Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Who's the Boss?

Girl Power
When you think of the role of an "editor," do you picture a man or a woman in the position?

I'm going to be honest, my first thought is a man. I've worked with two male editors and two female editors. I've never compared the roles in terms of sex but recently it has been brought to my attention that women might play editor better.

According to Stieg Larsson, women were made for the newsroom.

Well, at least he depicts this in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. The boss lady? She is none other than Erika Berger.

Spoiler Alert -- I tried my best not to give away any valuable information in this post, however, if you don't want to know anything (not even a little hint) as to what goes on in the series, do not read the rest of this post.

We are first introduced to Berger in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as Mikael Blomkvist's lover. She is married, but apparently her husband doesn't mind their "agreement."

Already, you are intrigued by this character because really, what kind of woman can convince a man that cheating is acceptable?

But later in the book, the reader starts to respect her when they see her as Millennium Magazine's editor in chief. She proves herself as a strong, intelligent and ambitious woman, making hard decisions in the newsroom and in life.

In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Larsson elaborates more on her character when she moves up in the world. Without giving anything away, the following is an example of what kind of editor she is:
"Why did they pick me, then?" Berger said.

"Because the median age of our readers is fifty-plus, and the growth in readers in their twenties is almost zero. The paper has to be rejuvenated. And the reasoning among the board was to bring in the most improbable editor in chief they could think of."

"A woman?"

"Not just any woman. The woman who crushed Wennerstrom's empire, who is considered the queen of investigative journalism, and who has a reputation for being the toughest. Picture it."

As you can guess from this excerpt, Berger can be a bit of a tough cookie but apparently that works in the newsroom; It seems being a tough boss is what men expect and respect.

This is further emphasized when Berger needs to take immediate charge of a situation after someone dies. I laughed at this part in the book because it couldn't be more true. Just because something terrible happens, doesn't mean the show gets put on hold -- the show must go on.

Newspapers are the same way. Newspapers must make the deadline. Berger reminds us of this:
"Your editor in chief's untimely departure will create problems in the newsroom. I was supposed to take over from him in two months, and I was counting on having the time to learn from his experience. That won't happen now, and we're going to go through a period of adjustment. But ----- was editor in chief of a daily newspaper, and this paper will come out tomorrow too. There are now nine hours left before we go to press and four before the front page has to be resolved."

Wow. Harsh. But not really.

She has a job to do and that job is to make sure something is published -- on time!

In my opinion, this is an excellent example of why a woman can make an excellent editor. Contrary to what most say, women really aren't that emotional. In fact, I would say our natural instincts are an asset to our decision making skills -- a huge tool when you are sitting in the editor's seat. 

 Do you think there's a "battle of the sexes" when it comes to certain job roles?



  1. RE: your Twitter post about this entry, I don't believe I disagree, necessarily, but am sort of left thinking "Why does it matter?"

    In my time writing for Main Street back at UNH, I was under four different editors in chief; three female, one male.

    Sure, the best editor I had out of the bunch, both working directly with me and managing the magazine, was female (same person). That means the lesser editor was male at some point. However, the lesser male EIC (and he was bad) was a gay man. Am I supposed to work with the generalization that he is supposed to be more effeminate than the archetypal man and therefore should have had better inclinations as to running the magazine? Because generalization, based on some anecdotal evidence, seems to be how most of your conclusions came about.

    The bad male editor in chief wasn't bad because he was male, he was bad because he was self-serving in his vision for the magazine and never strayed from his selfish goals, and that's the way he was in life. Similarly, a female editor before him practically made us into Tiger Beat (as far as edginess goes), but in talking to her I could tell that if I got the least bit offensive (something you know I can do pretty well), I could instantly read the displeasure on her face, and that sensibility crept onto every page.

    I think what's more indicative from your post, especially with you leaving "our natural instincts are an asset in our decision making process" at that, is that there is a certain personality type that works best as editor. There's nothing intrinsically feminine about her "your editor died, now I'm in charge, so sack up" speech, but then again, there's nothing intrinsically male, which makes that essence you are profiling androgynous. It all has to do with your personality and your devotion: are you a good leader or aren't you? I think that's a better generalization to make, and that personality is going to make all the difference in the newsroom. It has nothing to do with chromosomes.

  2. I agree with you! There is definitely a certain personality type that makes an editor.

    I guess the only argument I would throw at you is that in the book -- I don't know if you've read it -- and in my experience, the women have either naturally had that personality trait or have been driven to meet it. Whereas to before, men were automatically given leadership roles because of gender limitations etc.

    I'm not a feminist by any means. I merely find it interesting that women seem to be taking over in the newsroom in books and in real life.