I originally wrote this article for NLGJA News.
By Robin J. Phillips
Apparently Rachel Maddow is so far out of the closet she’s out of mind.
As the news broke about CNN’s Anderson Cooper formally coming out, Twitter erupted and columnists began posting. Two main narratives took shape quickly: 1. Well, duh! and 2. Is this relevant?
In no time, Forbes had a piece up by Jeff Bercovici who wrote, “It’s not often you can make news by telling the world something it already knows.” The Forbes headline was “Anderson Cooper Comes Out As TV’s First Openly Gay Anchor.”
Oh yeah? What about CNN’s Don Lemon? MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts? Or Steve Kornacki who co-hosts at 3 p.m. for MSNBC.
Or what about Jane Velez-Mitchell from Turner’s HLNTV? Or how about MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow?
Later in the day, the headline was changed to add “Prime Time” and a correction on the post was added to point out that the original version omitted Lemon and Roberts. But while it might be simple to change a headline, or offer a correction, it is not so easy to change the original impression that there are no lesbian anchors on Network and Cable television.
Forbes argues that Maddow isn’t officially designated as an anchor. So I guess she doesn’t count. And they didn’t even mention Velez-Mitchell who CNN calls an anchor.
I get that Cooper is a household name and reporting on what they consider a “First” is more exciting than reporting on the “Fifth” or “Sixth” or “Yet Another”.
I get that discussions about whether journalists should be out (in their newsrooms and the world) are important. And his coming out did lead to a lot of these types of discussions and the impact they have on the way we cover the news. One of the most important things NLGJA can do is help young journalists navigate these waters.
Yet, what does a young LGBT broadcaster learn from the past week? Well, it may just depend on whether that broadcaster is a young woman or a man.
A young gay woman may come away from last week thinking that no matter how hard she works as a journalist, no matter how she proves herself or what job she lands, there is something about her being either a woman or a lesbian that will make her invisible.
We are not invisible, we are here. We are in newsrooms in all positions, from the bottom to the top, running websites, running papers, running newscasts and anchoring them. We want to be counted when big stories break, not discounted.
FINDING OUR VOICE
As LGBT women, we need to make sure our story is told. As journalists, men and women, we need to make sure the stories of our female colleagues are not overlooked.
In Cooper’s coming out email, he spoke about his recognition that remaining silent was doing more harm than good. But the coverage of his coming out last week highlights the harm that can happen when women are not factored into the story.
We do have a voice, and it is time that the women speak loud and clear. That needs to start with a unified effort and that can begin with NLGJA. We need to bring new LGBT journalists into the organization, those who have left and those who are brand new.
We need to use the resources at hand to begin to bring a more powerful women’s voice to this industry.
Let’s dig into NLGJA programs and start using the services this organization has set up: professional coaching, resume review, the job board.
My personal favorite is the membership list. NLGJA members have access to all other NLGJA members. We are all just a quick email away.
Velez-Mitchell and Maddow aren’t NLGJA members (they should be and I volunteer to ask them). Neither is Cooper. But a lot of the journalists who were asked last week to comment on Cooper’s coming out are NLGJA members. By being members you can have a more active role in these types of discussions, active voices we all want to hear.
SO WHAT’S NEXT:
Women’s Networking Dinner. Over the years this has gone from just a handful of women, to a room packed with powerful LGBT voices, coming together for support, networking, and celebration.
If you are heading to Unity at the end of the month, I hope to see you there. Let’s all talk at the women’s dinner about ways we can find and use our voices.
Let’s find ways to make sure that the next time anyone is counting the great LGBT journalists hard at work that they have no trouble seeing and hearing all of us, not just a few.
Women’s Networking Dinner
Thursday, August 2, 2012
6:30pm to 8:30pm
Mandalay Bay Hotel
Las Vegas, NV