News Anchor Barbie Comes Out as Percentage of Women in TV Newsrooms Falls

Mattel’s release last week of News Anchor Barbie is, not surprisingly, generating some criticism.

The criticism began earlier in the year when young girls voted for her in a Mattel promotion. (The popular vote went to Computer Engineer Barbie.) People have called News Anchor Barbie a sign of the death of real journalism and a reflection of “certain airheads on network cable news.” But I don’t have a problem with the doll.

More than anything, I was struck by the fact that the new Barbie was released the same time that a study was released saying the percentage of women in TV news and the number of female TV news directors went down. The percentage has never even reached 30 percent.

The study, done by Hofstra University for the Radio Television Digital News Association said, “At 28.4 percent, the percentage of women TV news directors fell 0.7 percent from last year’s all-time high of 29.1 percent. It’s still the second-highest percentage ever.”

Newspapers are a little better. According to the American Society of News Editors’ annual newsroom census, “Women working full-time in daily newspapers total about 15,200 or 36.62 percent.” An ASNE study found that the total for online-only newsrooms is about 40 percent.

These percentages are pretty much the opposite of what you see in journalism schools, so this is not for a lack of interest, effort or talent. It seems to me that the hiring pattern pretty clearly reflects sexism against female journalists.

So why did I hear so much criticism of the creation of a toy journalist and so little concern that real women don’t get jobs? In more than 20 years of recruiting journalists, I have seen pop culture’s power to influence smart young people to go into journalism. A generation of journalists told me that they were raised on Sesame Street and learned to love the language. We are seeing the same thing today with Harry Potter.

Many of today’s real-life journalists grew up with Barbie and do just fine, whether they are the type who dressed their dolls or popped the heads off. I don’t think any of them saw Barbie as a role model. This year, even in homes where no one reads the newspaper and no one watches the evening news, little girls will be asking for the new anchor Barbie. That can’t be a bad thing for journalism.

So, I am not bothered if a toymaker suggests journalism as a career in 2010. But let’s open the doors for female journalists long before those girls grow up.

Questions about diversity and careers? E-mail Joe for an answer.

Coming Thursday: A look at where some opportunities may be opening up.

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