Persistence, integrity and class: Women in media discuss

By Amy Nielsen

In 1976, Barbara Walters became the first female co-anchor of a network evening news program. In the 40 years since, women have made many strides in media and communications, but differences between men and women in the field still remain.

On Nov. 30, the University of Nebraska at Omaha School of Communication held the“Women in Media” panel where local experts in various communications professions expressed their opinions on what it means to be, not only a woman in media, but also a woman in the public eye.

Panelists included Dr. Gail Baker, Dean of the College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media at UNO; Malorie Maddox, WOWT NBC affiliate co-anchor; Sarah Baker-Hansen, Omaha World-Herald food critic; and Gina Melton, KAT 103.7 Morning Show co-host. Each woman took very unique paths to reach their current positions, but all agreed it took hard work and persistence.

“If you want to be successful, you can’t take no for an answer,” Baker-Hansen said.

Baker-Hansen, who is married to Omaha World-Herald columnist Matt Hansen, described the differences she sees in the reactions the public takes toward both her and her husband’s articles. She said that when people don’t like what her husband writes about, they attack the column, however when people don’t like what she writes about, they focus on her personally.

“People don’t write letters to the editors anymore,” Baker-Hansen said, “they post comments on Facebook.”

Maddox agreed with the targeted criticisms on social media. She said that often being the only female presence on the five, six and 10 news broadcasts; she often receives criticism on the lack of time people perceive that she spends with her family. Because of the harsh words often exchanged on social media, Maddox often makes it a point to avoid sharing many personal details. Case in point, when Maddox posted a picture of her 5-year- old son on Thanksgiving, someone commented, “Your son deserves to get bullied.”

“That’s the reality of the world,” Maddox said.

Melton admits there is not nearly enough diversity in her field. She said that when she began in radio, it was a “boy’s club.”

“I had to work twice as hard as the men, back then, to get where I am today.” Melton said. “But without that struggle, I would be where I am.”

Baker, who has been in the media field the longest of all the panelists, said she has faced discrimination throughout much of her career. Being African-American adds another layer to that discrimination.

“I don’t know which sexism is and which is racism,” Baker said. “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

Baker also pointed out that she also learned a lot from her male co-workers. One important skill she said she learned was how easily many of them could dismiss a bad day or a mistake, while she would often dwell on them. She stressed the importance of being able to forgive yourself for making mistakes, and then be able to move on.

Baker-Hansen added that it is important to know whose opinion is worth your time and whose isn’t.

Baker stressed the importance of having integrity, ethics, passion and empathy as a professional. Baker-Hansen stressed the importance of being organized. Melton and Maddox agreed with Baker and Baker-Hansen.

“Have class,” Maddox said, “be respectful, but ask the tough questions.”

“Your integrity is everything,” Melton added.