Let’s fix it
“Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it and that’s the kind of experience that can really make change.” – Jane Gilmore
When it comes to calling out and making people see problematic representations of violence against women and children in mainstream media, Australian journalist Jane Gilmore is undoubtedly one of Australia’s loudest voices and an original “that bitch”. Her FixedIt project takes aim at the news headlines which eliminate perpetrators and heap blame on victims and victim-survivors. Through rewriting the headlines as they should have been written in the first place, Jane forces news outlets to “describe society to itself”. In a reasonable, safe and sane world, the FixedIt movement wouldn’t exist. But this world is none of those things and little stems the flow of headlines Jane fixes. So much so, she is writing a book based on the project.
Journalist Jane Gilmore says a combination of factors driven by gendered newsrooms affects reporting on violence against women.
Having worked in regional Australian newsrooms over the years, I’ve seen firsthand what diversity in editorial departments can look like. Spoiler alert – it’s often thin on the ground. Even when there is an equal split of male and female reporters, the inherent “bloke” culture dominates. To be a reporter in a newsroom as a woman requires the development of what’s called a “thick skin” , preparedness to be called, at various points everything from “feisty” “aggressive” “too emotional” or of course, “a bitch”.
Even when ages and salaries line up, the division of the work is rarely equal. If you have a male and female cadet you can bet any money if there is a story on a CWA bake sale, a local animal rescue or a sausage sizzle fundraiser, it’ll be the woman who is sent.
That’s not to say editors are not well-intentioned, they often are. But they stick with what they know and if they are straight white blokes, that’s the way things go, straight and white.
So is this the exact reason why news headlines are consistently problematic when it comes to gendered violence reporting? Jane says the reason it’s hard to pin point the cause is because the problem is a combination of factors.
“I think there’s the blokey newsroom and the fact that almost every editor and sub-editor in the country are middle aged white men,” she says.
“I don’t think it’s deliberate that they’re all sitting back and stroking white cats and trying to hide men’s role of violence against women in society, I think it’s a perception thing.
“It seems like it’s not real… even the men I have talked to who are actually violent tell themselves the violence wasn’t real, it was just a moment.
“There’s the constant perception that the violence men commit isn’t real and it’s a knee jerk reaction.
“’Not all men’ basically means ‘not me’.”
She says the old-school news tradition of sensationalising violence also tended to focus on and report more on violence committed by strangers “because that’s unusual”.
“But of course, all the data we have from all over the world proves women are in so much more danger from men they know than men they don’t know.”
Jane’s FixedIt project rewrites our national news headlines the way they should be written – with the truth
In my early days as a cadet reporter 11 years ago in regional Victoria I covered the police round.
Today, police media units keep a tight control on what information comes out of regional newsrooms but back then, I’d be let in the back of the station every morning and given free rein to rifle through the night’s reports.
I still remember the dismissive nature in which the sergeants would brush off any reports I took to them for more information that occurred between men and women in intimate relationships.
“Nah mate, don’t worry about that one,” they’d say and wave their hands.
“Just another domestic.”
If the police didn’t think it was important, why should I? But it bothered me. I wanted to know those stories. Who were these men committing this violence?
That old attitude of those police can seep into the newsroom which is often hamstrung with pressure and staffing issues, and Jane says all of these factors have an effect on the end product.
“There’s the sensationalism of it, there’s the issue of having to get through so many stories in one day, trying to put stories into context which can be problematic, court reporters aren’t trained the way they used to, and then there’s the legal difficulties of reporting on cases before the courts.
“There are many reasons but the nature of gendered newsrooms is one of the main ones.”
While she says things are getting better “in patches” the progress isn’t linear.
“Some places do it really well and every now and then they make a mistake,” she says.
“There are other places that are consistently reporting these issues badly.
“Or you get one person coming into a publication and forcing change and then they leave and things settle back to the status quo.
“There’s been change but it’s not consistent and I don’t think it’s been embedded into the culture of journalism yet.”
As Australia’s national independent organisation dedicated to family violence prevention, Our Watch is trying to change that. Working with the Change the Story framework, it highlights gender inequality as the core of violence against women and children.
In partnership with the Walkley Foundation, it established the Our Watch Awards to reward excellence in journalism dedicated to a deeper understanding of family violence.
This is significant and important for newsrooms as a resource, particularly ones where strong champions aren’t present but reporters want to do the right thing.
As someone who’s worked many years in regional areas where gendered violence seeps through communities like a silent poison, l’ve seen firsthand how newsrooms can set the tone and change the language for communities. The narrative an editor chooses to push can make or break how stories and the people in them are perceived.
Challenging gender stereotypes through reporting is key, though when it’s drummed into you that things have to be done “a certain way” it can be hard for a green-around-the-gills reporter to have the confidence to stand up for their story.
“I think journalists can often feel they are not equipped to deal with it, but that’s also a lame excuse,” Jane says.
“I’m a journalist so I get deadline pressure and I understand that you often have to do what your editor says or there are 10 people lined up outside the door pleading for your job.
“This is why I never put journalists’ names in FixedIt posts.
“Journalists don’t write their own headlines and it’s not always the journalist’s responsibility.
“It’s difficult for young journalists starting out to stand up to newsroom culture.
“This is change that has to happen at the top.”
“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.”
For more information on Our Watch visit www.ourwatch.org.au.
By Natalie Cavallaro