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Stamp out sexism in science journalism

18 June 2014

Journalists took part in a plenary session and discussion on sexism in science journalism at the biennial conference of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW).

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, was one of the three panel speakers, and in her contribution highlighted the union's work in tackling the range of issues thrown up for women journalists by the existence of sexism in the broader industry.

These include working to stamp out pregnancy and maternity discrimination, fighting for equal pay, representing women who have been sexually harassed at work or ensuring decent policies exist in workplaces that cover freelance journalists too, as well as the union's broader work on reporting guidelines and the representation of women in the media.

Sue Nelson, of Boffin Media, chaired the session and recounted the inspiration for the session – when American scientist Danielle Lee, who blogs as the Urban Scientist for Scientific American, was called an urban whore for enquiring about payment for a blog requested by an editor at Biology Online. It resulted in the editor's resignation.

That was followed by Scientific American's blog editor Bora Zivkovic being outed by several women writers for sexual harassment. He too lost his job, which prompted a discussion about sexism within science journalism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Michelle Stanistreet raised the issue of internships, and gave examples of interns who have come to the NUJ for support after reporting advances from their male bosses. She said:

"It's depressing that the journalistic equivalent of the casting coach is still present in 21st century newsrooms and adds a further toxic twist to the exploitation that internships can present."

Independent researcher Dr Joan Haran revealed the outcome of a survey on sexism carried out by the ABSW – albeit a small survey, in which 40 people took part, out of 21 women respondents 8 reported they had been personally affected by sexism.

Science journalist, editor and Huffington Post blogger Priya Shetty – who had set up the group Sexism in Science – spoke about the need for journalists to work together to expose instances of sexism, and for those in positions of authority to use their influence to stamp out inappropriate behaviour where it occurs.

Tags: , sexism, science journalism, women, women in the nuj, freelance, harassment, blogs, interns, huffington post