I Said ‘I Do,’ Do I Change My Byline?

August 23, 2010

Illustration by Tracey Berglund

The media frenzy over actress Portia de Rossi seeking to change her name to Portia DeGeneres is sure to infuriate long-standing feminists who have fought long and hard for women to keep their maiden names. Or not?

The issue of marital name change can strike near to the hearts of women journalists who often struggle when they marry with whether to give up the bylines that they’ve worked hard at establishing.

De Rossi, 37, recently filed a petition in a Los Angeles court to legally take the last name of her famous same-sex partner, Ellen DeGeneres. California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma introduced a bill that would make California the seventh state to give married spouses and domestic partners equal opportunity to take their surname of choice. Ma says the proposal is really about “equality in relationships.”

But would pioneering feminists like Lucy Stone agree?

As a 19th century women’s rights champion, Stone advocated for women to retain their own names after marriage. The Lucy Stone League carries on her work. Its view: “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers…my name is my identity and should not be lost.” When women take their spouses names, it is considered “name-abandonment,” but it’s such a big part of U.S. culture, few recognize it for what it is: A powerful instance of sex discrimination that has a major effect on women’s lives and work.

The issue of sex-discrimination is obviously erased when referring to same-sex couples, but it can still be similarly damaging to one’s career.

Journalists, for example, build their careers, reputations and even brands based upon their bylines, so changing one’s name can cause much confusion, particularly in today’s new-media world where content is shared at lightning speed, with little or no time for consumers to read the fine print.

But it doesn’t stop there.

According to the recent European study, “What’s in a Name? 361.708 Euros: The Effects of Marital Name Change,” women who took their partner’s name appear to be different from women who kept their own name on a variety of demographics and beliefs, which are more or less associated with female stereotypes.

A woman who took her partner’s name or a hyphenated name, for example, was judged as more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional, less competent, and less ambitious compared with a woman who kept her own name.

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi

A woman with her own name, in contrast, was judged as less caring, more independent, more ambitious, more intelligent, and more competent. This assessment was similar to how unmarried women and men (married or not) were judged in the study.

Perhaps most significantly, a job applicant who took her partner’s name, in comparison to one with her own name, was less likely to be hired for a job and her monthly salary was estimated €361.708 lower, or $1109.32.

But somehow, for Portia DeGeneres, I don’t think this will necessarily be the case.

— Lori Sokol is president of Jersey City, N.J.-based Sokol Media Inc., publisher of NY Residential, Green Matters and Work Life Matters magazines, and host of the weekly radio show, Juggling Act, on 1490AM WGCH.

— When you said ‘I do,’ did you change your byline? If you aren’t married, do you plan to? What went into your decision? The upshot?


Kickstarting Funding for a Freelance Project

August 20, 2010

Erin Siegal

Club members Erin Siegal and Erin Arvedlund recently took some time to talk about Siegal’s use of an innovative tool called Kickstarter.com to raise money for her book,  “Finding Fernanda,” due out in 2011. Siegal was a recipient of the club-affiliated Anne O’Hare McCormick Award scholarship in 2008.

Arvedlund: Tell us, why are you using Kickstarter?
Siegal: Last year, I graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and embarked on a quest to write a book based on my master’s thesis. It just didn’t seem like boiling my project down to a magazine or newspaper piece would do justice to the story. It just felt like a book.

I started querying agents, and signed with Farley Chase at Waxman Literary Agency. This past January, he negotiated a deal with Beacon Press for my book, “Finding Fernanda.” It’s the story of two very brave women, one American and one Guatemalan, whose lives are brought together by the same little girl, Fernanda.

I’ve been working in a timeframe of roughly eight months to finish reporting and write the actual book. Beacon Press is the oldest independent publisher in the U.S., but they’re a small operation with a tight budget. Unfortunately, my advance didn’t come close to covering my reporting and living expenses. It was a confusing and sad reality check: I didn’t have the money I needed to write the book I was so passionate about. It’s a story that needs to be told, both an expose of criminal wrongdoing and a powerful narrative about hope, love, and faith. Naively, I thought getting the book deal would be the hard part. I didn’t anticipate that fundraising would be the tricky part.

If the book was less timely, I could have tried to put in a few months of dedicated full-time fund-raising. Yet the issue, corruption in international adoption, is a pervasive problem. It needs to be talked about. At one point, my agent asked me if I realistically thought I could pull it off, given my small book advance. I told him yes without hesitation. I’m sort of stubborn.

Since then, I’ve been engaged in the process of fundraising, reporting, writing chapters, and trying to freelance on the side simultaneously. It gets overwhelming sometimes, but I’m still in my mid-twenties and have enthusiasm to spare.

Right now, I’m using Kickstarter to raise money for my final reporting trip to Guatemala City this August and September before my manuscript is due in October.

Arvedlund: How does it work?
Siegal: With Kickstarter, after creating a profile page for your project, you start spreading the word about it. At the beginning of the campaign, you set a target amount of money to raise, and the amount of time you think you need in order to raise it.

Then you create incentives! For Finding Fernanda, a donation of just $5 gets backers access to a private, behind-the-scenes reporting blog. It’s a fun blog, sort of a reporter’s diary with pictures, clips, and other fun things related to the story. For $100, backers get a free copy of the book, with a personalized inscription. For a donation of $500, I’ll include donor’s names in the printed acknowledgements section of the book.

A variety of creative projects are listed on Kickstarter. Musicians use the site to raise money for albums, authors use it for books, and lots of filmmakers use it for movie projects and documentaries. It’s really interesting to see what gets a person fired up, and subsequently, what the public feels is worthy of support.

If the target fundraising goal isn’t met by your deadline, then you get zero funding. It’s all or nothing.

Arvedlund: What alternatives did you consider?
Siegal: I’ve been applying to various grants and awards, yet the waiting period between application and decision can be long. Some foundations that give money to investigative reporting projects don’t support books. IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) awarded me a 2010 Freelance Fellowship Award, which was $1,000. The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism has also provided financial support. Director Florence George Graves and E.J. Graff have been very supportive, providing personal mentorship as well as material support like pro-bono legal counsel and remote research assistance. I don’t know what I’d do without E.J. and Florence. They’re very smart women, both amazing and experienced investigative journalists.

I’ve also gotten photo assignments from my agency in New York, Redux Pictures, here and there. Every job helps. A New York Times piece by Ginger Thompson to which I contributed reporting came out recently, printed as the lead story on A1! It was really exciting. The story is “After Haiti Quake, the Chaos of U.S. Adoptions.” Ginger and I are currently working on another investigative piece that will be a co-byline, also about adoption corruption.

It can be hard to find time for everything, in addition to ongoing grant applications.

I keep joking to my friends that after this, I’m going to take a few months off by finding a real job as a waitress.

Arvedlund: Why did you go with Kickstarter?
Siegal: Today, my manuscript deadline is less than two months away. I desperately needed to get back to Guatemala to finish reporting, and Kickstarter seemed like a great option to try. There was nothing to lose.

It turned out to be really encouraging as well as financially successful. It’s been great getting feedback about the book; people seem to feel that it’s as worthwhile as I do. Since book writing is such a solitary endeavor much of the time, it’s been very reassuring as well.

Arvedlund: Cost?
Siegal: There’s no cost for using Kickstarter.

As a freelancer, I’m used to doing things on a shoestring. To date, I’ve raised about half the total money needed for this project. The rest has come out of pocket. I’m still harboring hope that Finding Fernanda will break even, somehow. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Arvedlund: What’s the downside? Or what should other journos be aware of before signing on?
Siegal: I’m not sure yet if there’s a downside. My experience has been really positive. I guess one potential drawback would be attempting to fund a project that requires heightened sensitivity or confidentiality. Since Kickstarter is public, anyone can learn about your project online.

Arvedlund: The results?
Siegal: Within the first six days, Finding Fernanda met the goal of raising $3,000. It was a bare-bones goal, the very minimum I’d need to cover travel, living and reporting from Guatemala for almost two months. I initially wanted to set my goal at $5,000, but I was afraid of failing: $3,000 seemed doable.

To my delight, the goal was met in the first six days! It was incredible. I’m still trying to spread the word.

It would have been nice if an employer, foundation, or publisher gave me the money I needed to do this execute book project and investigation. It would have been such a luxury to simply focus on reporting and writing. But the media landscape today is difficult, and no one has money to sink into long-term, long-form investigative projects.

Arvedlund: Would you do anything differently?
Siegal: I don’t think so, but ask me again in a few months! I’m sure I’ll have a laundry list of those good old hindsight realizations. I’ve never written a book before, and I’m not a “real” writer. I’m doing the best I can. Determination and passion goes a long way.

So does the help of friends, colleagues, contacts, and total strangers. Words can’t express the gratitude I have for everyone who’s helped, both financially or just by sending along a note of encouragement. I’ve spoken to over 400 sources thus far, over the last two years, and I feel so deeply honored to be telling this powerful story.

— Erin E. Arvedlund

Oct. 12 Panel: War Correspondents, Reporting From the Frontline

August 18, 2010

Cami McCormick

Join us for an evening with a panel of distinguished women journalists who’ve covered wars and conflicts around the globe. They’ll share their personal experiences and discuss the challenges and risks they’ve faced as war correspondents.

Who:  Wall Street Journal Reporter Gina Chon, Associated Press Chief U.N. Correspondent Edith M. Lederer, CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick, and Reuters Editor and Newswomen’s Club of New York President Toni Reinhold (moderator)
When: Tues., Oct 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Reuters Building, 3 Times Square (7th Ave. & 42nd St.), 22nd fl.
Cost: Free to members and nonmembers, but reservations are required as seats are limited.
RSVP: Please RSVP to newswomensclub@verizon.net.

About the Panelists

Gina Chon, Wall Street Journal Reporter
— Baghdad-based Iraq correspondent for the Journal from 2007-2009.
— Served as an editor and trainer in Iraq for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and trained Iraqi journalists to help build an independent media in Iraq.
— Co-author of “Behind the Killing Fields,” based on interviews with the top surviving Khmer Rouge leader and the experiences of her Cambodian co-author, a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press Chief U.N. Correspondent
— Began her career as a foreign correspondent in 1972, becoming the first woman assigned full-time to the AP staff reporting on the Vietnam War.
— During a 44-year career with The AP, has worked on every continent except Antarctica covering wars, famines, nuclear issues and political upheavals.
— Awards include the University of Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, the United Nations Correspondents Association’s Silver Medal, and the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Cami McCormick, CBS News Correspondent
— Joined CBS in 1998 and served nine tours embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. Covered the trial of Saddam Hussein.
— Seriously injured in August 2009 while on assignment for CBS when a vehicle carrying her and several U.S. Army members was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. One U.S. soldier was killed in the attack.
— Previously worked for CNN. Developed, anchored and produced CNNRadio’s first international newscast.
— Awards include six Edward R. Murrow awards, three AWRT Gracie Allen Awards and two Associated Press Awards.

— Milena Jovanovitch

Wanted: Freelance Book Editor

August 16, 2010
Alphonse Mucha

Freelance book editor needed to take a book from completed manuscript to finished product via self-publisher, distribution on Amazon.com and perhaps even the book’s Web site.

This position requires also requires seeking and gaining permissions for photographs used in book. Author is retired attorney from a major firm with several other books to his credit. I will select several candidates to forward to author for review. Final candidate must discuss fees and other issues director with author.

To express interest, please send resume detailing book editing experience and contact information to:


Rita Henley Jensen, editor in chief, Womensenews.org

Swear By It

August 14, 2010


Illustration by Tracey Berglund

To celebrate my 50th birthday earlier this month, I invited the author of the book, “50 Is The New 50,” Suzanne Braun Levine, to be a guest on my weekly radio show, “Juggling Act.” While she discussed the many benefits associated with embarking on this new decade of female freedom and independence called, “Second Adulthood,” what I recall most from this interview is her chapter entitled, “The F-U Fifties.”

But don’t assume for even one moment that the “F-U Fifties” reflects a self-reproaching attack by this birthday girl for reaching that pivotal age gravely considered “over the hill.” Au contraire, this term is actually meant to be aimed at others, as ‘Finally,” Levine writes, “we feel empowered to tell others to ‘f—off’.”

Now, I don’t propose that we, as professional journalists, indiscriminantly curse at others either verbally or in writing, as did a University of Mississippi student journalist last year who was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct and sent to prison. Instead, I am suggesting that, as Erica Jong says, “We need to save ourselves.”

In her book “Fear of Fifty,” Jong wrote: “In our twenties, when success and motherhood are still before us,  we could imagine that something would save us from second-classness — either achievement or marriage or motherhood. Now we know that nothing can save us. . . The anger of midlife is a ferocious anger.”

And, yes, I have certainly felt ferocious. As I now think back on my 30-year career in the media, many times I had wanted to tell a condescending editor, arrogant interviewee, or callous co-worker to f— off. This anger only elevated when desperately trying to balance my work and family responsibilities as a new mother 20 years ago, I tried to explain to too many disbelieving bosses that I had leave the office early to attend a school play or take care of a sick child. As my appeals continually fell on deaf ears, I would ultimately concede, since as women we are taught early that rather than stand our ground, we should instead know our place, which translates to primarily remaining polite, humble, demure, timid, fearful, cowering, submissive (feel free to insert additional adjectives here).

And this is not surprising since, according to Louann Brizendine, author of “The Female Brain,” women have much less direct relationship to anger than men.  “Pushing someone else too far, demanding too much and escalating conflict are all situations that, for most of our lives so far, we would do almost anything to avoid.”

But the importance of conflict should not be underestimated, and the need to sometimes curse should be even less so. According to the results of a 2009 research study from the school of psychology at Britain’s Keele University, swearing has been found to make people feel instantly better by imparting a “pain-lessening effect.” And, after all, men must have known about these health benefits for years. Just look at some of the male leaders of our great nation who have used the f-word, without apology. Former Vice-President Cheney, for example, said “f— off” or “go f— yourself” to Democratic Senator Leahy, and current Vice President Joe Biden told another senator to “Gimme a f–ing break!” Neither Vice-Presidents regretted or apologized for using this word and, now, neither will I.

I feel better already.

— Lori Sokol

Lori Sokol is president of Jersey City, N.J.-based Sokol Media Inc., publisher of NY Residential, Green Matters and Work Life Matters magazines, and host of the weekly radio show, Juggling Act, on 1490AM WGCH.

Three Reasons to Love No Agenda Tuesdays

August 6, 2010


Thought about attending a No Agenda Tuesday networking mixer, but never quite got there?

It’s time to show your lovely mug and give us the gift of your presence at the next No Agenda Tuesday on Aug. 17. What do we love about these events?

1. Bitch & Swap: It’s a let-your-hair-down mixer of women in the industry with no particular agenda except to talk about what’s happening in the media, vent, boast and swap gossip.

2. Professional Confessional: Find out who’s going where, who’s left and gone over to the dark side, who’s joining the world’s oldest profession. (Why, we meant journalism of course!)

3. Rubbing Elbows: Meet editors and publishers you wouldn’t otherwise hear from over email, connect with agents and other writers, hear about upcoming panels, prizes and networking events…See you there!

When: Aug. 17, 7 p.m.
Where: Club HQ, The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park So.

— Erin E. Arvedlund

What do you like most about No Agenda Tuesdays? What have you gotten out of these events? How would you describe them to current and prospective members?