Women take over D.C. media

The rising trend of female leadership in the media field in the past 25 years has left people wondering, why are women so successful in top executive positions once held predominantly by males?

“Women tend to be more collaborative and intuitive, more so than the average guy,” said Kathryn Kross, CNN’s D.C. Bureau Chief. “I think what we are learning in the workplace is that those are skills that are increasingly prized as time goes on.”

More and more women are flooding universities’ mailboxes with applications to media programs.

The Boston Globe reported that women occupy about two out of three seats in most journalism and communications classes. Here at GW, the number of females seeking careers as reporters, anchors, directors and campaign publicists has increased by 1.5 percent since 2002. According to GW’s Office of Institutional Research, a total of 37 electronic media majors, 63 journalism majors and 44 political communications majors make up the tentative 144 of 238 female students enrolled in the School of Media and Public Affairs as of August 20.

“I think corporate America is coming around to realize that a lot of things women do instinctively in terms of dealing with people are really important to good management,” Kross said.

Sitting behind her desk in a newly designed top-floor office, the poised and confident Kross is no newcomer to the media world. Her career spans more than 20 years, beginning with an entry-level job as a desk assistant at ABC and including her role as producer and senior producer for “Nightline” and “World News Tonight,” respectively. Kross left ABC for CNN in September 2001 and served as executive editor overseeing production and newsgathering operations before becoming one of five television network bureau chiefs for the D.C. area in 2002.

“It wasn’t necessarily politics that drew me to Washington so much as it was working in news and getting close to where the action is,” she said. “I found that to be kind of exciting, and I didn’t know a whole lot about it, but I just wanted to be a part of it – whatever small part that was. I’ve always loved to learn, and journalism is one of those professions where you get paid to learn, to experience and to see things you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Kross will be one of 25 accepting the Betsy Magness Fellowship Award for women in cable and telecommunications this month. The Fellowship aims to improve leadership skills of executive-level women during a year-long program that focuses on problem solving and strategy building.

Kross seemed ready and excited to partake in the program.

“I don’t know exactly what I’m getting into, but … people whose opinions I trust … say it’s a spectacular experience,” she said.

As D.C. Bureau Chief of Cox Television News, Heidi Wiedenbauer oversees all news packages, graphics and stories for Cox’s 15 network affiliates nationwide.

“The way has been paved (for women in journalism),” Wiedenbauer said. “Media companies are now open to having women in leadership roles. Now, it’s more a case of looking at resumes side by side … (it) doesn’t have anything to do with gender, but with (the) quality of their work.”

She recalled doubting her prospects of landing her current position because she was a young woman when she was hired.

“I was so excited and so thankful that they wanted to take a chance on me,” she said. “My goal is that if I were to leave, I would leave this bureau a better place than when I got here.”

Wiedenbauer, a GW graduate with a degree in political communication, believes her experience at GW helped her achieve her current success.

“I had so many internships and made so many contacts. I made those connections and got the jobs I needed,” she said. “I honestly think I couldn’t have done it without going to school at GW. I felt like I had a leg up on real world experience.”

Tracy Cook Pannozzo, director of Public Relations for the School of Media and Public Affairs, agrees.

“This school places a high emphasis on internships. We stress that our students get real world experience where they can apply their classroom knowledge in a work environment; to see what it’s like to work on Capitol Hill or CNN,” she said.

In 2001, the SMPA relocated to a new facility offering a more professional learning environment, as well as more opportunities for student involvement in initiatives such as the new Editor-In-Residence Program, which brings editors in the publishing industry to the SMPA for a day of seminars and workshops and sends several students to New York City for hands-on experience. Last year, the executive editor of Little, Brown and Company spoke to interested students.

“(The students) got to meet with all the editorial assistants over lunch (at Little, Brown last year). There is always the advantage of asking the person who just landed their job, ‘How did you get there? What are you doing and what is it like?'” Pannozzo said.

This year a representative from Holt Publishing Company will be leading the program.

SMPA also hosts ongoing lectures with guest speakers such as Claudia Sanchez of National Public Radio and Jon Helmrich, president and founder of International Broadcast Communications. The school’s new Web site, smpa.gwu.edu, provides students with up-to-date job and internship opportunities, interesting quotes and online polls in which they can offer their own opinions on newsworthy issues.

Jessica Kowalski, a senior majoring in journalism, hopes to work at a magazine geared toward women after graduation. She said The Washington Post Semester, a one-credit course in conjunction with Washington Post editors for students attending universities throughout the District, is a strong point in the curriculum.

Another important aspect of the SMPA is the faculty – professors work at a variety of D.C. locations such as the State Department, National Geographic and CBS. Peggy A. Simpson, a prominent D.C. political and economic correspondent, is spending the year teaching at GW.

“Peggy Simpson makes an excellent addition to our faculty this year. Her knowledge of Washington politics and the world, as well as her excellence as a journalist, offers new learning opportunities for our students,” said Albert May, acting director of SMPA.

While education begins in the classroom, it is the real-life experience that Wiedenbauer says provides all students with a path to pursue their career goals.

“Take every opportunity that comes to you,” she advised. “It is going to be long hours and lots of hard work, but if you take those opportunities, every job will give you a new connection. Use everything as a stepping stone, and eventually you find yourself where you want to be.”

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