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Women Leaders Of PHX
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YWCA’s Women In Media Panel, Featuring Anita Helt, Mi-Ai Parrish and Ilana Lowery, Discuss Fake News, The Glass Ceiling And The Realities Of Reporting In The Post-Election World

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By Stephanie Sparer
Modern Times Magazine

Dec. 8, 2016 — “It’s so nice to celebrate women!” Tram Mai said as she opened up the discussion panel at YWCA’s Women in Media Panel at the Camby Hotel in November. The 12 News anchor was joined by a who’s who of local media personalities who gathered to discuss the evolving media landscape.

Joining Mai on the stage were Anita Helt, vice president and general manager of ABC 15; Mi-Ai Parrish, president and publisher of Republic Media; and Ilana Lowery, editor-in-chief of Phoenix Business Journal.

The tone that day was one of caution and hope, not just for women in the media, but all women over the course of the next few years.

“The future is scary,” Parrish said, “A lot can happen in five years.” The majority of the audience nodded along in agreement.

“Every year it’s changing. Every year it’s getting better,” said Helt.

We hope.

“Gannet [Arizona Republic’s parent company] is primarily women,” said Parrish. Though, even she admits not long ago that wasn’t the case, and the influx of women is new and exciting. “A whole lot of women ahead of me did a whole lot of work. It’s really remarkable.”

While Parrish thinks there were always opportunities for women throughout the year, it isn’t like it is today. “15 years ago, we wouldn’t have had these jobs,” she said.

The journalism industry, as Ilana Lowery explains, had to adapt or die. “Saying ‘What now?’ can be a challenge,” said Lowery.

The industry as a whole is at a turning point, as evidenced by the recent presidential election. Speaking to that change, Lowery went on, “The [2016] election is going to help the [media] pendulum swing the other way,” she said, urging the crowd to remember it’s important to define fake news.

Parrish sighed, “I thought telling the truth was enough. [Real journalists] have never been more important or more relevant. We really, really need to protect the First Amendment. Help participate,” she plead to a sea of women nodding in approval. “It’s going to take all of us in the next five years and if we aren’t protecting the first amendment…we’re doomed.”

There are several ways to defend real journalism.“Native content needs to be clearly marked,” Lowery said. She’s talking about the ads that don’t look like ads in your newspaper. Rather, they look like featured articles.

These ads come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the article features a celebrity talking about a skin care product when they are actually the spokesperson and sometimes it’s the Vice President of Marketing at IBM writing about how IBM is helping to change how we look at data.

But an ad is an ad when the subject paid for space in a publication. Even if it looks like a news story. “Sponsored content needs to be marked and a lot of people don’t see that. Not every new organization will [mark the stories as advertisements] and native content plays a part [in the news cycle and adds to the lies spread by the media],” Lowery added.

The women in the crowd, including many familiar faces from the media and some influential behind the scenes players, seemed cautiously optimistic. The world feels like doom and gloom to many women right now; a pussy-grabber was elected into the highest office in America and a glass ceiling wasn’t shattered in celebration. If the hour panel taught anything, it was that women need to walk with confidence but also carry a big stick, because you might need it to fend off fake news and, well, an attacker or two.

“This election cycle was so incredibly violent,” Parrish said. Following Arizona Republic’s Clinton endorsement, her staff faced the brunt of that violence. She went on, “Spitting on our salespeople, guns, threats… They’re still calling. They’re still emailing. I’m still driving a different car. That’s un-American.”

She wants change. “Part of what we’re doing now is trying to heal this and change the dialog. Policing our own language, being more declarative about it… we’re in the business of telling the truth. How do you break the echo chamber? We’re bringing news. Not changing minds.” She noted that most reporters were “not prepared for all these lies.”

“If there’s ever a time that responsible journalism is needed, it’s now,” said Helt. She urges the media to begin talking to real people, “See what’s going on in their lives. National media needs to actively listen. We all do.”

“Do what you can and be the best version of yourself,” said Parrish. “And help others be the best versions of themselves. Do what you can to make a difference.”

Anita Helt agreed, giving to audience the question she poses to her newsroom a lot, “How do we make [where we live] a better place? That’s our north star.”

The YWCA of Arizona’s goal is to empower women and eliminate racism. You can see a complete list of their events or donate at http://ywcaaz.org/.
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