Remember when The New York Times published more cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails
than it did about all policy issues combined in the run-up to the 2016 election? (Whether the same hysteria will be applied to Ivanka Trump’s email remains to be seen.) Or, during the recent midterm elections, when many news organizations tweeted that “a woman” had flipped the much-talked-about congressional seat in Georgia’s Sixth District but failed to even mention that woman—Lucy McBath
—by name? Whether or not you realize it, much of the news you’re watching and reading is controlled by male executives to appeal to a male audience, and it’s hard not to see the result as, well, sexist.
Veteran reporter Jessica Yellin is blowing the whistle on the media’s not-so-secret bro culture. “From my earliest days, I was told to cover the news like ESPN,” Yellin, formerly CNN’s chief White House correspondent and a reporter at ABC News and MSNBC told Vogue. “It’s about competition, jargon, who’s up, who’s down, who’s winning, who’s losing, zero-sum game, high octane, outrage. And there’s a lot of testosterone in that.”
Covering Washington and politics with the machismo of an MMA fight—packed with explosive graphics, booming “breaking news” chyrons, and outsized focus on “showdowns” and “face-offs,” especially during Trump’s reality show presidency—is an effort by outlets, Yellin says, to cater to the demographic she was told is TV news’s target audience: 18- to 35-year-old men. But treating the news like the Super Bowl of politics never sat well with her.
“My instinct was that it was leaving a lot of women out of the conversation,” Yellin said. She began to conduct her own research, including some in conjunction with a graduate student at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and found that while historically the majority of the news audience is female, a large percentage of women are avoiding the news—both because of the male-driven content and its tone. “Every [major TV] news president except one [Fox News] is a guy,” Yellin said. “There’s something inherently broken about our news culture . . . and women have not been in charge. I’ll put it that way.”
Not that the news on steroids was—or, ahem, still is—an informative or helpful way to communicate with viewers or readers of any gender. In the midst of blockbuster plays for ratings, Yellin found that people outside the media bubble didn’t seem to understand the issues that the news was sensationalizing. Friends asked her for breakdowns, in laymen’s terms, about Iran or health care; they balked at convoluted cable news lingo.
“I always felt that the way we do the news . . . was like you just walked into a conversation 10 minutes after it started,” she said. But when she pitched explainers, management shot her down: “In general, the response was, ‘Jessica, don’t be difficult’; ‘Jessica, no one wants to hear that.’ ”And so a frustrated Yellin left CNN in 2013. She got to work on a novel—Savage News, to be published next year. (Incidentally, it’s about a young woman reporter assigned to a sex scandal story . . . only to realize “something much more significant is happening in the world but she can’t cover it because management thinks it won’t rate.”)
And, this past July, she began to deliver the news, on her own, in the way she’d always wanted to—the way male brass at her past jobs wouldn’t quite let her. Instead of presenting the news as a battle royal, Yellin started breaking it down in a real, relatable, informative way that actually acknowledged women readers and listeners—on, of all places, Instagram, “because the audience is so heavily female,” Yellin said.
— Read the rest of the article on www.vogue.com/article/jessica-yellin-news-not-noise-instagram-news