Why give female reporters ‘soft’ beats?

Published: May 17, 2012

While young women reporters seem very enthusiastic about taking on challenging roles in journalism, when given such an opportunity, they actually 'chicken out'. PHOTO: REUTERS

Besides the intellectually deprived generalisation with which ‘beats’ are largely associated in media organisations across the country, what fascinates me even more is the assumption that certain beats work well with a specific gender.

In the world of journalism, where ‘beat’ actually refers to subjects which are generally covered by a reporter in the course of reporting, one of the great debates is whether a reporter covers a ‘hard beat’ or a ‘soft beat’. Let me dare to explain.

The elders of our tribe in their infinite wisdom decided to develop a relationship between news beats and genders of reporters. Hard beats, as the name suggests, largely deal with subjects considered ‘tough’ in journalistic jargon. These were usually (read: most certainly) assigned to male reporters. Examples are topics like politics, crime, economy and the like – all demanding reporting by chest thumping warriors gushing with testosterone.

But soft beats were assigned to women reporters – topics that are along the lines of entertainment, travel and the sort that somehow were made to sound like the purring of a manicured Persian cat.

To the best of my understanding, there is no hard and fast definition of what is defined as a hard or soft beat. But the usage of the terms in a specific context over the years has established meanings as universal as the terms themselves.

But I have my reservations.

While women in the profession complain of a lack of equal opportunities to cover ‘hard beat’ news, their male counterparts complain of a lack of responsible behaviour by women.

The argument presented is simple.

While young female reporters seem enthusiastic about taking on challenging roles in journalism, when given such an opportunity, they hesitate and chicken out.

What follows is the whispering of urban legends of how some ‘anonymous’ female reporters would refuse to cover protests claiming it to be too sunny, too windy, and too smoky for them, all the while begging their male colleagues to save them from their misery. Praise the Lord for the bravery of the men who came to their rescue!

Soon though, my skepticism towards such incidents nose-dived into reality with a loud bang. One fine sunny day I happened to witness the raving and ranting of a female reporter. The lady was highly offended for the office car she was travelling in, incidentally a Suzuki van, resulted in a complete mess of her hairdo while she was on her way to do a story. Mind you, the poor thing had gotten her hair done the same morning.

While such things are part of our ugly reality, one should not generalise unprofessional behaviour to be a universally accepted trait of a specific gender. It is a known fact that female reporters are subjected to carefully planned assignments aiming at discouraging and intimidating both new comers and professionals.

Sending young reporters to a morgue on their first few days is bound to get an emotional reaction, be it a male or a female reporter. In a socially repressed society like ours, many argue that the social factor prevents newsrooms from assigning tough beats to female reporters for purposes best described as ‘practical’.

However, to validate the deprivation of equal opportunities to people of equivalent skills is downright injustice. What if a male reporter despite his ‘socially favourable appearance’ fails to do justice with the story at hand? Does it justify the assignment of beats based on gender? Or even the other way around for that matter? Why should male reporters be deprived of good stories just because ‘soft beat’ news items are considered explicitly feminine?

The larger question here is not who should cover hard or soft beats. The question is that beats should be assigned in keeping with a reporter’s skill set, experience, understanding, willingness and personal interest.

Today, there are many competent male reporters covering beats described as ‘soft’ with an even higher number of female reporters professionally taking on hard beats.

Gender based stereotyping of news beats is unprofessional and unethical. Reinforcing this belief deprives an individual from equal opportunities, be it a man or a woman.

Read more by Aroosa here, or follow her on Twitter @AroosaShaukat

Aroosa.Shaukat

Aroosa Shaukat

A reporter at The Express Tribune who has a Textile Engineering degree from the National Textile University in Faisalabad. She tweets @AroosaShaukat.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://rorolia.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/bcb-blames-zaid-hamids-deceptive-propaganda-for-asia-cup-loss/ Xain Gardezi

    Rights are not demanded. They are TAKEN by those worthy of it. When will women folk understand this. Recommend

  • Shadytr33

    I don’t understand one thing about women: Do they want Equal rights (same as men) or women’s rights.? Because when EVERYTHING IS EASY, WOMEN WANT EQUAL RIGHTS, WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THEY WANT WOMEN RIGHTS.Recommend

  • Sarah

    As a former reporter, fight fight fight for hard news stories. Outperform the men. It can be discouraging at first but nothing as de-motivating as being sent to one soft story after another.Recommend

  • jia

    @shadytr33 Pakistani women wants only those rights that Islam given to us ……Recommend

  • Shadytr33

    @jia: That’s what I also want and wish. Women should be given and they should take the rights what they deserve from Islam. But the problem is that No one (literally no one) in this country knows what exactly Islam is. When someone talks about Islam, people start relating it to taliban and all the weird things media portrays about Islam. If people knew what Islam really is and what it teaches, the women and even men in this country would be much better off. Recommend

  • AA

    @jia @Shadytr33 how did Islam come in the conversation of journalism and covering stories? either connect the dots or avoid posting random stuff.Recommend

  • Dante

    Dear author,

    Thank you for giving us this important piece of information. I wish I could do something to better distribute tasks amongst reporters belonging to these genders, but……..I’m not sure at all.

    Wait, was it addressed to non-interested readers like me?

    /sRecommend

  • Noman Ansari

    I do agree with the sentiment, but I guess they are being protective? Karachi can be a bit like a warzone, and that’s probably it. I do agree it is sexist, but… yea… it is dangerous. Recommend

  • http://Islamabad Mangoman

    most of the female journalists work like to work in news room till they get married…
    for female reporter riding bike should be mandatory .. like boys journalists.. we welcome you in field reporting gurlsRecommend

  • TheOne

    I do think society is conditioned to view women in a certain way and since women are ‘part’ of this society they too cannot break out of the mould of how they view themselves.

    In some ways being female in Pakistan is like being a senior citizen and helpless damsel in distress packaged as one. People are very very aware you need to be treated like breakable spun glass, they keep reminding you of the fact and ultimately end up treating you like you’re mentally deficient. Some women like to be treated like this and others do not.

    In Pakistan women are given too much leeway (My bank insists I use the disabled counter so I don’t have to stand in line. Any other country that does that?) and at the same time have so many barriers (hunting for jobs that might have night shifts. tauba tauba).
    It would be better if people were consistent, take the derision out of their tone and stop believing in stereotypes. Not every stereotype is correct and neither is it incorrect. You will meet tons of unprofessional men too, but no one accuses them of being crappy workers because they are men (In my class it’s only the boys cheat but the girls don’t so do I start believing this is true?). And it’s when people treat stereotype as fact (Like women need to be treated less harshly because they’re so bechari) it’s only then when women who want to take advantage start asking for easy treatment

    If female colleagues are being unprofessional then call them out for it. Stop treating them like babies and they’ll soon outgrown hiding behind their gender. Recommend

  • not impressed

    Health and education are typical ‘female’ beats. Through personal experience – just work harder, keep at it, be rational when requesting an assignment and you will get it. There are also many, many instances when only female reporters are sent – inside emergency wards in hospitals, in refugee camps where women and children are, to cover rape stories, sensitive issues like child molestation etc. And it’s in these instances that you can prove yourself capable enough to be sent to ‘tough’ assignments – a day will come when your editor or bureau chief CANNOT refuse you!Recommend