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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Colombian campaign that rewrites headlines seeks to change sexist journalistic habits



The fight for gender equality must also be in the media. Machismo has become impregnated in such a way in journalistic daily life that often those stories or headlines written and designed not only to inform but to "attract" the reader, forget the gender perspective they should have.

That is according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo and communication and advertising agency Mullen Lowe SSP3 whose director Roberto Pombo and president Francisco Samper, respectively, planned a campaign in which attempts were made to change journalistic traditions by questioning the writing of headlines created by media in the country and around the world.

"What better way to do it than from an exercise of rewriting headlines that, even though they are sometimes thought to be well written from the point of view of generating information, if you look at them with a much more conscious focus of reality, you can discover that they contain sexist elements," Andrés Mompotes, deputy director of El Tiempo, told the Knight Center. "And so we do not build a journalism that really has a gender perspective and that helps society."

For almost a month and through the creative pieces made by the agency, the newspaper used their printed pages and social media to invite women to choose a headline that they considered machista and rewrite it “from their point of view.”

"Many women have been in the news. However, headlines have been written from a wrong perspective," says the invitation video for this campaign. "Starting today we are going to rewrite them".

In a special edition from March 20 the newspaper published a page with 18 headlines rewritten by women journalists who were chosen by El Tiempo’s Social Networks team, led by Laura Robles. Although they received many more, those published were those rewritten by journalists who "could contribute to the discussion using their knowledge of doing social communication," according to Mompotes.

This was the case with titles like "Camille Abily, the Chilean soccer player who fights for the goal of the year with Messi and Higuain," "The stories behind the atletas who stood out in the Rio Olympics" or "Lydia Valentín makes history as best weightlifter in the world in 2016. They replaced “Messi, Higuain and a woman, candidates for the best goal of the year in Europe,” “The 28 most sexy athletes of the Rio Olympics” and "Lydia Valentín, a hercules with makeup" respectively.

Sport is not the only subject in which machismo makes the headlines. The coverage of feminicide is one of the topics that generates the most criticism. Concerning these cases, headlines were proposed like "Martha Barón, the life that was extinguished by violence against women in Soacha," "New case of feminicide in Tunja" to replace "Macabre ending after 25 stabs of passion: frightening feminicide of youth shakes Soacha" and "The tragedy brought them together again.”

"Hillary Clinton’s message after her defeat by Donald Trump" replaced "Without makeup and very gaunt, this was the appearance of Hillary Clinton after her defeat" and "Rejection of statements from Ugandan politician who suggested mistreating women" for "Hitting women to discipline them, politician suggests to men in Uganda” were other examples.

"What could be noted is that sometimes not even rewriting [the headlines] would make sense," Mompotes said. "One can do the exercise of trying to rewrite the headline, but it is not only the headline but the focus of the story and its background that already had a very big bias in relation to women, the commodification of women or the way that society uses women."

Indeed, there were articles that, in the opinion of the journalists, should not exist. Such was the case of the note titled "When Marta Lucía Ramírez had the most sought-after legs in Colombia." Ramírez - the protagonist of the story - has had a long career in Colombian politics, was the first woman Minister of Defense of the country, among other positions, and is currently a candidate for Vice President of Colombia.

Although the special edition has already been printed, women (journalists and non-journalists) have continued to join the campaign through the hashtag #MujeresReescribenMujeres (Women Rewriting Women).

According to Mompotes, due to the reception it has had, they are thinking about the possibility of continuing the campaign, but not just for one more edition or to finish commemorating the month of the woman. They hope that it will continue in time and that other media join as a commitment to change sexist journalistic customs that have become part of "the landscape."

"The theme is so extensive that it seems like a landscape. And as a landscape we can all only blur it and draw it better by changing some headline codes that have been accepted, but that can not continue to be converted into a way of communicating," Mompotes said. "We realized that it is not a theme for a month, it is a journalism issue. It is not an actual issue of recognizing a thing about women, but an issue that has to do with better communication. That has to do with how we do journalism.”



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