Michigan Newsletter Talks to Name It. Change It. About Story on Barb Byrum’s Parenting

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Wonkette published a post Thursday morning “Michigan Lady Might Run For Office Even Though She Has Children, What Is Even Up With That” involving former Michigan State Representative Barb Byrum being rumored for a spot on the ticket as lieutenant governor. Wonkette’s post quoted a portion of an article from Michigan Information & Research Service Inc. (MIRS), a subscription-only newsletter that covers the Michigan state legislature. MIRS’ article included this:

Reminded that being on the ticket means less family time with her 3-and 5-year-old children, one of whom enters kindergarten this fall, she noted, “I’ve been doing that running around the state.”

The clerk and former House member has already attended Democratic Party functions in Kalamazoo, Manistee and Muskegon promoting election and redistricting reforms. She’s scheduled to speak to a group in Jackson County, Marquette County and, possibly, Monroe.

But don’t the children want Mom at home? MIRS wondered.

“I think a 3-and 5-year old want daddy home. They want mommy home,” Byrum said. She added that would be a factor in her decision-making process if it gets that far. “If I am asked it would be a conversation to have with family and supporters,” she concluded.

Upon discovering that the complete article was not available online to non-subscribers Name It. Change It. tweeted at Joe DiSano, who tweeted about the story, and asked if he knew where we could find the original story online. DiSano quickly sent us a copy of the original version.

It was then that MIRS correspondent Emily Lawler reached out to Name It. Change It. and put us in touch with MIRS editor Kyle Melinn. Melinn said that after the article was published MIRS changed the original -- removing the section that discussed her children -- and published a second article the next day in response to what he agreed was an problematic line of questioning directed at Byrum.

Melinn said that Lawler, a correspondent for MIRS was the first person to raise concerns over the article’s focus and called him the next morning. “She probably didn’t see the article as it went out the night before,” he said. The publisher also “received an email from a subscriber” expressing concerns over the nature of the questions posed to Byrum.

The original article, Melinn told Name It. Change It., was published the evening of July 30. Publishing in this context means that an email was sent out to subscribers with links to the day’s articles. MIRS publishes once a day and in the evening. The original article, which does not have a byline, a standard for MIRS, Melinn said,  was written by a long-term freelancer.

Melinn said he called Barb Byrum around noon on July 31. He said he’s also spoken to the subscriber who contacted the publisher.

Byrum told Name It. Change It. that Melinn’s version of events is correct. Melinn called and asked her “if he should take [the article] down.”

She said that she told him to some extent it didn’t matter, the article had already gone out and had been seen by everyone.

“I told him that’s your decision [whether to take it down],” Byrum said. “I said I don’t want to get into the business of silencing reporters.” 

Melinn said that they decided to alter the original story, removing paragraphs about Bryum’s children and publish a second story the following day about the appropriateness of the original questions posed by the reporter.

Melinn shared this article with Name It. Change It., which had previously only been available to MIRS subscribers. MIRS granted Name It. Change It. permission to repost the entire article which can be read in full here. Titled “Do Gender-Based Questions Chase Away Female Candidates?it reads in part:

MIRS on Tuesday asked Ingham County Clerk and former Rep. Barb BYRUM, who is considered a possible contender for Lieutenant Governor on the Democratic ticket, if her children wanted her at home (See "Like Mother, Like Daughter For Byrum," 7/30/13). The question and her answer originally appeared in Tuesday's edition, but after an in-house editorial discussion on the topic Wednesday, both were taken out as being insensitive.

Byrum said it's the first time she has gotten such a question, which seemingly suggested she consider not pursuing a position because of her young family.

"I've been an elected official for longer than I've been a parent. I have and do both," she said. 

Melinn told Name It. Change It. he’s spoken with the freelancer and told him that he would alter the original story and publish a follow-up.

“He said he agreed with me 1000 percent on this,” Melinn said. “He said he didn’t mean it [to be sexist] if that’s how it came off…and he has notified me that he has asked male candidates about their family, although I couldn’t say if the questions were the same.” 

Byrum said that she had been interviewed by this freelancer just once before when she first ran for office in 2006. However, she said she’d been interviewed by MIRS and Melinn many times and acknowledged this was the only time she felt her gender was unfairly emphasized in an article by MIRS.

However, she told Name It. Change It. she was not surprised by the questions about her duties as a parent because she says the poor ratio of women in the Michigan legislature is patently noticeable. Michigan’s state legislature is currently 18.9 percent female and ranks 36th in the country in its gender balance.

“When I worked as a Michigan state legislator – and I was there from 2006 to 2012 – I was frequently asked whose office I was visiting,” Byrum said. Byrum gained national attention in June 2012 when she was banned from speaking on the floor after proposing an amendment to a bill effecting abortions to make the same rules apply to men who seek vasectomies.

Meanwhile, Merlinn said he fully agrees that the story was unfair to its subject. He told Name It. Change It. that he views this incident as a “learning moment” for the staff. He and correspondent Emily Lawler have both signed Name It. Change It.’s Media Pledge of Gender Neutrality – which is a pledge “to do [their] part to prevent all instances of sexist coverage of candidates, leaders, and people of all walks of life.” He also said he has spoken with other MIRS writers and offered to circulate to them the Name It. Change It. Media Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians to give their writers a guide in what may constitute gendered coverage of women in office.

Published by Rachel Larris on 08/01/2013

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