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As editor (or public editor), does being a woman matter? Of course

Over the past couple of days, as I've been interviewed about my new job as Public Editor of the New York Times, a few interviewers have gingerly raised the question of gender.  Essentially, they're asking this: Will I approach the job differently because I'm a woman?  (The previous four public editors have been men.)

I've tried to give a nuanced answer.  Yes, it matters because we bring everything we are to the jobs we do.  I was raised a Roman Catholic; I grew up in a steel town;  I am the daughter of a lawyer and a fashion buyer; I went to college in Washington, D.C.  and Chicago.  So I carry all of this with me.

I also bring my experiences as a woman. Since my first child was born in 1988, I've been a working mother; that matters.  I was the first woman in newsroom management at The Buffalo News; that matters.  I know what it means to be a sister, a wife, an aunt.  Even today, I'm still the mother of a teenager; that always matters.  

But it doesn't drive everything I do.  I didn't come into my current job as editor of The Buffalo News with a gender-driven agenda and I won't do that when I start working at the Times.  At the same time, I certainly care about such issues as pay equality, sexual harassment, and child care.   I do like to see women represented in the news media -- in images, in quotes, in stories -- and I know that they are often underrepresented.   When my close friend Liz Kahn, at that time assistant managing editor for features, developed a new Life & Arts section column called "Women's Voices" that runs every Saturday, I was delighted.  And I've sometimes been exasperated that the paper's front page, on a particular day or series of days, has not featured a single photo of a woman, even in a teaser.

Change sometimes happens when you least expect it, though.  When I promoted Lisa Wilson to executive sports editor not long ago, we never spoke a word about her gender.  Her strength has been in her knowledge of Buffalo's professional sports and in her operational ability.   But I've noticed more stories and photos of female athletes on her pages in recent months -- not as function of any agenda but because she's paying more attention to scholastic sports, featuring it more heavily.  So we see more action photos of girls playing soccer, lacrosse and softball.   Lisa played high school sports at Buffalo's City Honors (as I did at Nardin Academy, where I co-captained the varsity basketball team), and perhaps that experience makes a difference, too.

All of this is the subject of a thoughtful story by Mallary Jean Tenore from Poynter.org, "Why it matters that the New York Times' next public editor is a woman."   Should we be shocked that the author of such a piece is female?  Probably not.

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