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Score one for being a woman

Recently, several reporters and I were having a discussion about crazy and weird ways we’ve found sources for our stories.

I brought up the creepiest thing I think I’ve ever done as a reporter. One of the gazillion back-to-school stories I’ve done over the past few weeks was one last week about safety while walking to and from school. It was timed and packaged with another story about school zone enforcement.

Well, I had the tips and the schools and safety officials opinions. I had all the facts about grants the schools have applied for to encourage people to walk or bike by improving safety. One of the areas in particular is adding a sidewalk to a street near three schools down which a lot of students walk each day — in the busy street.

But I needed the real people. I had a lot on my plate that day, and another interview ran long, which meant I missed the bell by about 10 minutes. I thought I was pretty much screwed trying to catch parents that day to talk about it.

As I drove over to the schools, however, walking down one of the streets without sidewalks, I noticed a woman with a stroller and three elementary students in tow. I felt so creepy, but I needed a source, and this was perfect. Obviously the parent would have an informed opinion on the lack of sidewalks because she walked her kids down that street. The question was, how do I get her attention? So. Like they show in all those “Don’t talk to strangers” movies, I pulled up alongside her, rolled down my window and said, “I know this is really weird, but my name is Meranda, and I’m a reporter ….” and she agreed to talk to me. So we pulled off into one of the neighboring parking lots, and she was the perfect person to get into why story mattered.

When I told them this story, we had a good laugh. (Come on, that is so weird. I don’t know how I would have reacted if someone had approached me in that fashion.) And our conversation led to how I’m lucky that I’m female.

Our entertainment reporter was talking about how hard it is for him to do his man on the street interviews for the weekly Speak Out section (basically random questions, mug & quotes style). Apparently, he has trouble getting people to talk to him for those. Then the (female) features reporter commented that she had noticed it takes him a lot longer to do that section than her when she’s had to fill in for him. He made a pretty good point: That woman would have run the other way if I’d been male and pulled up alongside her. He’s probably right.

I never really thought about how being a woman benefits me in this business, especially on this beat. I talk to students every day. Young, old, male, female, black, white, asian, hispanic, etc. I approach parents at random, and usually don’t have trouble getting them to talk. Until he made that comment though, I never really appreciated that people’s innate sexism was working to my advantage. If a 30-year-old guy approaches you and your 5-year-old, you’d probably be creeped out. When I come up in a skirt, with my notebook and politely ask, “Would you mind…” you’re less on the defense.

But then on the other hand, there are a lot of situations where being a woman is definitely not going to win me any points and some places I probably shouldn’t go where a guy wouldn’t think twice. So I guess it’s a trade off. For my beat, though? Score one for being a woman.

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