Interview: When Women Lead Newsrooms

Next City's Diana Lind on how gender can affect the stories that do and don't get assigned.

Diana Lind, editor-in-chief at Photo by Inna Spivakova.

Diana Lind, editor-in-chief at Photo by Inna Spivakova.

It’s not easy to find a woman leading a newsroom. Yes, women do ascend to the top spots of newspapers and magazines — but sometimes, as in the case of the New York Times’Jill Abramson, they leave the position just as quickly as they ascended. In fact, there are fewer women leading major newsrooms now there were a decade ago.

One person who has noted the trends — and bucked them — is Diana Lind, editor-in-chief of Philadelphia-based, a website devoted to urban issues around the world. She doesn’t just lead the staff — she shares the masthead with four other women in the website’s top spots.

The result? An online publication that covers the nitty gritty of economics and urban transportation, but also features stories about the political roles that mayoral first ladies play, and an upcoming piece about transgender cops.

Lind spoke to Philly Mag recently about women in the newsroom. Some excerpts from that conversation:

Last week, Nieman Reports featured an article pointing out that women run fewer major newspapers than they did 10 years ago. You tweeted afterward you were proud to have four other “top spot fems” on your masthead. How did that come about?

It came about organically in that these were progressive hires over time, not any kind of feminist agenda. They were hires made by virtue of the fact that we look  at candidates of all genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

Next City is definitely a hybrid kind of organization —it’s a media organization but it’s also a non-profit that doesn’t have that newsroom sort of culture. We didn’t have a pervasive male culture to begin with. And by virtue of being small and nimble, we’re as flexible as we can be with people who have personal lives — whether they’re people who are raising families or have other personal needs: That was listed in the article as one reason women don’t make it to the top. That can be an issue where women drop out of the workforce after they’ve had kids.

You get the picture: The bottom line is we’re a bit of an unusual organization and we don’t have some of those holdovers that perhaps are bigger issues in newspapers or companies that have long legacies.

How do you accommodate people who want to raise families but still get the job done? You still have a publication to put out at the end of the day.

I wouldn’t say that people can choose their hours. But we have a range of times people come in and when they go home for work. We very much have the kind of culture that is focused on results and not hours with your butt in the chair.

Trying to be flexible when possible is important, and so is being results-oriented. If you get the work done, I don’t care if it took you two hours or eight. The point is getting it done by deadline.

The thing that’s striking, too, is that Next City isn’t a general interest publication, but it’s also not a stereotypically “women’s interest” niche. Urbanism wouldn’t seem like it’s “gendered” exactly. But I wonder if there’s anything you can point to that says, “Because we had women editing this or assigning this, it made a difference in how we covered it”?

That’s a really good point. Urbanism as a topic is particularly, in some ways, not gendered. My dear competitor and colleague Sommer Mathis, who heads City Lab for The Atlantic, also a woman. The patron saint of urbanism is Jane Jacobs.

As far as women covering topics versus men … I don’t think so. We did an article recently, “Married to the Mayor,” about women who are mayoral first ladies,  and how the work they do and the role they play in cities has evolved over time. Maybe that’s a piece that wouldn’t have run if men were in charge — maybe they wouldn’t have been as interested in the story — but that’s one of the few pieces I can think of.

I would say, we cover topics like civic technology, transportation, and economics, which I think in many respects would seem like they are more male-dominated. We have seen there is a little bit of a gender divide in our audience — it does skew more male, somewhere around 60-40 men to women. But we’re not taking a gender agenda to the content.

What else should I know?

I think the reason why the article is really so important and interesting is that, despite the fact the fact there is a lot more gender equality in terms of the workforce and the coverage that we see online, it really brings up this interesting issue that really affects the way we see the world.

I’m kind of backtracking a little bit on the way Next City’s content is not particularly gendered. Let me put it this way: One thing that is really different in the way we cover our content is I think we’re much more aware of the constituents and the people and the players who are working and are out there and deserving of attention in a way that reflects that background of being women and having to fight for attention and recognition.

One thing that is a little problematic with media being skewed toward male editors is who is being left out, what stories are not being told. I think by virtue of being women and always being conscious of the stories that aren’t told and the perspectives that aren’t seen, it’s important to us to always be getting those kinds of stories out there.

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