- Inverting the Inverted Pyramid:A Conversation about the Use of Feminist Theories to Teach Journalism
Teaching is always challenging, and for some of us who are feminists, teaching journalism is particularly difficult. The tenets of good journalism—objectivity and neutrality—are often antithetical to our feminist values. We face the dilemma of how to incorporate feminist sensibilities into teaching journalism—a profession that strives for detachment and, at times, seems oblivious to its own position of power.
At a professional meeting three years ago, several of us were talking casually about our teaching responsibilities and our students. During the course of that conversation, we began discussing the ways we teach journalism, and one of us made the comment—the others agreed—that we cringe at some of the things we tell students: write with detachment, always use third-person, use the inverted pyramid to tell your stories, take yourself out of the story. We admitted even we don't believe some of the instructions we give students, but we often feel we have to tell students these things because of journalistic professional standards and also because our departments tell us to.
We shared stories about how our students come to us pretty media-savvy, knowing there is a different way to write, to interview, to tell stories. They're looking to us for guidance, and we aren't always sure what to say. Some of us lamented that we had lost creative students who chafed at the rigid instructions we give them for writing in "true" journalistic fashion.
So our initial discussions led us to think about how we might realistically change the way we teach journalism. One of the ideas of feminist theory is to question the status quo—why does it have to be this way? So we asked questions about our teaching practices.
In this article, three of us who participated in that informal discussion three years ago—all journalism professors—discuss how we have worked to incorporate feminist theories into our classroom teaching. We currently teach in the United States, and our conversations focus on our work in this specific geographic setting. Each of us shares thoughts about the contradictions we face. We hope these discussions will generate further conversations about how to use feminist theories to teach journalism differently—and better—and also how to incorporate feminist theories into other classroom settings. Some [End Page 177] of our discussions are theoretical, but we offer some practical examples of how we have actually incorporated some tenets of feminism into our classrooms, and how those things have worked—or not.
- Questioning a Dominant Discourse
As a young journalist and a woman interested in equality, I thought that making it in the tough-talking, risk-taking, hard-charging world of journalism had something to do with feminism. It was the Nellie Bly school of feminist thought. As a woman wanting to succeed in the news business, I often adopted and incorporated the ways of journalism with enthusiasm, including bellying up to the bar and downing tequila shots after a hard day of writing and reporting on deadline, with the best of them—the guys.
As a more experienced feminist academic these many years later, I've come to see those traditions, as well as the underlying discourse of mainstream journalism itself, as gendered—not an exciting test of mettle for "equal" entry into the boys' club but a patriarchal structure built on the language and ideology of the powerful.
I assume I'm not the only female news-person to feel this way. When Barbara Barnett, Margaretha Geertsema, and I happened to cross paths in Dresden, Germany, we confided in each other that we found certain requirements of our jobs distasteful. We met at an International Communication Association pre-conference event, sponsored by a group of well-known feminist leaders within the discipline, and we quickly felt safe enough to admit we were living a kind of lie. It was the notion that we were passing on to a new generation the same old gendered discourse that I readily adopted as a Nellie Bly...