This Blogher 2008 session is part of the ‘What We Believe’ break-out sessions, entitled ‘Top-Notch Political Opinion Commentary’ with panelists:
This was a great session that touched on tips and tricks on how to get female political writers’ blogging messages into traditional news. We chatted on what holds some female bloggers back from getting their words out from blogosphere into Mainstream Media. Some holdbacks included: not sure how to get in touch with repoters, not sure how to write press releases, concerns with anonymity in a smaller town (especially with differing opinions with local family and friends), etc.
Women political bloggers must have desire to engage in competitive landscape – know your facts, know how to talk about them, know the opposing side’s perspective. The media landscape still doesn’t look like we want it too – women are marginalized in OpEd pages, as sources in hard news stories (perspective of editors and producers is often that international affair, global economies and war are understood to be male terrains).
But women straddle many fences, we are invested in many subjects across the board. The blogosphere allows us to get our perspective out sans editors. However, even still our perspectives are not hear as widely as they should be — and even when we are heard, our engagement makes us appear alien to many and puts us under harsh criticism due to sexist mindsets in the media and general public.
Jennifer gets TONS of hate mail after major mainstream media appearances – but always about her looks, make-up or dress. Maybe the last sentence in a critical letter is about what she actually said in an interview, but everything else is physically-related and has nothing to do with her commentary and ideas. Her advice: you just have to expect it and not let it get to you. This is very different than the criticism her mail counterparts receive, but a reality she must deal with.
Working through the MSM:
The more popular your blog is, the more likely MSM will come to you. There are media relation training sessions that help you attract notice and attention.
The best way to stay on message is to have practiced it before MSM calls you — have everything all in a row and ready to go. Jennifer recommends a book entitled ‘Spin Works’, which has a concept of the ‘Brother-in-law test’. The test basically means you must get your message to be understood in a short and concise way by your brother-in-law who isn’t engaged in political system willing to listen to you in about a minute.
Frame your ideas so that all audiences can get your POV, not just the audiences you typically speak to and are surrounded by. Make your perspectives catchy and personal and related to facts and figures and political realities that disengaged people will be interested in understanding. Then you have a successful message to share.
As a player in the media, you must be willing to do what women are coached not to do – stick to your message, speak up for what you believe in and don’t let the boys tell you that your perspective is not as important as yours.
Preparing for a MSM interview:
You must role play before a broadcast or interview, meet up with someone you trust and tell them to ask you the most out-of-bounds questions they can think of that the opposite point of view might misrepresent your position as. If you can respond in a role play in practice session, you’ll be better prepared to do this when/if this happens live.
When writing an OpEd – the goal is to affect public debate and public opinion. You don’t want to alienate people, but want to stay strong in your presentation of your points without appearing like you are ranting or emotional. This is something to always remember – women with strongly held opinions are often considered ‘emotional’. You have to fight past this with facts.
It is always okay to not answer an inflammatory question, if you can
re-direct the question and move it to your point. Do not dignify
inflammatory remarks and questions with a response.
When being booked for a broadcast, always be prepared for the worst
case scenario. Hosts go off script and some shows just lie when
briefing interviewees. You can say no if you don’t like what they are
talking about. Some networks and producers are better than others,
some will work on the message with you if they really want you.
Powersources project – national database (late 2001) of women experts. A lot of women who are incredibly well-informed and leaders in their fields don’t consider themselves experts. You don’t need to be ‘special’, you just need to be confident and well-informed. Systemic bias in the media means that as journalist, those that get to be published are often built around with relationships with editors who call and assign a story. Become a go-to person to have them come to you.
Catherine gave the panel a great window on what public debate looks like and why it matters. She suggests you always start off with 5 questions when thinking about your commentary and OpEd pieces:
1. What is credibility?
Credibility is accountability to what you know – what is the evidence of what you know and can you convey it? What are you an expert in and what woudl be the point you would make in this area? Being an ‘expert’ is really putting yourself out there as a resource. Most people are uncomfortable with this term, but it’s not about you!! It’s about what you can provide others with and how you can help others.
2. How do you create an argument that is of contribution?
2 qualities of contribution: what would be valuable to the other party (the aha! moment) and what is the evidence you bring to bear, opposed to rhetoric or ‘I told you so’. The solid material we could agree upon even amongst those who disagree with our interpretation. Quotes, credible news sources, sometimes logic.
3. What’s the difference between being right and being effective?
Catherine wrote an Sex in the City OpEd piece in NY Times about how they are retrograde (drink, shop, meaningless relationships) and had reactions that were overwhelmingly against her. Not rational mail, but very passionate. Catherine felt like she had the better argument, but realized she had alienated 4 out of 5 of the people she really wanted to reach.
So now, before she concludes an argument, she takes a moment to put herself in the other person’s shoes. Empathy and respect – otherwise it is not possible to change minds. You must assume the other person is intelligent and moral and respect that.
4. How can you see what you care about as part of a bigger picture?
Catherine connected with a women who spent 10 years writing a thesis on 18th Century French gossip and its implications. This is a very narrow field of study, but looking larger, she is incredibly well positioned to write on political implications of social networking. Don’t just keep your knowledge in a box.
5. How can you see your knowledge and experience in terms of its potential value of other people?
Definition of social responsibility and starting point of contribution of major political debate.
These are the 5 questions that come up again and again working with over 1500 women in the OpEd Project. Answering these will ensure you are far more successful. In fact, answering these questions give you the barebones of an OpEd piece.
Statistics on public debate:
85% are mostly privileged (Harvard and Yale graduate) white male debates. 85% of Hollywood producers and radio producers are men. Only 2 of the 19 major syndicated radio talk show hosts are women. 84% Congress is male.
1 out of 20 of top political blogs are written by women. Great to have our voices out there, but even better to have our voices out there in a place where it can be heard. Half of our nation’s best brains are missing in national conversation.
3 different reasons why it matters:
The lack of women conveys the wrong and very bad idea that women are missing in leadership. Thought leadership and leader incubation happens in OpEd and public debate. Example – after Catherine was included in major public debates she very quickly got a book deal, national television, invited to speak with Clinton’s Latin American affairs advisors. This was no coincidence. These appearances and public engagement really reach out and have an impact.
Whoever writes the story, writes history — if you are not writing it, someone else is and they might not be telling it right.
Public conversation is happening in an echo chamber. Today’s public debate looks like scene in Being John Malkovich — all the same people, all John Malkovich’s interacting and reaching out to each other. With this limited view and scope, we’re not getting very good information to make decisions about the world. This is the driving reason why it matters.
2005 Larry Summers made annoying speech on biological aptitude on women in engineering — sparked off OpEd sexism debate. Catherine sees that there are astonishingly few submissions by women in this forum, we must add our voice and be heard. We have the brain power.
A lot of public debate works around Passcode information – this is knowledge that is not secret, but is hidden within groups and books that not everyone knows about it. Women need to break into this sphere of knowledge so as to grow their minds and have even more input.