Why we need women journalists on the front lines


Story highlights

AP photographer was killed and reporter shot last week in Afghanistan

Frida Ghitis says the two women provided compelling angles on key world stories

She says women belong on front lines, have an ability to highlight human concerns

Ghitis: We are still seeing the world mostly through the eyes of male journalists

Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.” Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Do we need women in the front lines of journalism? Don’t doubt it for a second. We all suffered a terrible loss when an Afghan policeman shot and killed the extraordinarily talented AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus last week.

We lost the ability to see the world through Niedringhaus’ compelling lens. We lost her insight, and we lost what would have come from her commitment to helping us understand the complexities of our world. Most of all, we lost the benefits of her unique ability to show us the connection between historical events and individual human beings.

Niedringhaus and her close friend, AP correspondent Kathy Gannon, were covering the run-up to elections when an Afghan policeman walked toward their car, shouted “Allahu akbar” and shot them both. Gannon, also a veteran journalist with vast experience covering the world’s most dangerous places, was injured.

Frida Ghitis
Tanya Malott
Frida Ghitis

The shooting, as it happens, came shortly after the Women’s Media Center released its report, “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014.”

The snapshot taken in the last quarter of 2013 found men still had almost two-thirds of all bylines and on-camera appearances in the major newspapers, television networks, newswire services and online news sites. We have seen notable improvements over the years, but the report points to “a troubling status quo and, in some places, a slipping back in time.”

Women journalists remain concentrated in “women’s” subjects such as family, style and health.

That means we are looking and trying to understand the world mostly through men’s eyes when it comes to foreign affairs, justice and politics.

This is not just a matter of concern to women journalists. We are all shortchanged when women are subtly edged out of reporting on major world news.

Is there a difference in men and women’s reporting?

Despite the gender bias, there are hundreds of female journalists around the world, many covering – some dying – in conflict zones. Women give us the hard news, the politics, the strategy, the conflict.

I won’t argue here whether women are more sensitive in their coverage. But I will tell you this: Women listen to other women much more closely, and they pay much greater attention to how political and military developments affect individuals, particularly other women.

Consider this: Long before 9/11, Afghanistan had turned into a hell-on-Earth for women under the ultraextremist, hypermisogynistic Taliban, who made even the sound of women’s laughter a crime. A CDC study found Afghan women suffered among the highest levels of depression anywhere in the world – levels that were, not surprisingly, much higher than for Afghan men.

Now that the U.S. is about to leave Afghanistan, the prospect that hard-won gains will be reversed creates enormous fears for Afghan women.

To see how this is covered, I googled three words: “Afghan Women Fear.” The first six news stories on the subject were all written by women.

Read the six stories: Rights slipping away / Peace talk plans / Silenced by fear / More backsliding / Hope and fear / The future

Niedringhaus once wrote, “For me it is about showing the struggle and survival of the individual.”