letters to the editor

Notes from our Online Readers

Readers weigh in on Gordon's "Gender Imbalance on the Campaign Trail," and Fahy's "Media Made Hawking Famous."
March 14, 2012

When so many voters are women, why do male reporters outnumber female reporters two to one? Meryl Gordon explores that question in “Gender Imbalance on the Campaign Trail.” Here’s how some of our readers responded to her article:

Great article. I would add that perhaps the gender disparity in covering the candidates is what is leading to all-male presidential races. When the female candidates show more sides to themselves to female reporters (as this article says), then perhaps these female candidates would be able to stay in the races longer. Maybe this would help us get a female nominee for president. Our problem with gender disparity in the United States is systemic. —Jennifer Lee

Another difference in how the male-dominated media portrays women presidential candidates is that they almost always ignore the historic merit of her candidacy. Breaking the presidential glass ceiling is a major news story that will be written about in history textbooks for centuries. Yet male-dominated media treat this subject as if it’s worthless, which indicates they think women are worthless. Note how much more often black male presidential candidates’ historic value is mentioned, practically every day in the news, while women candidates’ historic value, even when in the same contest, is almost always ignored. —Nancy Kallitechnis

As a young female reporter, I really appreciate this piece. But, I’d also like there to be more discussion of the lack of African American and Hispanic or Latino reporters, as well as reporters from other diverse backgrounds. I’ve worked in a huge Texas newsroom with less than five Spanish-speaking reporters. I now work in a majority-minority city and I’ve probably met two or three black or Hispanic reporters in all the news outlets combined—TV, newspaper, blogs, etc. That’s a huge, huge problem. And because socioeconomic status is still unfortunately often divided among racial lines, it means a variety of issues don’t get covered as much as they should, and they certainly don’t get covered with the sensitivity we should expect. I’m not saying we need minority reporters to cover “minority” issues. I’m saying we need a newsroom that reflects the electorate, and today it’s not even close. —NS

“A butterfly mind trapped in a diving-bell body.” In “Media made Hawking Famous,” Declan Fahy discusses how the press created Stephen Hawking’s persona. Some of our readers had this to say:

I don’t know that I agree that fame is not a personal characteristic. The media catalyzes fame, it doesn’t create it. It’s probably more fair to say that Hawking’s fame came from his skill as a writer (the same way it has for Brian Greene and Carl Sagan and Neil Tyson) and, more importantly, from his compelling personal story. (He’s confined to a wheelchair by ALS, but he can roam the cosmos in his mind.) The media didn’t create these narratives, and we propagated them not out of any intent, but because it was easy and readers responded. It pains me to say this as a science writer, but I don’t think we really get to choose which of our profile subjects becomes famous. —Matthew Harper

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I’m sorry, but this article is just laughable. Hawking is a brilliant, warm, and charismatic man with a uniquely inspiring personal story—and you want credit for creating him? You’ve got causation reversed. Hawking created you, and any number of science writers who made a career of writing about him. —Tom T.

The wider question is whether science journalism is about hard-nosed reporting and critical analysis, or whether it is there to explain things. I have never considered it a particularly hard-nosed genre; it seems most science journalists believe themselves to be mouthpieces of the scientific community, there to explain and entertain and fill us with wonder about the world as it is revealed through the lens of science. Call it Gee-whiz journalism. —Carl

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.