Human, reporter, tech editor @TheAtlantic. Just one more question.
Apr 4, 201411 min read
What will yesterday’s news look like tomorrow?
Journalists need to look outside of journalism to reinvent the future of news archives
To understand how the news industry has transformed in the past decade and a half, it helps to consider our evolving perceptions of the relationship between news and time.
Think of it this way: When’s the last time you saw an A1 above-the-fold headline in print that actually revealed something you hadn’t already heard or seen online? Contemplate the eternity that passes in the 20 minutes between email news alerts from competing media outlets. Even the term “24-hour news cycle” feels obsolete.
What do our changing ideas about the relationship between news and time mean for yesterday’s news—including the really old pre-internet stuff, more recent stories published two site-redesigns ago, and the articles that went live this morning?
And how should newsrooms think about archived material given our expectations about access to information in a networked world?
It all begins with categorization.
Context is everything
At the Library of Congress, a small team has been working since 2011 to reinvent the way libraries around the globe catalogue their resources. Journalists ought to pay attention because newsrooms and libraries are facing many of the same core challenges.
“With the advent of the internet and digitization, the format and the structure of what libraries collect—and therefore what libraries need to describe—has changed dramatically,” said Beacher Wiggins, director of cataloguing at the Library of Congress. “So whatever we create now for this digital world we’re in, it has to be something we can map to the existing records. It is a massive undertaking, and further, we want to then map it to what those in the semantic web world are creating, a standardization or best practices that the web world is using.”
Wiggins joined the Library in 1972, at a time when it was just replacing its previous cataloguing system — the use of descriptive three-by-five-inch notecards filed in physical drawers — with the electronic system it’s now about to replace. “Our dilemma has always been, how do you corral content? And management of content really boils down to organizational management. How do you sustain that? Libraries don’t want to become museums but living institutions,” Wiggins told me.
The current system is built around machine-readable cataloguing — or MARC — records. Library goers can use simple computer terminals linked to a main in-house database of resources to search by title, author, publication date, or other keywords. (Here’s an example of what the MARC record for the 1908 photograph at the top of this article looks like.)
Now the Library of Congress is developing what it’s calling the Bibliographic Framework Initiative — or BIBFRAME — to link library resources to the much larger web of data online. The key difference between MARC and BIBFRAME means the library is shifting away from a process built on cataloguing descriptive details like “author” or “title,” and instead focusing on identifying and establishing all kinds of links between different resources.
It’s a system that reflects existing expectations about seeking information in a Google-able world — and it might help a bit to think of BIBFRAME as a system that operates more like a human brain than a physical card catalogue with unlinked resources in separate drawers.
In journalism terms, BIBFRAME represents the difference between the information you might get from a single printed article and the experience you have reading a heavily-linked piece of journalism online.
“It has to do with relationships, interrelationships and interoperability, and you have to start with the data,” Wiggins told me.
His team is working with several libraries and universities across the world to develop BIBFRAME standards, and he expects to have enough evidence to assess the viability and reliability of the new system by 2015. The project represents a step closer to making sense of the mountains of data that are piling up around us by building bridges between datasets to better contextualize them.
For journalists whose lives revolve around finding and contextualizing information, BIBFRAME could unlock all kinds of data troves and patterns that you would have to specifically seek in order to find today.
Whereas a reporter or researcher once had to hunker down in a basement full of microfiche for a glimpse into the carefully indexed past, networked resources can mean an enhanced research and reporting experience.
One of the Library of Congress’ main principles, according to 2012 paper about BIBFRAME is to “provide links as broadly as you can” because “you never know how someone or some machine is going to choose to navigate your Web of data… in ways that were not originally conceived.” This is a critical point because it speaks to enhancing a network of linked data as a way to anticipate future technological advances — an idea that’s missed by simple search-by-keyword databases.
“One thing that libraries have learned is you don’t try to set up a system or a methodology or a process that you then want users to adhere to,” Wiggins told me. “You need to be responsive to how users are evolving and what they come to expect.” This attitude and much of Wiggins’ thinking about the future of cataloguing mirrors how New York Times staffers are approaching the future of their newspaper’s archives.
Comparing Apple and apples
The New York Times is borderline obsessive when it comes to indexing its work. For example, anything about Hillary Clinton is described as, “Clinton, Hillary R.” If an article is about Apple, the company, it’s tagged in an organizational category; if it’s about apple, the fruit, it’s tagged as a description.
And today, the newspaper is focused on taking its existing indexing vocabulary and mapping that to other vocabularies used online, or “knowledge organization systems,” like the indexed terms used on Wikipedia. “It’s fair to say that the Times is in an enviable position when it comes to metadata around our archives — we’re really vigorous,” said Evan Sandhaus, lead architect of semantic platforms at the Times.
Yet the system isn’t perfect, and that’s partly because of how stories evolve — and also the arbitrary nature of coming up with the right name. “You’ll see a knot of tags around an event that are emblematic of the event, but I think a challenge that all news organizations face is how we can translate this knowledge of the entities involved in the event into a good name that we can aggregate around. It’s an active area of inquiry.”
Looking back often means cobbling together a series of events article-by-article based on searches by date and keyword. But imagine if there were better ways to group related stories as you filed them, so that future reporters could more dynamically navigate a news archive to understand the big picture of what happened.
To figure out how to tag today’s news before it turns into tomorrow’s archives, news organizations have to think about the essential functions of their archives in the mobile internet age.
The New York Times has fully digitized articles — but not complete replicas — going back to its 1851 start. It just introduced the latest iteration of TimesMachine, a complete digitization of old editions as they appeared in print from the paper’s 1851 launch through 1980.
One of the many impressive things about TimesMachine is that it repurposes the mechanics of online mapping for what staffers designed to be a more immersive archival experience than a standard print replica. “So you really experience quite a lot of data in a really rich way inside of your browser using an interface paradigm that has become really familiar to everyone using the web,” Sandhaus said.
This strategy also makes the TimesMachine archive less of a burden on bandwidth. A single back-issue of the Times can be a 13.2 gigapixelimage that exceeds 200 megabytes. But there’s no reason for someone to zoom in on the entire 13.2-gigapixel image at once. Instead, Sandhaus and his team split up these superhuge images the way an online map is broken down into tiles — since you really only need to zoom in on a small portion of the larger image at a time.
Unlike the Times’ single-serve-article archives, TimesMachine enables readers to experience the paper as it appeared when it was printed — so you get the editorial context of story placement and headline size, along with advertisements that original readers would have seen. TimesMachine is also a mind-boggling reminder of just how thick and text-heavy the newspaper used to be. You have to get to page 15 of the July 1, 1971, edition before you see a single photograph.
Sandhaus says the internet has forced the Times to confront “challenges that are more often encountered in the library space than they are in the online publishing space.”
But that’s true for any organization that creates content. Most of them just haven’t done anything about it yet.
The newsonomics of nostalgia
One of the key hurdles in building better news archives is to overcome conventional expectations about what an archive or catalogue ought to look like or how it should function.
This is the lesson the journalism industry has had to relearn repeatedly as habits built around old technologies are carried over to new ones. It’s why early radio broadcasters began reading the print newspaper verbatim on air, and helps explain the lingering tendency for newspapers to publish static PDF print replicas online. For some print shops, there’s more of a desire to preserve than there is to provide access.
The New Yorkerand Harper’shave complete print-replica archives online dating back to their respective beginnings in 1925 and 1850 — in both cases the full archives are available only to subscribers.
At The Atlantic, editors resurface classic pieces for anniversaries — S.L.A. Marshall’s “First Wave at Omaha Beach,” (1960) around the anniversary of D-Day, and Jay Epstein’s “Have you Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” (1982) before Valentine’s Day, for example. But the magazine still has “a weird patchwork” of digital availability, The Atlantic’s Bob Cohn told me. (The magazine was founded in 1857 but its complete online archives only go back to September 1995.)
“Here are two reasons a story wouldn’t be digitized,” he said. “One is that we never got around to it, so we’ve done so opportunistically. The second is that we don’t have electronic rights to everything we published [before the internet].” One hint that the magazine is thinking more about how to use its archives? The “Atlantic Archive Party” it apparently hosted for staff members.
Other high-profile news organizations have practically non-existent archives from a usability standpoint. The Washington Post’s archives still run on ProQuest, a clunky third-party microfilm platform that charges for bundled access to old stories. A spokeswoman for the Post told me no one at the paper could speak to its archives or even characterize the extent to which the paper is thinking about news archives in the digital age. Archives for The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times are also available for purchase on ProQuest, and spokespeople for both papers declined interview requests.
Figuring out how to manage decades of dated content is costly and time-consuming. And there isn’t necessarily a clear monetary payoff for the effort. Archival access is often a perk that comes with subscription, though it’s not clear how many subscribers choose to pay in order to get access.
At the same time, younger news organizations are building entire strategies around the cultural obsession with looking back. There’s BuzzFeed Rewind, a vertical devoted to nostalgia. (This isn’t an entirely new concept: Magazines have devoted special issues to nostalgia for decades. Check out the cover of LIFE magazine’s Feburary 1971 issue or any number of Vanity Fair issues with a Kennedy on the cover.)
The nonprofit Retro Report launched last year as a documentary news organization devoted to following up on big stories from the past — Dolly the cloned sheep and the scalding McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, for example — and has a partnership with The New York Times.
By last fall, Retro Report videos were racking up tons of views—in some cases millions of views in the first few days after publication. The site’s longterm goal is to build an expansive “library of old news stories,” a plan Retro Report publisher Taegan Goddard calls “extraordinary” because it will require his team to revisit and update existing videos — retro Retro Reports, if you will.
He wants the site to be as much of a go-to as Wikipedia is, only for questions about the outcome of big stories that are no longer making headlines. But Retro Report thinks of itself as an educational service as much as it is a journalistic one, and Goddard says he understands why for-profit news organizations with “more immediate needs in terms of revenue and profit… haven’t figured out exactly what to do” about their archives.
Mapping a networked future for the past
One of the internet’s best tricks is how it can create experiences that can feel simultaneously ephemeral and permanent when the reality is actually somewhere in-between.
We’re at a point where we expect to find everything we’re looking for online — and very often we do. But what about the things we don’t know to search for? And what about when days, months, and years have passed?
This paradox — let’s call it the ephemeral permanence of networks — is one the news industry ought to relate to. After all, so much of journalism is about getting information on the record for posterity while the simultaneous obsession with newness—you know, the news—almost immediately turns even the boldest-type headlines into fishwrap.
But the power of interconnected networks saps influence from traditional publishers as gatekeepers, a role that news organizations have been reluctant to relinquish. Perhaps that’s why an industry that is fundamentally about change — noticing it, analyzing it, reporting it! — has been so godawful at actually adapting to it.
On some level, staying relevant in an era in which readers have more choices than ever means staking a place in history. The power of a big brand is the credibility it has established over time. But how can news organizations expect anyone to find their stories valuable today if those same organizations are sending the message that their archives aren’t worth showcasing tomorrow?
Meeting readers where they are doesn’t just mean gliding by in their Twitter feeds or on alerting them to a big story on their iPhones; it means being the source they find when they’re searching for something else — answering the questions they didn’t know they had.
News organizations need to design archives that better mirror the experience of consuming news in real time, and reflect the idea that the fundamental nature of a story is ongoing. This philosophy helps explain why terms like “breaking news” feel so stilted now. It’s not just because they’re overused and misused—and they are—it’s also because we measure news-time differently now. And it’s time news organizations think more seriously about doing the same. Newsrooms must figure out how to weave past and present journalism into the experiences we as readers are already expecting.
This is no small task.
The New York Times’ Sandhaus says he counted something like 3,620,294 pages in the paper’s archives. And the Times is publishing somewhere in the neighborhood of 381,052 additional words each day, according to its corporate site.
In other words, there is plenty to keep the archive-obsessed journalist awake at night.
“I’m thinking about building systems that make it possible to include our archive on our site in a way that feels as natural as embedding a video player or a sound player,” Sandhaus said. “What does that technology look like? What are the other things we can do to make the archives even more a part of the site? What are the engineering and user-experience challenges? What can we do to delight our audience with an enhanced archive user-experience? I think that right now, the answer is, we’re not quite yet sure.”
Next Story — Nina Totenberg: What It Was Like To Be the Only Woman In the Newsroom
Currently Reading - Nina Totenberg: What It Was Like To Be the Only Woman In the Newsroom
Human, reporter, tech editor @TheAtlantic. Just one more question.
Feb 13, 20146 min read
Nina Totenberg: What It Was Like To Be the Only Woman In the Newsroom
“It’s really simple. They just ignored me”
Nina Totenberg’s voice is one of the most familiar sounds in public radio. Her work is so well known that NPR even sells a “Nina Totin’ Bag,” which pays homage to the legal affairs correspondent and pokes fun at public broadcasting for its classic pledge-drive gift.
Totenberg began her career at NPR nearly forty years ago, and she was covering the justice system for The National Observer even before that. When she began reporting about the Supreme Court—long before any woman had been appointed a justice — she was the only woman working in her newsroom.
I caught up with Totenberg to discuss how things used to be and how much they’ve changed. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed.
Take me back to when your career was just getting started in the early 1970s. What would I have seen if I walked into your newsroom at NPR or at The National Observer? What was different compared with today?
Everything. It was all male except for me. When I started, I was the only woman. On the news desk, there were no other women. I think they came to be relatively fond of me but it was trial by fire for a while. They ignored me. It’s really simple. They just ignored me. I was not one of the guys. They didn’t invite me to lunch. They just didn’t acknowledge me.
I’m sure that motivated you to outwork them but I think it would also hurt my feelings.
I think my feelings were hurt but I was sort of used to it by then. There were so few jobs for women in those days, you just had to be grateful you had one. Every place was male dominated. Congress was almost entirely male. The White House was almost entirely male, and so was the staff. So it’s not like there were exceptions.
How did sources treat you differently than your male colleagues?
The bad news was you weren’t one of the guys so you didn’t chum it up with them and go drinking. The good news was they assumed you were young and stupid. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. They would very often say the most incredible things to me because they weren’t concentrating on the fact that I was concentrating on them.
I probably scored a number of scoops that way. It’s just hilarious. One time I was doing a story about junkets on Capitol Hill. I think Northwest [Airlines] had inaugurated a new line to Japan and Korea. They had taken on their maiden voyage most of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which of course controlled regulation of the airline industry.
So I did a bunch of interviews with people who went, and then I asked the people who didn’t go why they didn’t. I remember [Montana Democrat] Mike Mansfield said something of great integrity. He just said, “Don’t do that kind of thing.” But there was a senator, [New Hampshire Republican] Norris Cotton, who said, “Oriental food gives me the trots.” And that was the subhead in the story! It was just too good.
At one point, President Nixon had been considering naming Senator [Robert] Byrd to the Supreme Court. I asked Byrd to come off the floor and talk to me — it was a lot easier to get people to come off the floor and talk to you in those days. He was very thrilled to be considered and he just told me everything, absolutely everything, completely everything. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he probably wouldn’t have been quite that candid for a male reporter.
When you look around today, how much better is it for women in journalism now?
I just don’t think there’s any comparison. I think for the most part women have completely cracked the egg and the glass ceiling. Ten years ago, women were reporters and editors but not executive editors and not network chieftains, so to speak. But that’s not true anymore. I think that, really, for all practical purposes, [female journalists] can’t complain. Women have no basis for complaint.
There are times — over childcare issues or whatever — where there can come a moment, but for the most part it’s just night and day. More women really are equals in the workplace. Well, in the news workplace. That’s not true in a lot of other areas of professional life. It’s certainly not true in the business world.
I’m curious what it’s been like for you to cover an era in which we’ve gone from having had zero female Supreme Court justices to now having had four.
I guess I somewhat agree with what all the members of the current Supreme Court and Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor say. Women don’t make different decisions per se. But I do think that one’s experience does make a difference. And therefore, if you’ve experienced being discriminated against or not taken seriously or shut out of a discussion — and all women have experienced that, including today — it does change your appreciation for a situation. If you had those experiences, then when those kinds of cases come to you, you have some understanding of it that a male justice might not.
You’re friendly with some of the justices. What’s something you’ve come to learn about them that would surprise people?
I think people who meet Justice [Antonin] Scalia are most surprised because he’s such a charming and engaging and fun person. He’s the kind of person you want to sit next to at dinner. They have this idea of him as a dour conservative. He is a conservative, but he’s not dour. He has an interesting mind and he’s interested in all kinds of subjects from music to art. And he is very funny. And what surprises people about Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg most is she is this tiny little person and she is such a force to be reckoned with.
Can you imagine a time when the Supreme Court of the United States would have more justices who are women than men? All women even?
I don’t think that it’ll be all women. I certainly hope not. I thought it was a bad idea when it was all men and I think it would be a bad idea for it to be all women. The Supreme Court of Canada has had a majority of women and I would expect in the future the majority in the United States would be women. But I don’t know when.
It’s astounding to think how much has already changed in your career.
It’s been quite an interesting life to have lived. From a time when I was first looking for a job and people would say to you, “We don’t hire women,” to a time when that’s definitely not the case in our profession.
It’s not that sex discrimination is gone from the workplace. It’s hardly gone. But it is probably more gone from journalism than it is from a lot of professions. One of the stories I like to tell is when — and this was the late ’70s or early ’80s—I was thinking of leaving NPR. And I had lunch with a guy I knew well and liked and respected. He was bureau chief at a major newspaper chain. And I would lay odds that he doesn’t remember this because he would be ashamed to remember this. So I said I was thinking of leaving NPR, and he said, “But you know we already have our woman.” My heart sank on one hand, and on the other I thought, “You’re smarter than that! How can you even think that way?”
Well thank you for putting up with all of that B.S. for us — for the women who became journalists after you.
It’s a very great thing to have it not be that way any more. I go to talk to high schoolers and I tell them these stories. They look at me like I have three heads. They have just not experienced it at all.
Next Story — Chill Out, Everybody. That Sex App for Google Glass Isn’t Reality Yet.
Currently Reading - Chill Out, Everybody. That Sex App for Google Glass Isn’t Reality Yet.
The app is actually more concept than function for now.
Though it’s marketed for Glass, it will only be available on your iPhone for starters. The website says app users will eventually be able to see themselves “from any angle,” and issue commands like “play Marvin Gaye,” and “give me ideas” about sexual positions. (Apparently, if the thought of having sex with someone wearing Google Glass isn’t a dealbreaker, you’ll also be cool with your partner googling positions while you’re doing it.)
According to developer Sherif Maktabi, the app will be called Glance, an abstract enough name that he expects it to stay in Apple’s sex-averse App Store without a problem. (There won’t be any references to sex in the app description either, he says.)
Here’s the idea: Glance will create a video based on what you film during sex. The finished product can be watched for up to five hours until it auto-deletes, Snapchat-style. (This is a feature that Maktabi’s three-person team initially touted as “for all the ladies out there,” a line they deleted from the website after people complained it was sexist.)
Maktabi wouldn’t offer specifics about security measures or privacy safeguards other than saying, “We are trying not to need web services to host the videos.”
Though the hashtag at the bottom of his site — #realworldsex — evokes Cindy Gallop’s MakeLoveNotPorn.tv network of sex tapes made by regular people, Maktabi says Glance isn’t officially partnering with Gallop. (“We’ve been talking… We love what she is doing,” he said.)
From its initial descriptions, Glance seems not all that different from any number of video-recording apps for the iPhone. In other words, if it seems optimized for sex, that’s because it was marketed that way, not because of its functionality.
The commands outlined on glassandsex.com — “Okay Glass, pull out,” for instance — will only work if Google Glass users custom-create them. Google is allowing voice commands for third-party apps — “take a note,” for Evernote, for example — but it’s not clear whether Google will require third-party apps to get approval for such commands to work.
Of course, staking a claim in this sector of the Glass-apps space is arguably smart strategy — it’s kind of like Maktabi and his colleagues are calling “dibs” before too many other developers saturate the marketplace with their intentions to do the same.
In the short term, however, the app will be only available for your iPhone, and it’s not clear that there’s anything that sets it apart from any number of recording apps. Maktabi says the iPhone app will be available “soon,” though it’s not yet clear when (or if) the app will be launched for Glass. The Glance business model is also up in the air at this point.
“This is an experiment,” Maktabi said in an email. “We are learning on the fly. We just want to publish our work and see what happens.”
I wrote back to Maktabi, explaining that I couldn’t see how his app would be any different than what’s already out there.
His response: “I think it’s best to judge when the product is out there! ”
Next Story — What It’s Like To Be The Only Asian-American Woman in the U.S. Senate
Currently Reading - What It’s Like To Be The Only Asian-American Woman in the U.S. Senate
Human, reporter, tech editor @TheAtlantic. Just one more question.
Jan 12, 20147 min read
What It’s Like To Be The Only Asian-American Woman in the U.S. Senate
A conversation with Mazie Hirono.
Senator Mazie Hirono has “first” all over her resume. A Democrat representing Hawaii, she is the first Asian-American woman elected to the United States Senate, the first female senator to represent her state, and the first Buddhist in the Senate. She’s also the first U.S. senator to have been born in Japan.
Hirono immigrated to Hawaii as a little girl because her mother was seeking stability for Mazie and her brother. The children’s father was an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler. They fled him and their homeland on the steerage deck of a cross-Pacific ship. Hirono remembers crying as Yokohama Harbor receded in the distance. She was eight and spoke only Japanese.
Life in Hawaii was a struggle at first. The family slept sideways in a shared bed in the single-room boarding house they rented. Hirono helped support her mother and brother with the money she earned as a cashier in the school lunchroom and with her earnings from an after-school newspaper route.
Eventually, she paid her way through college at the University of Hawaii and law school at Georgetown University. Hirono went on to become a state representative, Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, and a congresswoman. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
I caught up with her about what it’s like to be a woman in the U.S. Senate, where inequality still persists, and what it took to get her where she is today. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed:
What’s your first memory from when you were a little girl of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
At a pretty young age, I wanted to do something with my life that would help people. I’ve been that way for quite a while. I wanted to be a counselor or social worker. That’s one of the reasons I was a psychology major.
How did watching your mother go through what she did affect the way you thought about women and what it takes for a woman to be in control of her own life?
I always saw my mother just making decisions that helped our family. It was much later when I realized how courageous she really was, and I came to understand what a risk-taker she was. That’s very much a part of how I am. I never took a path that was the usual path for someone in my generation. A lot of the women who I went to school with, in those days, it was still the track of becoming a teacher, becoming a nurse. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I didn’t go down that path. I did things that were different than what my classmates were doing. I think that’s really from my mom.
Who else inspired you to do something other than what society expected?
No matter how independent you are, you’re still part of a larger community with sexual stereotyping and everything else that really goes on. The book that really opened my eyes — here I am in college, and that’s when I read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Even if I had such an unusual mother, so independent, I still — there was a part of me thinking, ‘Well, I’m gonna get married and I’m gonna have kids.’
And then I read that book, and literally a lightbulb went on in my head: ‘Why am I thinking this? I’ve never had a male presence in my life, really, so why do I think some guy is going to come along and I’m going to have this traditional life?’ It was at that point I think that I really began to look at my life as something that was probably going to take a different path, and it did.
There were fewer women in law school during your time at Georgetown. What was that experience like?
Oh, yes. There were maybe 20 percent or fewer. I don’t know that I saw that much of a distinction by the time I was in law school. Definitely, there weren’t 50 percent [women], but at that point, at Georgetown, you’re competing with everyone else. It was a very competitive environment. I wanted to do public interest law. And the reason I selected Georgetown is they had really strong clinical programs, and I was in one of these clinical programs that involved being an advocate.
Fast-forward to being in Congress. Obviously we get more women with each election, which is great.
Yes. It’s really great.
But I’m still curious about some of the nuances — even if it’s something as seemingly small as the women’s bathroom being farther away from the floor.
You should see how it was on the House side. It’s much closer on the Senate side.
What are some of the other things you notice that are different for a woman than for a man, things that people who aren’t in Congress might not be privy to?
I’m pausing because every senator makes a huge difference. Regardless of whether you’re male, female, Republican, or Democrat, every Senate vote counts. From that standpoint, it’s not necessarily something that is a gender issue.
Right. So where it matters most, you’re truly equal.
But clearly, though, with the press, they seem to be really interested in the women of the Senate and when we don’t seem to agree on a path. I’m specifically talking about sexual assault in the military. [New York Democratic Sen.] Kirsten Gillibrand and I — and others — have supported a pretty significant change to the Code of Military Justice. [Missouri Democratic Sen.] Claire McCaskill has a different path. But we all agree that sexual assault in the military should be prevented and there should be prosecutions when these crimes occur. But there’s been a lot of press about why it is that we’re not together. I don’t think that’s an issue very much when men disagree.
It’s a very specific example of how the press still looks at our presence in this environment.
Years ago I found a 1950s article at the Library of Congress about [former congresswoman and Title IX author] Patsy Mink. The lede was something like, ‘the cutest politician you ever saw.’ So, on one hand, you think how far we’ve come, but then you still see coverage that references women leaders’ haircuts and outfits.
Or how petite we are. That sort of thing. You notice that a lot more still with women.
You’re a woman in a legislative body full of men, and you’re also the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. Are you treated differently for one more than for the other?
My being the only [Asian-American] woman here and only the second minority woman ever to be elected to the Senate, I think that says we have a ways to go. When I go home, I talk with the kids in Hawaii and I say, ‘Do you know there’s only one person in the Senate who looks like us?’
They must be shocked. [Ed. note: Asians make up 38 percent of the Hawaii population; 23 percent of the population identifies as two or more races.]
Yeah, when I put it that way. Because they look around and they see the cosmopolitan backgrounds that everybody has. And I say, ‘I am the only person who looks like us.’ And they invariably look at each other. And I say, ‘That’s why we need to do a lot more.’
So what advice do you give to young people — particularly young women — who aspire to public service or elected office?
We need to get everybody in the pipeline in the local races. The local political arena is where it started for me, and I think that is still the case, especially for women. We need to get a lot more women into the pipeline… in the political arena as well as in the private sector.
You see the Fortune 500 companies, you see the boards. [Ed. note: Less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs.] They have to pay attention, otherwise they are not going to get the kind of diversity that’s representative of our country.
How do you think women can better support each other? For instance, I’m not aspiring to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but I still want to see more women in those roles. What can I do?
Well, awareness helps. And to feel that they make a difference.
Women in Hawaii, they need to vote. I definitely think that we can improve the voting rates of women in Hawaii. So, education and awareness.
I think it’s important for women to realize that their daughters, particularly, can aspire to a lot of different things — like robotics. The kids in Hawaii really like it and I’ve talked to kids from elementary school on up.
Especially the elementary and middle-school kids, I ask them, ‘If it weren’t for robotics, would you think about going into engineering?’ And they say no! So a lot of times, kids learn by doing. And then they realize, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ So those kinds of opportunities are really important, particularly for the girls.