Tracy Everbach, 49, now an associate professor of journalism at the University of North Texas and UNT Mayborn School of Journalism, began her successful journalism career as a newspaper reporter. At the Dallas Morning News, Everbach worked as a metro reporter for 12 years and worked her way up to the position of senior reporter. During her time with the newspaper, she covered stories ranging from cops and courts to county government.
In 1998, Everbach went back to school to earn her master’s degree and later her doctorate in journalism. Since graduating in 2004, she has begun a new career teaching journalism and researching the role of gender in newsrooms and the portrayal of women in media. Everbach has received her bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees from Boston University, University of Texas, and University of Missouri, respectively. Her email is: teverbach(at)yahoo.com
Everbach was interviewed by Ashley Oerman, 21, a senior journalism and English major at the University of Iowa.
Ashley Oerman: Why did you become involved in journalism?
Tracey Everbach: Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a journalist. I loved to read and write and I always read the newspaper—mainly the sections for kids and the comics, but I read it. When I was 8 years old, I made a neighborhood newspaper that told whose house was for sale and who had recently mowed their lawn. I distributed it around our block. When I got to high school I wrote for the student newspaper. My high school friends and I also created an “underground” newspaper under anonymous names. We wrote about politics and music. I studied journalism in college (Boston University) and wrote for the independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press. In college, I also free-lanced for a major newspaper and a music magazine. I got my first job at a newspaper three months after college graduation, writing obituaries for the Boston Herald. There never was a doubt I would go into journalism. I wanted to write and I wanted to change the world through my reporting.
AO: How do you define journalism today?
TE: Journalism today has become a much more complicated business than it used to be. When I was a kid, we had a morning newspaper and afternoon newspaper delivered to our house. Today there are many fewer newspapers and much of the content has moved online and is multimedia. Broadcast journalism has expanded from three major networks and a few radio stations to cable news, satellite radio, online news and all kinds of independent news. Bloggers call themselves journalists and I believe some are. But in general, I think a journalist is someone who considers himself or herself a professional, adheres to the tenets of the SPJ Code of Ethics (seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, be accountable and act independently), is responsible to the public, and strives for accuracy and fairness in all work distributed to the public. That person may or may not work for a mainstream media organization.
AO: How has technology influenced or affected your career?
TE: As a journalism teacher since the late ‘90s, I have seen a revolution in technology. When I worked in newspaper newsrooms, from 1986-1998, we still did things the old-fashioned way. We did not use typewriters, but we also did not have the Internet available on our desktop to help us with our reporting. Consequently, it took a lot of knocking on doors, reading, looking up phone numbers and making calls, face-to-face interviews and sifting through documents to do our jobs. However, reporting has completely changed in the past decade. Reporters rely on the Internet for information, which can be a good and a bad thing. Many of my students don’t even think to pick up the phone and call someone to get information, much less visit them in person. “I looked for it on Google and couldn’t find anything,” is an excuse I hear often. So, pick up the phone! “I can’t find the phone number online,” they will tell me. It’s maddening. They also ask me how I possibly could be a reporter before the Internet. That’s the downside. The positive aspect is so much information is now available online that we can find information in minutes or seconds that used to take hours or days to find. People can be reached instantly on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. These are great tools, but they also can become crutches. Personally, as a journalism professor, I have made an effort to constantly keep up with changing technology so that my students will be prepared for the current world of journalism. A lot of students know how to use social media, but they don’t know how to use it in a journalistic context. I learn these skills so that I can teach them.
AO: How will technology affect the future of journalism?
TE: Technology already has changed journalism a great deal. I think in the long run, news will become even more segmented since people will read it on their personal devices. This gives them the chance to filter out what they don’t want to hear. I think journalism will become more and more specialized as it caters to different audiences.
AO: What one word would you use to describe the status of women in journalism today?
TE: UGH. I am serious. That is the word. Women currently make up only 37 percent of newspaper newsrooms, even though they have composed the majority of journalism students since the 1980s. They represent even fewer media managers and are barely visible at the top levels of journalism. A few women, like Jill Abramson, who recently became executive editor of The New York Times, have risen to the top, but the industry is still heavily male-dominated. This struck me recently as I watched “Page One,” the documentary about The New York Times. The newsroom had some diversity but still was largely occupied by white males. Sports media are even worse. Women hold a fraction of jobs in sports and in broadcasting they generally are relegated to the job of “sideline reporter.” A study I read recently found that televised coverage of women’s sports has actually dropped in the past few years and makes up less than 2 percent of airtime. Sports journalism is the most male-dominated area of media and will continue to be.
AO: What role(s) will women have in future journalism?
TE: I would love to say that we will reach gender equity in the future but I do not see it happening anytime soon. Journalism still is a male-dominated industry and I think it will continue to be. The focus of news is on men and their interests. Women still are quoted only 25 percent of the time as sources on front pages. Rarely do they appear as experts or pundits on cable TV and Sunday morning talk shows. They have become more visible on TV, which I suppose is a good thing, but the emphasis is still on their appearance. Are they “hot” and “sexy”? With a few exceptions, that seems to be one of the main criteria for being a TV journalist.
AO: Do you think it’s possible to be completely objective in journalistic reporting and writing?
TE: No. I do not think any journalist can be completely objective. Every journalist brings his or her own experiences and background to reporting. So each person will have a different perspective. That is why diversity is important in newsrooms. If you have people of different ethnicities, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender, religion (or lack thereof) in newsrooms, you are going to bring in many different views. Objectivity is impossible. The best thing a journalist or a journalism organization can do is strive to be fair and represent the perspectives of the community.
AO: Since the decline of newspapers there has been a lot of debate about what will happen to daily news. What do you think will become of newspapers?
TE: I think they eventually will stop printing paper editions but still will put out the news on the Internet and mobile devices.
AO: In your studies of gender and media, what are some surprising findings about the role of women in journalism careers?
TE: I thought I would find that many women leave journalism careers because of family considerations, but in a couple of studies I have conducted and several I have read, that isn’t the case. See the answer to No. 12 for a description of why they actually leave.
AO: Many journalism schools are dominated by female students. Do you think this is going to affect the newsroom in years to come? If so, how?
TE: No. Journalism programs have been largely female since the 1980s but newsrooms have not followed suit. Women compose a little more than a third of newspaper newsroom employees and that percentage has held steady for at least three decades. Studies show that men and women enter newsrooms at about the same rates, but more women tend to leave within five years. See the answer to question 12 for an explanation.
AO: What have you discovered in your research about how women are portrayed in media that might be unexpected to most people?
TE: The portrayals of women as sexual objects, particularly in advertising and music videos, are getting worse, not better. I hate to pick on hip-hop because much of the music is good, but many rappers treat women horribly in their videos. Witness Nelly’s “Tip Drill” or Kanye West’s “Monster.” The portrayals of women are abominable. Advertising, particularly fashion advertising, is outlandish in its objectification of women and their body parts, the fetishization (if that is a word) of violence against women and its tendency to worship thin, unhealthy women with fake boobs. Here is Exhibit A. If this is not a gang rape, I don’t know what it is:
AO: What do you think is preventing more women from sticking with a career in journalism?
TE: Journalism is a demanding career, and newsrooms are not necessarily friendly places for women. I think a lot of women go into journalism thinking they are going to change the world, and then find out that their organizations are not going to let them do that. Journalism also tends to be a lower-paying profession and women get into the newsroom, see that there aren’t very many women at the top, and don’t see much of a future. A colleague and I did a study in 2007 in which we interviewed women who had left journalism. Many of the women who left went into other fields like PR, advertising and law. We found women left journalism jobs for the following reasons:
- They didn’t see opportunities to advance.
- The salaries were low.
- The work schedules were inflexible.
- The women perceived news differently from the definition in most male-dominated newsrooms.
This tells me that journalism still is not a profession that is welcoming to women. I found all of these phenomena myself when I worked in newsrooms, and hence re-invented myself by going back to school and becoming a journalism professor.
This is part of a series of profiles of JAWS members by University of Iowa students. For a complete listing, see this page.