasn’t surprised by the richness of the written responses that we got because the thing about journalists is they know how to communicate and they communicate well. So that was lovely reading them.
The passion for gender journalism was astonishing. When we asked people, why do you do it? And the responses to that question, you know, they give me life. (Laugh) So that was really wonderful to read that people care about this so much, despite how hard it can be. And also, you know, a lot of bad things are said about the media industry, often by me, but we did find that the majority of people were supported at least somewhat to do gender journalism.
So I think we’re picking up on a shift within newsrooms as well, that they are willing to support reporters to do this kind of invaluable journalism as well. So people were more or less supported. And that was good to learn.
Especially with the emergence of gender editors in the last few years, I imagine that helps
create a support system.
It does. And, you know, people often ask me, do we need gender editors or do we need to kind of have gender focus on all stories? You know, do we need the vertical or do we need cross-cutting gender journalism? And my answer is always “both.” If we’re ever going to do anything about this 0.02% figure.
But it is encouraging that there are gender editors out there. We spoke to a lot of them for the survey. And newsrooms are taking notice, they need to cover gender inequality. The point I would make, though, is that it fluctuates too much. You know, gender can get pushed off the front page pretty quickly. We had this huge kind of reporting in the U.S., in Europe, in the U.K., around Me Too. And that really kind of went away. And then, suddenly Roe v. Wade happens. Roe v. Wade did not come out of nowhere. And then there’s an interest in abortion where there hadn’t been before.
So, you know, we are victims of the news agenda. And I think what gender editors can do is really make a case to keep on this story. The multiple, multiple stories, multiple, multifaceted stories of gender inequality and how it manifests.
And there’s also the question of the terms we use, for example, when talking to a journalist who’s not very familiar with the gender lens and, you know, gender-sensitive journalism in general. Can there be a problem when it comes to exactly the terminology? Some words can be kind of frightening. Is there a discussion to be had about that? Is there something to do?
I do think it’s something we need to discuss. And one of our questions was, you know, “what do you how do you define what you do? Do you call it gender journalism? Do you call it feminist journalism? Do you call it something else?” And there was a general preference for gender journalism around it. And then second to that was feminist journalism.
And I think it’s important to say that a lot of people responded that they didn’t use “feminist,” not because of the reasons that you might think, which is, or that we, in the minority world, might think, which is, “oh, people are scared to call themselves a feminist.” A lot of people said, “well, feminism doesn’t really apply to me because feminism has been an exclusionary movement in the past and currently.” You know, some people said they prefer “womanism.” And some people did say it’s not worth my time to bring up the word “feminist” in the newsroom. So there’s a whole lot of reasons that people would object to the term “feminist.”
But all the same, a lot of people, 93% of respondents said they were feminist themselves. And then about 40 odd percent would use the term “feminist journalism.” The rest preferred “gender journalism.” Some of them thought those two things were different. Other people had other ideas. Some people said either is fine. Some people said it’s just good journalism, which I do agree with.
So there were different preferences around terminology. I don’t think we’re ever going to get together and decide on something that works for everyone. But I was interested to hear how people identify on what terminology they found useful.
Yeah, so I do think people need to know that gender journalism is not activism. And a lot of people reported, you know, saying, oh, it’s hearing that from editors or hearing that from managers, you know, it’s not objective or it’s activism to write stories about gender inequality. So that distinction, I think, really needs to be made clear. And newsrooms understand that gender journalism, it’s not a kind of additional philanthropic thing that you have on the side to get money from a foundation. It should actually be fundamental to reporting accurately and to reaching new audiences. I don’t think this is a time when newsrooms can afford to be leaving audiences behind.
And I wanted to also talk a bit about your work at Impact. How did this work start? Because it’s very specific. It’s gender and politics. This summer, you did a special on sports with the World Cup, and it kind of blurs the line between sports and politics, which is very interesting. How did this whole adventure start?
Yeah, I’ve been reporting on gender inequality for a while, and I had been doing it as a
freelancer for a while. And I started talking to Rebecca Amsellem, who runs Gloria Media, which is famous for its newsletter Les Glorieuses, about working on Impact, you know, and really taking gender and politics seriously.
And what I’m trying to do with Impact is kind of highlight the victories of successful feminist movements. So, for example, we spoke to the lawyer in Colombia who successfully took a case to decriminalize abortion up to 24 weeks as just one example. But really kind of highlight what actually works in feminist movement-building and in creating real change in the lives of women and gender-diverse people. So it’s kind of, in my mind, I’m building a playbook, like this is how you do it. This is, these are the steps that you need to take. This is what you can learn from an activist in Nigeria about political participation around election time. Or we ran a brilliant interview with an incredible woman in Kenya who works on reducing sexual violence around election time.
And then now, yes, it’s summer. It is the World Cup. The final, when we’re speaking, the final is on this coming Sunday. I am so nervous. And it’s been very stressful as a British-Australian person who lives in France trying to support all my teams, especially when they’ve all been playing each other. But I’ve long said that sport is, you know, is a way to understand politics. It’s not– people want to want to separate sport from politics, it’s not possible.
And, you know, this is such an incredible lens through which to analyze gender inequality. If you just look at the conditions that women players have compared to men players, if you look at the prize money, if you look at some of the brilliant things about women’s sport, like the openness for LGBTQIA+ players, it’s, you know, incredible to see that you don’t see in the men’s game. And really, you know, this is another lifelong project of mine.
I’ve been a mad sports fan since I was a little girl. And, you know, I grew up in a world that told me that sports wasn’t for little girls. And I believe that sports is for everyone. So with this kind of fun summer edition, I’m also trying to extend the hand to people to say that “actually football is for everyone.” It’s not just for men. It’s not just for white men. It’s not just for straight white men. You know, football is absolutely for everyone. And there have been populations who’ve been excluded for decades.
And, you know, that’s not just women and girls. It’s LGBTQIA+ people. It’s, you know, racialised people, the kind of homophobia, the racism that’s been baked into football actually isn’t inevitable. And so we can use campaigns like we’ve seen Jamaica’s Reggae Girls, for example, had to crowdfund to get to the World Cup. And they were amazing. Imagine, imagine if we were paying these people properly to do their job. Absolutely Nigeria would be, I think, in the final this weekend if they had had proper conditions to play in.
So, you know, we can use football as a lens to analyze inequality, and we can also celebrate kind of the incredible athleticism, incredible activism of the players who have had to often sacrifice a lot to do the job that they love.
And going back to gender journalism and looking at the big picture, there are many ways to
take into consideration gender and what it means and ones reporting. What’s some advice that you’d like to give, advice that you would have loved to have heard when you were starting out, to journalists who are just beginning this work?
Yeah, what would I have liked to have known? Or what advice can I give? I always, you know, tell young journalists that they should never underestimate how many incredible stories that there are within their own communities and how well placed they are to tell those stories. And especially, you know, journalism can often be quite a privileged profession. Management, in particular, still skews males, still skews whites, still skews middle to upper class. So, you know, a young journalist’s superpower is knowing about communities that don’t get their stories told well and/or often.
And, you know, young journalists often think, “oh, I don’t have enough experience.” But actually, you know your world better than anyone else. So look for the stories there and find the editors who will help you tell those stories well. I think finding good editors to work with or good co-conspirators or collaborators has something that I’ve tried to do throughout my career and with the gender beat and with the “Impact” newsletter have found community to do that. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And don’t be afraid to fight for the stories that you think are important, because if you
think they’re important, they almost certainly are to someone.
And do you happen to have any tips on how to really convince with a pitch, how to fight for your gender stories?
Yeah, that’s another good question. And this is, you know, I’ve had a whole career of trying to get stories about gender equality to the mainstream media. And I’m going to be honest, it’s not always easy. And I’ve had all sorts. Like I pitched a story about femicide and they said, “oh, no, we can’t do that because we’ve got something similar coming.” And the story that was similar that was coming was street harassment, which is, you know– (Laughs)
It’s not… exactly the same thing.
No, it’s not remotely the same thing. So, you know, I think– but always try and find a really strong news hook so people can’t say no. The why now is so important in journalism, and that could be hard with gender inequality because it’s an inescapable fact that never goes away.
But really work on the why now. This is why you need to hear this story right now. And that might be, you know, an event, an election. It might be new data. It might be something from TikTok. I don’t know. I’m too old to be on TikTok. But like find the why now, because that’s the hardest to argue with, as an editor.
And also, you know, point to the don’t just point to victims of gender inequality and its kind of manifestations. Point to the systems, point to the structures that are creating this inequality. And, you know, don’t think of gender journalism as kind of like fluffy, nice to have lifestyle, first person stuff.
You know, good gender journalism is just good journalism. It’s investigative. It asks hard questions. It holds power to account. It speaks truth to power. So, you know, don’t be afraid to run at the big stories. And really, you know, if you need to follow the money, follow the money. If you need to hold perpetrators account, do that and really think big and ambitious and think beyond kind of the individual manifestations of a problem, be that femicide or street harassment or reproductive rights or anything else.
But just, you know, ignoring the elephant in the room of gender inequality is bad journalism. Acknowledging it is good journalism. That’s, you know, that’s my two cents.