Women Journalists Discuss Remaining Objective in Polarized Climate

CBS News Senior Producer Chloe Arensberg and Political Director Caitlin Conant talked about combating the fake news narrative during a Women’s Leadership Program panel.

WLP Journalists
Chloe Arensberg (L) and Caitlin Conant (R) discuss their experiences as women in journalism during a Women's Leadership Program symposium. (William Atkins/GW Today)
October 08, 2018

By Briahnna Brown

To present the news objectively, it is all about how you frame the story, Caitlin Conant and Chloe Arensberg of CBS News told a group of first-year students Thursday night at a Women’s Leadership Program event.

Remaining objective is an ongoing conversation in the newsroom, and as producers, Ms. Conant said, they work behind the scenes and make decisions every day to deliver the news to their audience as fairly as they can. For them, it is not about interviewing a Democrat after every Republican in every political story, but rather ensuring that the news anchors ask the right questions in a fair and balanced way.

“What questions do you ask, are you holding them accountable, are you making sure that you're at least acknowledging their point of view,” Ms. Conant said.

The discussion was hosted by the George Washington University Elizabeth J. Somers Women’s Leadership Program (WLP), a selective, year-long living and learning program for first-year women students at GW. Those enrolled in WLP create strong community ties within the program with a dynamic curriculum that emphasizes women’s leadership development. The event is one of the regular symposia the students participate in that include workshops and guest speakers.

While discussing their paths to their current leadership roles in the news media, both women acknowledged that having diversity in the newsroom also helps with objectivity.

 Ms. Arensberg noted that being exposed to a variety of people and making sure she stays open minded while talking to people—especially others in the newsroom—allows her to consider and present a variety of perspectives to the CBS News audience.

"Someone I might work closely with on a daily basis may not have graduated from high school,” Ms. Arensberg said. ‘We come from totally different environments, different races, but we ultimately come to see the world on very similar terms, and I think that is really important.”

Staying objective in today’s political climate also involves combatting the “fake news” narrative.

Ms. Arensberg noted that the network takes extra security measures when sending reporters to cover any of President Donald Trump’s rallies, which she said is upsetting to her because they are just journalists trying to do their jobs.

Ms. Conant said that the easiest way she’s found to combat the “fake news” narrative is by ensuring reporters keep themselves out of the story. She also said she worries about how the negative image of those who work in media will impact people considering journalism careers.

"I think if there is an animosity where people think all reporters are bad guys that are out to get them, it can discourage people from taking those jobs,” Ms. Conant said. “That's really sad because I think it's a great job, you learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about the country…and I worry that it's not as attractive a job anymore if you have to worry about your safety or if 50 percent of America is going to hate your guts if you take that job." 

As for guidance for the first-year women in attendance, Ms. Arensberg advised the young women to find a safe space in their work environment to help build their confidence and developing and using workplace connections.

"I was lucky enough to find safe places in the workplace and had good female bosses,” Ms. Arensberg said. “I would, early-on, find a safe place, and if you can't find that place, whether it's your boss or a colleague or the human resources department, then I don’t think that's a place anyone should work.”

Ms. Conant advised students to take the jobs that offer the most responsibility rather than the more lucrative opportunities that offer less opportunities for growth. She also said they should be cautious about their social media presence because people, especially employers and journalists, will find it and see what they post.

“If you ever have to wonder, 'could this get me in trouble,' just don't do it because it will come back to haunt you down the road,” Ms. Conant said. “Social media is good, I don't want to discourage people from using it, obviously, but just be careful because you don't want to have to deal with it on the back end."

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