Here’s an extraordinary thing: the head of the Times of London’s online arm, Times Online, is a woman.
No, that in itself is not the extraordinary thing. The extraordinary thing is that the head of Times Online, Anne Spackman, said on Wednesday that in future there will be fewer women in senior journalistic positions like her own. And that this is because women lack the ‘technical skills’ to publish their work in new online formats.
Speaking at the Society of Editors conference, Ms Spackman said:
What we need now is a level of journalistic creativity combined with real technical skills. […] We’ll see less of those people driven to journalism through their curiosity about other people’s lives, and it will be those people at the junction between editorial and technology that will have the exceptional value.
The vast majority of those are men, so as a result there will be an industry more full of men than there are now.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this. Perhaps with some figures: when the Pew Internet research project surveyed 7,012 Americans in 2006, it found that almost half (46%) of Americans who publish a blog are women. Studies by six different research firms agree that there are now more female American internet users than male. Here in the UK, Ofcom’s latest report in August revealed that ‘among 25- to 34-year-olds, women now spend more time using the internet than men’.
Using the internet is clearly not a problem for women.
‘Ah,’ you might say, ‘but *using* the internet and *publishing content* on the internet are different things. Women might lack the technical skills for the latter.’
To which I would say: ‘what technical skills?’ Five years ago, I started blogging because I thought it would help me to learn HTML. Disappointingly, I quickly realised that I hardly needed to know any HTML at all. Nowadays, using a blogging tool like WordPress or Blogger, or a content management system, is barely distinguishable from using a word processor. Taking and uploading a digital photograph is about the easiest thing imaginable. The ‘technical skills’ needed to create online content are negligible, and becoming more so by the day.
That’s not to say that there are no skills involved in creating good online content. There are plenty. It requires strong editorial skills, an understanding of what makes a compelling story, and the ability to tell that story in a way that will make people want to read or look at it online. These are all skills at which women and men excel in equal proportions.
So the sooner we get away from the notion that new media is for ‘geeks’ who ‘love technology’, the sooner we’ll see more journalists – of both genders – embracing the online world and delivering great online journalism. I would have expected someone like Anne Spackman to be doing her utmost to dispel the tedious myth that online publishing is the preserve of techie blokes. Instead, she seems to want to reinforce it. Disappointing.