When I was introduced to Rita Haley Jensen through Facebook by her daughter Ariel Jensen Vargas, she was sharing their recent Women’s eNews annual 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2009 honorees. I had heard about the celebratory award given to 21 extraordinary female newsmakers (and one man) chosen every year. Nobel Peace Prize winners, writers, journalists, women’s rights activists, are selected from around the globe by non-profit Women’s eNews, for their “demonstrated commitment to creating change on behalf of all women”.
Interested in the organization behind this prestigious, outstanding leadership award, I asked Ariel with whom I could speak to and possibly interview, she lead me to founder and president of Women’s eNews Rita Haley Jensen.
As I researched Rita, read her articles, listened to her interviews, and watched her videos I was moved to my core. This lively international woman with her bright white hair, sparkling ice blue eyes and her enthusiastic sweet voice has shaped woman’s journalism for over two decades. She has inspired, hired, trained and mentored hundreds if not thousands of women journalists around the world. Rita is a former senior writer for the National Law Journal who won an Alicia Patterson Fellowship grant in 1994 and wrote an expose about the role lawyers played in the savings-and-loan scandal of the late 1980s. 1
Her amazing staff of professional women journalists at Women’s eNews; located in the heart of New York City, one block from Susan B. Anthony’s ‘Revolution’ newspaper publishing house (a newspaper for women’s rights in 1868) provides up to the minute breaking women’s news. Their focus at Women’s eNews is “balanced and non-partisan journalism” an electronic news service that distributes national and international women’s issues covering public policy, justice, reproductive rights, domestic violence, rape, trends in business, culture, politics, education, health, law, sports and safety.
Ten years ago, when Women’s eNews first began, they had their small staff and a mission. As Kathryn Rodgers, president of the news service’s parent organization, recounts its genesis this way: “Looking out at the media’s coverage of women, we saw a tremendous void in women’s voices, in women as opinion shapers, and in the coverage of all the things that women do in society. So we decided to show the media what they were missing. Not to go on a blame campaign, but to do the ground work, actually do the reporting, and go back to these media outlets and say, ‘Here’s what we’re talking about when we say you’re not covering women’s issues.’ ” 1
Same Website, New Design.
When I spoke to Rita shortly after, I was inspired by her relentless dedication over the years to women, young and old, speaking to what is possible in their lives. A commitment for all women to have their full rights acknowledged, and a peaceful life. What was Women’s eNews vehicle to reaching women around the world? Their ten year old website, “a model T Ford that got the job done” Rita laughed. Celebrating being online for 10 years as of June 15, 1999, Launched by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, www.womensenews.org is now getting a cutting edge, state-of-the-art new face August 2009.
Rita is excited about the opportunities their new website will create for everyone. An interactive site, with activities, favorite women blogger’s highlighted, survey questions, polls, and amazing photographs will be coupled with their archive of over 4,000 articles from international journalists. A popular feature; Journalist of The Month will remain. They have an active Facebook with a goal of hitting their 500 Facebook members.2
Women’s eNews has a growing membership and subscribership from major news organizations to small journalist and blog members. In over 120 Nations, everyday 100 of their brave, on-the-front-lines journalists deliver original stories not available anywhere else, each Wednesday, to Women’s eNews. Proudly they offer an Arabic site launched in 2003. The news service’s staff sends a weekly e-mail to some 8,000 newspapers, targeting national editors with a budget describing syndicated stories. In addition, a separate e-mail is sent to op-ed editors offering new commentaries.1
As I browsed through their current site, I was impressed with how much free information they were able to squeeze into their ‘model T Ford’. The current stories they were highlighting while I was visiting were ‘Health Reform’, ‘AT&T Case spotlights Gender issue for Sotomayor’ by Sharon Johnson, ‘Onal Found Remorse Among Turkish ‘Honor’ Killers’, ‘July Promises Femme Films’ by Jennifer Merin, ‘Iran, Dissidence Achieves Gender Parity’ by Soheila Vahdati, Women’s Philanthropy Outpaces the Pack’ by Kayla Hutzler, ‘U.N puts Female Peacekeepers on Display’ by Theresa Braine. Other stories were Iran’s Women’s Rights Activists Are Being Smeared, Influential Women’s Magazine Silenced in Iran, Memoir Goes Behind Iran’s Prison Gates, Black Maternal Health.
Rita and I continued to speak about the current protests in Iran, and she told about the type of women they honor, and support like a prominent women’s rights activist in Tehran, Iranian journalist and Human Rights Attorney Shadi Sadr, whom accepted their Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism at the Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. Ms. Shirin Ebadi, is a Nobel Prize winner, and during the protest she was threatened with judicial prosecution. She has been a respected voice defending human rights, and women’s rights in Iran.
We agreed the importance of being proactive with our children, and young people in creating awareness of what is happening in the world. Women’s eNews goes as far as giving walking tours to young journalism students, groups, organizations and visitors for an hour in their historic neighborhood.
When asking Rita to look back at what expectations did she have in 1999 for women’s news coverage, major media coverage about women, and how her website might influence both areas, this is how she recalls that time:
“It was a hunger, really, to do the journalism
I loved and to present to the other news media—here,
these are great stories. I had hoped the power of
our journalism would inspire them to do the same.”
Furthermore, I asked her what progress has she seen in the ten years she has been offering an e-news service? She recalls; “I see that major newspapers are improving their coverage, particularly of women overseas and feminist is no longer a pejorative and feminism is no longer being declared dead or passé.”
After making huge journalistic progress and contributions over the last ten years through Women’s eNews, I asked her what she thought the next ten years would look for Women’s Rights, including in the media, this is what Rita had to say: “Even with a pro-women’s rights president in office, many battles must be fought—fair employment practices, reproductive justice—the opportunity to have children or not—freedom from violence, just to name three…”
Without really knowing the full global impact Women eNews has truly been for the landscape of fair journalism for women, Rita is remarkably humble. She is truly on the front lines with her dedicated army of professional female journalists. I attribute her character to that of one particular woman who launched a paper called “Revolution” a century ago, fighting for women’s right to vote only a few blocks away from their headquarters.
So, naturally I asked her “Do you believe Women’s eNews has been at the foundation or source of this progress?” Rita’s response: “Women’s News can’t take credit for the entire shift, but I am confident that without us, it might not have happened.”
Rita Henley Jensen is Founder and Editor in Chief of Women’s eNews (www.womensenews.org), an independent daily news service covering issues of particular concern to women, which has won 31 journalism awards, including the PASS Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Rosa Cisneros award from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region. Jensen also was named by the New York Daily News one of the 100 most influential women in New York. A former senior writer for the National Law Journal and columnist for The New York Times Syndicate, Jensen has more than 20 years of experience in journalism and journalism education, as well as an armload of awards, including the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Alumni award, the Hunter College Presidential Grant for Innovative Uses of Technology in Teaching, the Alicia Patterson fellowship, and the Lloyd P. Burns Public Service prize. Jensen is also a survivor of domestic violence and a former welfare mother who earned degrees from Ohio State University and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She is also the grandmother of four, two granddaughters and two grandsons.
Anyone can obtain permission to republish the material in any medium simply by dropping them a note.Women’s eNews is a project of the incubator program of the Fund for the City of New York, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. For more information, or to inquire about subscribing or to make a donation, please visit www.womensenews.org or call (212) 244-1720.
Bobbi Miller-Moro is the founder of Women Without Borders, is an supporter for Women’s Rights and successful co-parenting; author of ‘Lessons We Learned From Obama’, actress and filmmaker of transformational films, and mother of five children. She lives with her husband and children in Los Angeles.
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