Women’s Media Center Awards Night Celebrates the Vision and Vigor of Female Journalists

The media industry is overwhelmingly male-dominated and rife with sexist portrayals of women. But a bold organization is determined to change all that.

Wednesday night, attendees enjoyed cocktails and dinner at Tribeca 360 to honor women journalists and shine a light on the need for the media to address the concerns and issues of over half the population. The star-studded gala, which attracted notable figures like Arianna Huffington and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, marked the growth and increasing impact of a non-profit organization started just six years ago by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem with the laudable goal of making women visible and powerful in the media.

Filmmaker Donna Deitch presented a video tribute describing the development and mission of the Women's Media Center. She was followed by stand-up comic Wanda Sykes, who presided as emcee. Sykes’ hilarious warm-up marked, among other things, Herman Cain’s official transition from serious presidential candidate to joke.

Gathering onstage to the upbeat tune of “Sisters Are Doin' it For Themselves,” Fonda, Morgan, Steinem, along with other women central to the mission, including Julie Burton, the Center’s president, and Code Pink’s co-founder Jodie Evans, encouraged the women and men in attendance to continue building a much-needed community that can offer support, mentoring, and training to women who find advancement in the industry an ongoing challenge. At a time, it was noted by Burton, when 97% of clout positions in the media are held by men, the need for this effort could hardly be more critical. Steinem encouraged everyone to meet at least 6 guests during the course of the evening, noting that you might just end up with a job, a new campaign…or even a love affair. Busting the Lois Lane stereotype of the dowdy female reporter, the glamorous and vibrant women in the room gave enthusiastic applause to her advice.

Upon receiving the Carol Jenkins Young Journalist Award (from Carol Jenkins herself, the first director of the Women's Media Center and a much-loved longtime New York City TV news personality), budding broadcast journalist and activist Yanique Richards exclaimed that she had just seen her female superheroes on stage. This was an apt description of the respect and inspiration generated by the influential women who have made the Center possible.

The evening’s award winners also included a Social Media Award presented to online activist Sady Doyle, who was chosen from a field of twenty nominees. Doyle's Twitter campaigns have challenged media discussions of rape and abortion. CBS’s Lara Logan received the Whole Truth Award, and was honored for her courageous reporting and her brave illumination of the dangers faced by female journalists following her brutal sexual assault in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. The Business Media Award went to Maggie Wilderotter, Chairman and CEO of Frontier Communications, who recounted her early experiences in cable media, which taught her, she said, that “results matter, not gender.” CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, recipient of the Broadcast Journalism Award, gave a moving speech in which she described growing up the child of a bi-racial marriage, an experience that shaped her determination to confront prejudice and injustice in her journalistic endeavors.

The founders of the Women’s Media Center, the award winners, the nominees, and the attendees of Wednesday night’s gala could all be said to be fulfilling Gloria Steinem’s mandate to “make reality visible.” The experiences, perspectives, and talents of women have been, for too long, marginalized in an industry where words like “pundit” and “woman” seldom go together. By monitoring sexism, engaging in campaigns, holding media accountable, and encouraging the work of women journalists, the Center promises a future in which diversity will the norm, rather than exception, in our newspapers, broadcasts, and online media forums.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor.
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