Friday, July 18, 2008

Live Blogging Blogher: Political Commentary

Claire Mysko here, reporting from the BlogHer '08 conference! My first session today is on political commentary with Jennifer Pozner of Women in Media and News and Catherine Orenstein of the Op-Ed Project.

Jennifer opened the session with this question: How many of you have engaged with media outside of your blogs? Most people in the room raised their hands, but those who didn't said they haven't engaged because they are nervous about putting themselves "out there" and exposing themselves in their communities especially when it comes to politics. Jennifer made the point that as women, we must be willing to engage in a competitive landscape. The media landscape does not look the way we want it to. Women are marginalized and "hard news" is still seen as the realm of men (white, privileged men for the most part).

Jennifer gets tons of hate mail after her TV commentary. Perhaps not so surprising (but still pretty depressing), most of those comments are usually about her physical appearance and almost never about what she actually said.

The more popular your blog is, the more likely it is that mainstream media outlets will come to you. When you get that call, you have to be prepared. Jennifer mentioned the brother-in-law test. If you can get your brother-in-law to understand your point and frame your argument in a way that he gets it, you'll know that you are better prepared to address a broad audience beyond your niche.

Catherine Orenstein posed five questions:
1. what is credibility?
2. how do you create an argument that is a contribution?
3. What is the difference between being right and being effective?
4. how can you see what you care about as part of a bigger picture?
5. how can you see your knowledge and experience in terms of its value to others?

Some stats: 85% percent of op-eds are dominated by men, 84% of political pundits are men, 84% of Hollywood producers are male, 84% of Congress are male. Get the picture?

Plenty of women are blogging, but not in the places where it has the most influence. One out of 20 political bloggers are women. Sadly, these numbers convey the idea that women's voices don't matter and that women aren't leaders.

Three things happened when Catherine published her first op-ed: She got a book deal, she was went on national television, and she was invited to speak with a Clinton adviser. In other words, there are incredible opportunities presented to those who do put themselves out there. If you're not writing your own story, someone else will. And probably not in the way you would tell it.

Public conversations are happening in an echo chamber. Catherine compares this to what happens in the movie Being John Malkovich when John Malkovich goes through the John Malkovich tunnel. That's what public debate looks like these days.

Women don't submit op-eds. Shouldn't we all be projecting our opinions into the prominent forums? So here are Catherine's thoughts on some of those questions.

What is credibility: Accountability to knowledge. What are you an expert in and why?
Creating contribution: What would be valuable? What's the evidence (statistics, quotes, news information, research).
What's the difference between being right and being effective: She shared a letter she received after she wrote an ope-ed that was critical of Sex & the City. "It's Sex & the City, not Jobs & the City," the writer pointed out. "Your version: Boring." Catherine realized that she had alienated a large portion of the audience she wanted to reach. What she learned is that before she concludes an argument, she needs to put herself in the shoes of someone who disagrees with her. Remember two words: empathy and respect. Assume that the other party is both intelligent and moral.

This content is cross posted at 5 Resolutions.

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