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Thursday, June 21, 2018, 5:22 a.m.

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Women writers make a difference

By Tammy Keith

This article was published June 3, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s the year of the woman.

We are speaking up and standing up for what we know is right, and others are listening. I’ve never been a wallflower by any means, but it’s nice not to feel so alone in my assertiveness.

I have colleagues who are strong, independent women who have spent their lives, like I have, dedicated to making a difference in the world through good journalism.

Two of these friends — Debra Hale-Shelton, a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Donna Lampkin Stephens, a journalism professor at the University of Central Arkansas and former Arkansas Gazette reporter — asked me to join them in making a proposal for the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference, set for November at UCA. I was flattered and excited.

We found out in May that our proposal was accepted, and we are thrilled.

These are women I’ve known for years and respect and admire. They’ve done amazing work in their careers.

Debra has won the Arkansas Press Association’s I.F. Stone Award for investigative journalism twice. She reported and edited for The Associated Press in Chicago, Little Rock and other cities for more than 20 years before working for the Democrat-Gazette.

Donna was just the third female sportswriter at the Arkansas Gazette and, in 1991, became the first female reporter allowed in the Arkansas Razorback locker room. I didn’t even know that until we wrote our bios for this conference.

Since the Gazette closed in 1991, she has been a freelance writer for a number of publications, including our zoned editions, lucky for me.

Not only that; she produced The Old Gray Lady: Arkansas’s First Newspaper, a 90-minute documentary film on the history of the Arkansas Gazette, which I think should be required viewing for every journalist in this state.

I included in my bio for the conference that I’ve won the Arkansas Press Women Communications Contest Sweepstakes Award eight times and the national sweepstakes honor three times. I worked at The Jonesboro Sun and the Log Cabin Democrat before I came to this paper 12-plus years ago.

The topic we decided on was Women in Journalism.

Here is what Debra wrote in our submission:

“Journalists Donna Stephens, Tammy Keith and Debra Hale-Shelton started out in print journalism decades ago. In that time, they have seen and endured gender disparities in pay, promotions and assignments. They also have endured sexual harassment, discrimination and condescension — sometimes in the newsroom and sometimes on assignment.

“As a sports writer, Stephens has worked in a male-dominated profession covering sports that also are often dominated by men. Keith, a reporter and columnist, has endured harassment and worse, while Hale-Shelton remembers a time when newspapers didn’t even try to hide discrimination.

“The three will discuss the progress women have made in the industry and the problems that still exist.”

When the #MeToo movement was reignited (it really started in 2006), I found myself reliving lots of situations I had faced throughout my career, which started when I was just 20 years old. I wrote about one incident in a column after thinking for years about sharing the story.

I was touched inappropriately by a source during an interview for a story. I just happened to be pregnant with my first child, too. The man, who has since died, was a psychologist. I still regret that I didn’t call his professional board.

That column hit a nerve with so many women. I’ve never gotten so many emails about anything I’ve written, and women shared with me their stories of sexual assault that were much worse than mine. Some women said I was the only person they’d ever told. Ever.

That’s why I’m still passionate about my job after all these years. I love to tell other people’s stories and bring about change or understanding, or right a wrong. There is such a thing as truth, and it makes a difference.

Women are talking; people are listening. We’re a force to be reckoned with, and I am proud to be part of the conversation.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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