Student journalists end school year embracing opportunity but also balancing reality of coronavirus pandemic

In September of 2019, there was a small mumps outbreak at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I had just started my term as editor-in-chief of The Gateway newspaper, and I thought it would be fortuitous to buy a large bottle of hand sanitizer for the newsroom. I wrote a little note with scripted handwriting: “don’t get the mumps!” 

In the first week of March 2020, I crossed out “mumps” and wrote “Coronavirus.” Soon, there wasn’t anyone left  on campus to use the hand sanitizer anyway. 

The university announced its pivot to “remote learning” on March 12, and as soon I knew it, my incoming editor-in-chief and I were cooped up in my apartment a mile away from campus, likely the last time we’d see each other before social distancing measures were put in place, watching a live stream of a student government meeting and working our tails off to report the FAQs of the Covid-19-induced campus closure. 

Kamrin Baker, editor-in-chief of The Gateway newspaper at the University of Nebraska –Omaha, sits at her desk before the pandemic. (Photo by Andre Sessions)

From my second hand loveseat, with a box of macaroni and cheese cooking on the stove, we were quickly bombarded with the realization that this was the new future of journalism.

Student journalists are at a unique crossroads, balancing their studies with (often underpaid) jobs at the student newspaper, and existing as human beings during a time of communal trauma. 

These students are also grieving the loss of many traditional college journalism experiences. Many of the editors are outgoing seniors, deprived of graduation ceremonies and farewell customs; production meetings have moved to Zoom; even the satisfying stain of fresh ink from a new copy of the paper is a little wonder many of us have had to (temporarily) kiss goodbye.

“Student journalists are proving right now that the work they do is essential,” said Kenna Griffin, president of the College Media Association, which represents 600 collegiate media advisors and their student staffs.

CMA has provided digital resources for students during this time, including an open letter to administrators about the value of collegiate press. 

 “They are the ones who care about the campus community and what is happening there,” Griffin said of student journalists.”Without them, the students and other community members would be left with even more questions and uncertainty. Administrators and others in the campus community need to remember this critical service when the pandemic ends and always support student journalists.”

Marissa Payne, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa, has moved to produce a daily newspaper to a weekly one, extending production over a three to four-day time period to “allow ample time” to confront challenges. 

Payne has led the charge of her staff’s emphasis on digital journalism while still managing a paper trail of these unprecedented times.

“My staff has remained incredibly committed to continuing to share Hawkeyes’ stories that can serve as a thread that keeps the community connected while we’re all physically apart,” Payne said. “Decades down the line, when people are interested in looking back to this time period, they can turn to the physical copies of The Daily Iowan as a historical record of this pandemic.” 

Although Payne understands the gravity of writing the next pages of history, she’s still a college senior missing out on an enormous milestone– especially as a first-generation college student. 

“I’m spending the last quarter of my year as editor unable to work from the newsroom I’ve called home for four years and away from the staff I consider family,” Payne said. “People keep telling me how impressive it’ll be that I’ve covered something so historic, and I’m certainly proud of the work we’ve produced, but truthfully, all I wanted was to experience the end of my senior year and have closure on a college career that I’ve absolutely loved.”

The grief will come later, though. Right now, Payne has a job to do. 

“Continuing to do this isn’t something I ever really questioned,” Payne said. “I knew we had to keep giving people news and information they could trust while it seems like we know so little or the things we think we know change by the next day. This experience has affirmed my love for journalism.”

Lydia Gerike, editor-in-chief of the Indiana Daily Student at Indiana University, is keeping up with production, only delivering the paper digitally. 

“We’re still designing a paper and publishing it on issuu so that there’s still a record of life in the time of the Coronavirus but not putting students, readers or delivery drivers at risk by touching the stands and the papers,” Gerike said. “We always have a graduation edition, and we will be printing that and mailing it out to seniors. Our ‘circulation’ is definitely smaller but we are still creating great work.”

Gerike has found comfort in the work-from-home routine, placing her IDS responsibilities front and center. 

“It’s been nice to still have the routine of overseeing the IDS. Even when I’m putting off my schoolwork, I’ll jump on Slack to handle a problem or schedule a Zoom meeting,” Gerike said. “I think having a motivated staff and solid analytics numbers during quarantine shows me people still care, and that helps me keep going.”

On a macro scale, she knows the value of good journalism in a time of great uncertainty. 

“I was writing the end of my own senior year, and it really hit me how much had changed with one email,” Gerike said. “It’s a surreal experience, but I feel like I can graduate knowing I spent my last semester doing something meaningful despite everything that’s going on.”

Other student journalists are only getting started. 

Dylan Miettinen is the incoming editor-in-chief at the Minnesota Daily at the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, and although he is excited about the opportunity and ready to take on the role, it comes with a lot of pressure– especially now.

“It’s a strange feeling to come into this position at such an uncertain time,” Miettinen said. “During the 2008 recession, we had to cut our staff by roughly 35%. Because our funding is uncertain, we are projecting losses and fielding different scenarios depending on the severity of our situation.”

Miettinen said physical copies of the paper are now on hold and will be all summer, as no students will be on campus to pick up a copy. The Minnesota Daily usually runs a physical issue twice a week, but with funding from student fees partially being refunded to students this semester, the future of the print edition is unclear. However, as with most publications, Miettinen said their digital presence has increased.

“As scary and uncertain as this all is, I think it’s a great opportunity, too,” Miettnen said. “My goal is to set up the long-term success of the Daily. As a nonprofit, we need to continue to find alternative revenue streams, such as grants and donations. With our physical printing schedule in question, this is a perfect time to focus on redeveloping our website to create a platform that is more intuitive and user-friendly.”

This time of year is naturally a time of transition for most college papers, as the spring semester and summer months are typically used for onboarding of new staffers and editors. Maria Leontaras is the editor-in-chief of The Observer, which covers Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College in Indiana. 

Students journalists at the Observer , which covers Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College in Indiana, hold a conference on Zoom. (Photo courtesy of Maria Leontaras)

Although the paper is not printing right now, Leontaras said her team is working to put out digital content on a similar schedule to the regular distribution of the print edition. She’s also had to get crafty with cultivating a cohesive environment for a new crop of editors, who started their new posts in this remote work world. 

“We actually had a prom-themed all staff Zoom meeting, and it was great to have the new editorial board introduce themselves and to see everyone who has been keeping the paper afloat,” she said. “We encouraged people to wear their prom attire, whether it be an old dress or just a blazer or something. The department editors had a ‘pre-game’ where they met with the staffers from their sections, and then we all came together in a big Zoom call.”

Leontaras said the team spirit makes all the heartache and stress worth it. 

“I have complete faith in all of the editors and staffers, and it’s been a lifesaver to be able to comfortably delegate responsibilities,” she said. “None of this would be possible if it weren’t for the people who are still so dedicated to the paper even though we aren’t together.”

Smaller school papers are still putting in the work, too. Sophie Hills, the editor-in-chief of The Pilot at Principia College in Illinois, said she’s been working hard all year to revitalize the paper after it had “kind of gone dormant.” The switch to remote turned out to be a blessing, as it has provided opportunity for more and better coverage. 

“Before this, we were focusing on print on campus, and the website was pretty dormant. Now we’re running one to three articles a day on the website, which is a leap for us,” Hills said. “I think the crisis also gives less experienced staff more story ideas.” 

College journalists are clearly embracing the opportunity of this unique scenario as they work through it, but what will come after the Coronavirus dust has settled?

Jason Brummond, the publisher of The Daily Iowan said the publication has already seen steep advertising losses since mid-March, but now is the time to think more strategically.

“We are expanding our special graduation edition with congratulatory ads from colleges on campus, parents and friends,” he said. “We will continue to prioritize fundraising, which is growing quickly and becoming a larger part of our total budget, and we’ll make a stronger push with grants this year.”

The news industry is not the only one that will need to rethink its revenue models and long-term practices. 

Josefina Loza, the publications manager at my paper, the Gateway, said we have only just begun the development of digital news consumption. 

“Digital media is in its infancy and still evolving. We as print journalists, be that local, national, or collegiate, haven’t pushed the barriers of technology as far as we could. We’re still exploring and playing in the sandbox,” Loza said. “We need forward-thinking, critical, thinking creatives to help us build a new method for reporting, interviewing, editing, and sharing the wealth of what newsmen and newswomen have to offer.  We need student reporters, photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and so on and so forth to lead us into this new era of journalism.”

At the end of the day, though this time may be challenging, daunting and intimidating, many college journalists are seeing it as an opportunity to give the industry the boost it so desperately needs.

Miettinen said: “Half of the journalism field has been laid off in the past decade, but expectations of us have all but soared. It’s like if half of all car manufacturers were laid off, yet we expected the same rate of car production with increased fuel efficiency. This pandemic has shown the absolute resilience of local journalism and how valuable it can be. I think this is a prime chance for college journalists to interact with their community on a very real, human basis, establish their presence in the community and see how best to serve community needs while setting the foundation for a media-hungry environment.”

Go off into our communities we will. 

A few weeks after the initial cultural shift of the pandemic, my university announced that all buildings would be closed and only bare bones staff would be allowed on campus. I scrambled to my office to clean out all of my decorations, a nostalgic changing of the guard that I had to embrace two months earlier than I anticipated. 

I felt a tightness in my chest as I took down my momentos: a sign a friend snagged from the local Barnes & Noble magazine rack that said “award-winning journalism.” A photo of one of the first women editors of our college paper. A director’s chair I had repurposed from my mom’s basement. It was all so historic for me when I first inherited the office, and it was all so historic as I walked away.

At the Gateway, we have a longstanding tradition that outgoing editors write a note to incoming editors on an old desk drawer from the very first newsroom on campus. I re-read the one that was written for me: “you got this,” it said.

And I wrote to my successor: “You are capable of amazing things.”

Kamrin Baker is a correspondent for Gateway Journalism Review and based in Omaha, Nebraska. She just graduated with a degree in journalism and media communications from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper (coincidentally named) the Gateway. She’s now on the hunt for the perfect copywriting job and freelancing in her spare time. Reach her at @thekamrinbaker on Twitter.

Small alternative publications fight for survival in the midst of global pandemic

In early March, Salvador Robles, associate publisher of Omaha’s The Reader, was planning for just the kind of story that would resonate with the alt-monthly’s readers: the hunt for the perfect margarita. But after the coronavirus outbreak, the story turned into an article on how to make margaritas at home. The publication’s film writer produced a Netflix listicle instead of reviewing the latest indie. The monthly newspaper, usually focused on community events, arts and entertainment, essentially scrapped its original April edition to create a smaller COVID-19-specific issue, concentrating on local utilities providers and other services.

Patrons gather at the Three Dots and a Dash tiki bar in downtown Chicago. Alt-weekly and monthly publications that focus on arts and entertainment coverage have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic as state stay-at-home orders and social-distancing measures closed restaurants, theaters and other venues. (Photo by Steven Miller via Flickr)

For an alt-weekly or monthly publication, the coronavirus is causing particular heartache. Not only has it shifted its usual editorial content, it is threatening its financial viability. With restaurants and theaters shuttered, advertising dollars also have disappeared. 

Alt-weeklies are different from standard newspapers, centered on community coverage of arts, entertainment, nightlife and dining; all things that have closed under state stay-at-home orders. Across the country, alt-weeklies and monthlies are announcing staff reductions and changes in distribution. Like other small news organizations, it’s hard to imagine how many of them will be able to survive

Detroit’s Metro Times was one of the first, laying off eight staffers in late March. Its editor is going without pay during the pandemic. 

St. Louis’s Riverfront Times laid off the majority of its editorial staff and initially suspended its weekly print edition, leaving only two staffers to run its website. But it has since reversed that decision and is now printing a smaller edition.

Time Out Magazine has temporarily rebranded to “Time In,” pivoting to strictly digital content that focuses on local love “straight to your sofa.” 

Robles said the Reader relies on the work of freelancers, many of whom had to scrap their scheduled stories in the wake of publishing a new issue focused on the coronavirus, likely meaning an equation of fewer paychecks and harder work. 

As challenging as it is, Robles said his freelance pool has rallied. 

“We’re seeing our contributors still helping to make that Reader brand the Reader,” Robles said. “They’re still pushing and innovating and asking ‘what can we do for this column?’ ‘This is event-driven but what can we do instead?’”

For one thing, they can reduce the size of the publication.

“We were a 56-pager for the last couple of months, but we had to combine both publications (The Reader and the Spanish El Perico) and dwindle our page count to 24,” Robles said. “That’s a big economic hit for us.”

Doyle Murphy, editor in chief of The Riverfront Times in the St. Louis metropolitan area, said it’s “been a scramble every day since the layoffs,” though many of the laid off workers have decided to volunteer their time to put out the publication. 

“The day of the layoffs, I thought there was no way we would print for at least several weeks, but we were able to put out a paper that week and haven’t missed one yet,” Murphy said. “The papers have been smaller, but they have been strong. That is thanks to those laid-off staffers as well as freelancers who have donated their time and talents. Alt-weekly people are fighters by nature, but this group is as tough as they come.”

The Riverfront Times also received a $5,000 grant from the Facebook Journalist Project, according to Murphy, helping support coverage during COVID-19. 

“Journalism is a rough business even when a pandemic isn’t chewing up all of your advertising,” Murphy said. “We’ve had a lot of community support already, which has been crucial in offsetting lost revenue. We’ll need more help. One of the main ways people can contribute is by joining our newly launched Riverfront Times Press Club.” The Riverfront Times is owned by Euclid Media Group, which also publishes Cincinnati CityBeat, Cleveland Scene, Detroit Metro Times, Orlando Weekly and the San Antonio Current

The press club is similar to a public radio pledge drive model, Murphy said, where supporters can sign up for recurring donations to receive perks like concert tickets, special access to events, and deals from community partners.

“We’re a free paper and will continue to be. So anyone who would normally buy a subscription can support our work by joining,” Murphy said. “Even sharing information about the Riverfront Times Press Club helps us. Or follow us on social media and continue reading the paper. We’ll also accept virtual high fives.”

Michael Rubino, editor in chief of Indianapolis Monthly, said his staff is rolling with the times as best they can, lucky to have a community of support behind them.

“Anecdotally, I know we’ve seen advertisers wanting to pull, but we also see long-time advertisers wanting to stay,” Rubino said. “We are fortunate that our company has indicated that our employees have a job and that they will have a job for the foreseeable future. That has unfortunately not been the case for every publication like ours.” 

That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Rubino said the timing of everything provided some “wiggle room” for the May issue of the magazine, but editorial staffers are working to change stories to be more timely amidst the pandemic.

“The challenge with a monthly city magazine is all of a sudden it’s a bit of a battleship turning things around in a publication cycle,” Rubino said. “The shift is not only what we’re covering but how we work. The challenge for a monthly publication now is getting to the mindset of being a daily publication online. That’s always been a challenge for some people, but we’ve done a good job pivoting to service journalism on a website and over social channels. There is reader value in that.”

That value doesn’t go unnoticed. 

Jeffrey Blevins, chair of the journalism department at the University of Cincinnati, said the existence of alternative journalism is key to enriching the “marketplace of ideas.”

“What is critically important about these kinds of outlets is that they provide a platform and voice for underrepresented communities and points-of-view,” Blevins said. “These may be the only local outlet that truly represents a community in that area.  To lose news outlets of this variety would not only be a blow to the principles of localism and community media, it would be a drain on the broader marketplace of ideas and diversity. Our collective informational and expressive climate is better for all of us when all voices have a platform.”

Blevins championed the work of The Cincinnati Herald (the city’s African American newspaper) and Streetvibes (a local street newspaper that advocates for social justice and homeless citizens), adding that public universities like his can play a “vital role” in keeping these publications alive. 

“For instance, UC Journalism just received a grant for our College of Arts & Sciences to cover the cost of paid interns at these kinds of outlets,” Blevins said. “We see this as a way to not only serve the interests of our students, but to invest in and build the reporting capacity of community based news media.”

Blevins suggested a recovery program like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which “included a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and U.S. Department of Commerce” for which he served as a federal grant reviewer. This program provided over $4 billion in grants to “unserved and underserved” areas in the country  that needed assistance developing broadband capacity. 

“I don’t expect anything like that would be considered with the current presidential administration,” Blevins said. “Still, under another administration, something like this might be possible.”

Regardless of what alternative and community media outlets do to recover from the blow of COVID-19, one thing will remain the same, according to Robles: the readers. 

“Alt-weeklies are not like regular newspapers, so when the time comes for our economy to bounce back, it’s up to the community and the people to say ‘hey, we want this back again. We want this different type of journalism,’” Robles said. “It’s the audience power and the power of the people—we’re going to have to see that community asking for this to turn around.”

It’s hard not to get discouraged.

“It’s..very hard to imagine how this one huge thing—this one virus—is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of papers that are going to completely close and not be there anymore.”

Kamrin Baker is a correspondent for Gateway Journalism Review and based in Omaha, Nebraska, where she is a journalism and media communications student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper (coincidentally named) the Gateway. Reach her at @thekamrinbaker on Twitter.

Nebraska women push for work-life balance in newsroom, media jobs

When longtime Omaha World-Herald reporter Cindy Gonzalez had her first child in 1991, her water broke in the newsroom On deadline, she finished the story after she got to the hospital.

In a parallel scenario in 2015, former Omaha World-Herald copy editor Courtney Pitts Mattern would finish her assignments during health emergencies even when she knew she needed to see a doctor.

As women in a newsroom, even almost three decades apart, both said they didn’t feel like they could listen to their bodies without facing some kind of backlash– or burn out.

Jenna Liston is a former TV news reporter for channel FOX42 in Omaha (Courtesy of Jenna Liston)

“I left journalism after I had a baby—four months after he was born,” said Mattern, who now works in marketing and public relations. “For me, it seemed like there was no way possible. I worked the night shift, and my husband also worked in news. Something had to give.”

Even though women account for two-thirds of students earning journalism degrees, professional newsrooms are still male-dominated, reports show. In 2018, women made up more than a third of newsroom employees overall (41.7 percent in 2018 compared to 39.1 percent in 2017), according to annual diversity survey from the American Society of News Editors. Women comprised 41.2 percent of daily newspaper employees in 2018 compared to 38.9 percent in 2017 and 47.8 percent of online-only news organization employees, holding steady from 2017. Of all newsroom managers who participated in the survey, 41.8 percent were women (compared to 38.9 percent in 2017).

Finding a balance

One reason behind these statistics may be the workplace itself. Journalism was ranked as the sixth most stressful job in 2017, according to Forbes, leading to higher burnout rates—especially for women who are mothers.

“You are at the beck and call of what is happening,” Mattern said. “Life moves fast in a newsroom, and I see a lot of talented women leave because of that.”

She recalled getting to the newsroom hours ahead of time and sleeping there to avoid big snowstorms. Her colleagues didn’t reach out after she had her baby, following a high-risk pregnancy. She said she felt alone and already burned out in her early 20s.

“Work keeps going,” Mattern said. “And for me, I realized there was another way.”

Mattern left her post at the World-Herald after giving birth to her son. She worked on the marketing teams at Omaha Performing Arts, and now at Buildertrend, a project management software company. 

Courtney Pitts Mattern is a former Omaha World-Herald copy editor (Photo by Kamrin Baker)

Mattern said her current job as a content marketing manager flows much differently—and more smoothly. 

“It is part of the values of the company that life outside of the four walls of the office should be more important,” Mattern said. “There’s this whole idea of a work-life balance. Why does it have to be balanced? I should be putting my family first. There are some people with really ambitious career goals, but I don’t know why you always have to choose. Why is that our culture?” 

Gonzalez, on the other hand, has chosen to stay in journalism and continues to wade through more than 30 years of management, ownership and cultural changes at the local paper.

“When I started at the Herald, I was the first woman to cover City Hall,” Gonzalez said. “There was also another colleague of mine who was the first female in the newsroom to cover news—after covering what they called ‘women’s news.’ But today, there is nothing that women won’t cover.”

Gonzalez acknowledged that caring for small children, especially when she became a single parent after a divorce, was one of the most challenging parts of her career.

“You really have to learn, as I did, and modify your own hours,” Gonzalez said. “If you’re writing a story late at night, you need to take breaks during the day to go to the grocery store, clean the house, get other things done. And you need outside support.”

As Gonzalez and Mattern both found, the mere existence of women on certain beats and in leadership roles did not mean barriers had disappeared. Or that sexism didn’t still exist.

“I used to have this male manager who was so infantilizing,” Mattern said. “He would tell me: ‘you write the best headlines, but I’m just not sure with international news, if you actually understand what you’re reading and writing about.’ Is there a man on the team who would have gotten those comments?” 

While Gonzalez said she feels women’s access and leadership in newsrooms are much better than they used to be, she needed to make bold moves for anything to improve.

“In an informal way, the women in the newsroom get together to handle things, but there are not a lot of institutional programs that empower women,” Gonzalez said. “There was a time when I quit because I had to go part-time for a little while for my kids, and they [senior staff] weren’t allowing me to do that. So after I submitted my resignation, they said ‘OK, fine, we’ll work it out.’” 

Gonzalez’s story shows that managers see the worth of women workers but still do not have systemic policies that work in favor of women leaders, mothers or families. 

Jenna Liston, a TV news reporter for channel FOX42 in Omaha (who has recently moved to California to report under FOX26), said she has felt differently in her workplace based on the gender of her supervisor.

“I think working in an environment with a female leader or boss can really help reassure that your voice is heard,” Liston said. “I’ve worked in a newsroom where my boss was a man and would feel like my ideas were not as valued as my male coworkers. I think my workplace opens up the conversation on how we can all be treated equally and with respect.”

While some newsrooms are seeing shifts in gender dynamics, pay gaps still persist along gender lines in large newsrooms like the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and more, according to the Women’s Media Center 2019 report on the Status of Women in U.S. Media.

This is not all to say all media discrimination takes place in newsrooms. Mattern has also grappled with ingrained bias and discrimination in her roles in marketing, which is a women-dominated industry where men still make up the majority of senior leadership roles, according to Axonn Media

“When you see the feminization of an industry—like teaching, nursing and communications—you see wages drop in the industry as a whole,” Mattern said. “Public relations and communications require skills that are seen as feminine: compassion, relationship-building, empathy, being chatty. Society doesn’t put a high price tag on those skills. And as men enter those fields, it’s seen as impressive that they have those stereotypically feminine skills, and they’re more likely to be promoted.”

The big ‘H’

As gender discrimination and lack of support is prominent in many industries, harassment also finds its way into newsrooms and marketing teams. 

In her book “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms,” Kristin Gilger, an associate dean at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communciation, writes about a variety of large, public harassment scandals in media. These included allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes of Fox News, Matt Lauer of NBC and Charlie Rose of NBC and PBS.

Though these Hollywood-sized cases may seem like an anomaly, Gilger writes that most women are not exempt from workplace harassment.

In fact, in the 15 months after Weinstein was outed as a sexual predator, articles exploring sexual assault and harassment at 14 of the nation’s largest newspapers increased by 30%, according to the Women’s Media Center.

“My two daughters will often call me up, sometimes in tears, to talk about something that happened at work that they see as sexist and demeaning,” Gilger writes. “I try to give them advice, but often the best thing I can do is to listen, certain they know that I know exactly what they’re talking about.”

Harassment does not have to be physical, and can include a variety of different inappropriate behaviors. It is simply defined as unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), nationality, disability or other genetic information.

“There were a lot of inappropriate jokes and comments when I was pregnant,” Mattern said. “Lots of comments about engorged breasts and how I was eating. I also had an editor who would come around and rub my shoulders all the time. But, unfortunately, I don’t think I ever spoke up. As empowered as I am, I didn’t want to be that person.”

Gonzalez said subtle commentary made its way into her work throughout the years but that she didn’t experience harassment like other women she knew.

Cindy Gonzalez is a reporter at Omaha World-Herald (Courtesy of omaha.com)

“It really was just discrimination in itself that there weren’t a lot of women anywhere I was,” Gonzalez said. 

Liston has also experienced different forms of harassment, and her visual presence on television does not typically help her situation. She said she and other women broadcasters receive hate mail about their appearances, and once, she had a viewer call into the studio to remark that her pants were too tight.

“As a woman who is on television, many times I run into issues with people who I interview getting a little too personal or touchy during my job,” Liston said. “For example, just last week I was doing a story with a truck driver, and when we were off air, the guy took me on a truck ride for about 30 minutes after I had told him I needed to get back to my car. The driver was asking very personal questions and making sexual remarks. I may not make a scene about it, and it depends on the situation, but I think the best thing to do is to report it to HR or, if necessary, the police.”

Gonzalez, along with her identity as a woman, is a person of color, giving her a unique, yet unfortunately rare, presence in the newsroom.

In fact, women of color are less represented than white women in newsrooms and agencies across the country. Under a quarter of the industry (22.6%) is comprised of people of color, according to the Women’s Media Center. 

Black women make up 2.5% of the journalism workforce as a whole, according to an ASNE study cited by the Poynter Institute. 

“For credibility’s sake in your communities, people will say they don’t want to consume your news product because there aren’t reporters that are a reflection of them,” Gonzalez said. “Truthfully, I can’t blame them for being mad about that. Women and people of color see things in a different prism. It helps to have those people in decision-making roles.”

Gonzalez said representation on network news and in printed bylines has such a big effect that she and some colleagues are working to develop a chapter of Latina and Latino journalists in Omaha to “nurture” and “appreciate” those who may not typically be seen and understood.

Julia Wallace, co-author of “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms,” urges women to do their part in amplifying diversity, pushing empathy and education. 

“Try to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes,” Wallace writes. “Being a good colleague helps build a good workplace.”

Gonzalez said she is often the point person in the newsroom for matters of inclusive wording and racial sensitivity in writing, which she said she doesn’t mind, but definitely noted a shortage of people like her in the newsroom.

“When I see something that’s not right, I will point it out,” Gonzalez said. “All journalists should have that role, but in particular here, I feel a responsibility to voice those issues and those stories. I personally love to give a voice to people I can communicate and relate better with.”

There are obviously a variety of reasons for these wide discrepancies of gender in media, but this is a time for changes in education, policy and society.

Elle Love, a journalism student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said she has a basic understanding of gender dynamics in media but would like more information embedded in her communication courses.

“I think some courses that we take like Intro to Mass Communication do a good job of covering the surface of how journalism was for women previously, especially when it [the class] addressed the Gamergate issue,” Love said, referring to the push by women gamers for more inclusion in the gaming industry. “But other than that, it’s briefly brushed upon.”

Hugh Reilly, the university’s director of the School of Communication, acknowledged it could do more to highlight gender and diversity issues. “I know that many of our instructors continually update their lectures and curriculum to incorporate more information on these areas,” he said.

Other institutions, like Rutgers University, offer an entire Gender and Media minor program, while Cornell and Arizona State University offer courses of this nature. 

“I think we should have a women and mass media class so that the history of women in journalism isn’t glossed over,” Love said. “I believe there is more about our history that helped shape the current climate of journalism, and learning about that can inspire women for the future and make the industry equal for everyone. It can also encourage our male colleagues to also contribute to a healthy environment by supporting us and standing up for women in the journalism industry.”

Aside from academic opinions of inclusive education, Gonzalez and Mattern agree strong, inclusive leadership is of utmost importance to women.

“The thing is, I know this is all happening,” Mattern said. “I can coach differently than I’ve been coached, I’m aware of bias, I can be smart thinking about candidates and thinking about raises or promotions. Sometimes, the future looks bright. You have to keep moving forward.”

It could be as simple as a shift in mindset.

“There needs to be an intentional decision by management to say ‘I want this newspaper to be reflective of the community,’” Gonzalez said. “Women don’t need special treatment—it’s more that you should just be paying attention to them.”

Liston said women should continue to do their jobs to tell the truth and communicate effectively, because that’s what matters most.

“For any woman putting herself out there for people to criticize, you are so strong,” Liston said. “This industry isn’t for everyone, and the low pay and long hours can sometimes have people running out the door to career changes, but you really have to love what you do and believe in yourself.”

Kamrin Baker is a correspondent for Gateway Journalism Review and based in Omaha, Nebraska, where she is a journalism and media communications student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper (coincidentally named) the Gateway. Reach her at @thekamrinbaker on Twitter.