Lisen Stromberg, 49, a brand strategist, journalist, columnist and essayist, is passionate about sharing information to change perspective. Her writings span a wide range of social issues from women’s literacy, abstinence only education and national politics, to personal commentary on marriage and parenting.
Stromberg admits to being a “late bloomer” in her writing career. In 1999, her frustration about the misconceptions of being the mother of a “janegirl”, the male version of a tomboy, led her to write her first essay, “My Son, the Cross Dresser,” on the back of an airline napkin. Versions of the essay have appeared in Salon Magazine, the Utne Reader and Mothering Magazine.
Today, Stromberg is working on her first novel entitled, Complications, which tells the story of a pregnant woman forced on bed-rest who takes the unexpected pause to contemplate her life. Stromberg is a regular contributor to BlogHer.com, Palo Alto Patch.com, and keeps her own blog as an avenue of the writing platform PrismWork, which she owns.
Before her writing career, Stromberg spent 20 years in the business sector of both for-profit and non-profit companies. She was a brand manager at Nestle Corporation and a Vice President at Foote, Cone, Belding advertising agency. Stromberg was the Founder of Supporting Our Sons, a national non-profit dedicated to “supporting the whole boy.” She served as Chairman of the Board and President of the organization until 2004. Stromberg has her B.A. from Dartmouth College and her M.B.A. from the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley and her M.F.A. from Mills College. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and three children.
Strombert was interviewed by Audrey Kittrell, 22, an aspiring magazine journalist at University of Iowa where she is a senior pursuing majors in Journalism and Psychology.
Audrey Kittrell: Why did you become involved in journalism?
Lisen Stromberg: I am late to the game as a journalist. I started my career in business, transitioned into writing (mostly essays) and then was able to transition my essay work into regular work as a freelance columnist, interviewer, and feature writer.
AK: How do you define journalism today?
LS: There was a fascinating debate recently on the JAWS listserv about “journalism today.” A young free-lance journalist was fired for getting actively involved in the Occupy movement. She did not feel that the line between her involvement and journalistic neutrality had been crossed. Many of the “old-school” journalists were dismayed at her attitude. These days, the line between journalism and punditry is very fuzzy. Further, there is (understandably) resistance from traditional journalists to the trend of using “citizen-journalist” – meaning those who are not trained journalists and who capture the world around them without the important distance (and neutrality) we expect from traditional journalists. Media outlets love citizen-journalists because they get free content. Journalists hate them because they sully the professional by their lack of professionalism. However, it is these very “citizen-journalists” who are responsible for so much important information today. Where would the Arab Spring be without the work of “citizen-journalists.” It’s a conundrum to be sure.
AK: How has technology influenced or affected your career?
LS: Not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean hardware, software, the internet, social media? I write everything on my computer, I email it to my editors, I post it on FB/Twitter/G+Most of my work can be found online. I rarely publish in print editions of media outlets. I prefer the ability to send my work into the net-o-sphere rather than hard copy to be more compelling and useful. That said, most print publications have online offerings and my work is often printed in both mediums.
AK: How will technology affect the future of journalism?
LS: We will be expected to be full service providers of content: experts in video, audio, distribution via social media. It means more responsibility will be on our shoulders to do the work that once was spread across teams of people. Sadly, we will not have our pay increased despite taking on these additional duties.
AK: Do you think Patch.com’s hyper-local structure is the future of journalism?
LS: As a Patch columnist, I would say it has great use in my community. I write about what is meaningful and happening at a local level. Sometimes I take national news and bring it local. Sometimes I just focus on specific issues to our town. However, will we still need a Wall Street Journal, a New York Times, an NPR? Of course. I can’t get national and international news from a local Patch site and I wouldn’t expect it. To expound on this question though… Patch pays poorly trained reporters (citizen-journalists, if you will) to do the work and pays them poorly. Is this the trend in journalism? Yes. It calls into question the very need of journalism graduate programs. Are they worth the money when anyone can get a job at a local Patch (or Patch-like site) and call themselves a journalist. The media outlets are desperate for content. The questions remains, is the content of high quality and reliable? Not so sure…
AK: What one word would you use to describe the status of women in journalism today?
LS: Do you mean journalists who are women? I would say it is: Dismal, but improving (ok – three words). Do you mean how the profession covers, speaks to, addresses women? Appalling. Take a few moments to watch Miss- Representation and you will see what I mean.
AK: Do you feel as though there is gender equality today?
LS: No. Is it better than it was for my mother? Yes. Will it be better for my daughter? I hope so. But, is there gender equality? Really, do you need to ask?
AK: As a female journalist, what can you bring to the table that a male may not?
LS: As a Africa-American, Asian, Native-American, Arab, Jewish, gay, Muslim, (you get the point), person, what can I bring? Diversity and perspective.
AK: Has your gender helped your career, hurt your career, or not affected your career?
LS: This is impossible for me to know. I have faced sexism in the workplace? Of course. Does unintended bias exist that has affected my career? Probably. Have I been mentored and supported by men and women who have helped me in my career? Yes.
AK: What role(s) will women have in future journalism?
LS: I believe we will move into more managerial/leadership roles overtime. I believe this will offer insight into issues that may have been overlooked by an exclusively all male journalistic workforce. Did we ever think Newsweek and The New York Times would be run by women? No. And yet…
AK: How do you maintain a voice for social issues?
LS: I chose to be the kind of journalist that can address social issues and can shape opinion. I am not a reporter or investigative journalists because I want to be able to expound on the pressing issues facing our world. This is why I choose to be a columnist, and essayist and a feature-writer. These avenues allow me the opportunity to expound in the issues I believe are relevant and important to society.
AK: What’s one career goal you have to accomplish before you retire?
LS: I plan to write and publish at least one book. However, as a self-employed writer, I see no reason to retire until I am physically, mentally, or emotionally unable to continue the work that I do. The very concept of retirement is outdated. The trend is away from traditional employment structures to self-defined and self-created ones. As there will be no organization or corporate structure from which to retire, I see no reason to do so.