6 mins

2019, South Africa.
The provincial elections are taking place.
Politics and the economy are the daily focus of local and national news.
Reporters are searching for facts and answers to inform the public. But the experts quoted in the stories are primarily men and often always the same men.
Repeatedly. 

The fact that 4 out of 5 sources quoted in the news were men “did not sit well” with Kathy Magrobi.
She knew that “The voices and narratives of women+ are very different from those of men.”
Ms Magrobi wanted the media to begin to listen to groups whose voices were unheard or underrepresented.
“Gender transformation leads to a media landscape that is richer, deeper, and more robust,” says Ms Magrobi, a media and communications strategist and founder of Quote This Woman+. 

Quote This Woman+ is a non-profit, online database that brings together a plethora of female and other folks from marginalised communities, all of whom are experts and available to speak with the media.

Magrobi explains, “The name QW+ had a ‘plus’ on its name because, beyond women, [the] database is open to any expert who is marginalised by mainstream news narratives – whether because of disability, or sexual or gender orientation, or something else”.
The platform serves journalists and media outlets looking for an expert source’s opinion.
Using the database, over 1000 reporters have already accessed close to 600 experts from diverse backgrounds in many areas of expertise. 

The activities of Quote This Woman+ also include “lobbying media decision-makers and journalists to broaden the pool of experts and sources with whom they engage and curating and co-create news content to get women+ voices heard.”

We spoke with Jordan Magrobi, the Database Coordinator and daughter of founder Kathy Magrobi, of Quote This Woman+, about the importance of their work.

Jordan Magrobi sitting at a desk in front of a computer, turning around and looking over her shoulder to face the camera. In the background is a green potted plant and a rectangular painting

Jordan Magrobi at work – image courtesy of Quote This Woman+ 

THE INTERVIEW

Everyday Grit: How did Quote This Woman+ get started? 

Jordan Magrobi: May 2019 was when we officially started.
We got the ball rolling, registered as an NPO (non-profit organisation) and started with all the processes that we do now.
We started with a special focus on the elections, which meant that we could narrow down and start small.

Today we have 50 different areas of expertise.
Part of it was growing and maintaining the database, and the other part, especially in the beginning, was about explaining ourselves to the media.

Kathy had worked in the media before, so she had some connections there, which was helpful.

Kathy wasn’t working alone to start Quote This Woman+.
I
t seems like other family members got involved in the project, like yourself. Can you tell me about that?

Yes. If Quote This Woman+ is a child, there is a whole village behind them.
Kathy is my mum, and QW+ was a full family effort.
My sister got involved, too; she was still in high school at the time. She helped us grow on social media.
And my step dad also helped from the point of view of starting a business.
But outside of the immediate family, my mum has had so much help from her friends. Especially people with whom she had worked previously, in either gender or media.

And we also had so many incredible volunteers. Some have been friends and family. But many found us on the internet and wanted to sign up to help.
This is so important because we are a small NPO, we don’t have a lot of funding, and to have people who are willing to give their time for free is great.

So there is this huge community surrounding Quote This Woman+ and taking part in its success.

When you started, how did newsrooms welcome QW+ when you came to them with the idea and your database?

People were so keen.
Many people recognised that there was an issue with the lack of diversity of narratives. They recognized that they were quoting too many men.

A #novoiceleftbehind meme from the Quote This Woman+ facebook page. A smiling woman stands surrounded by an aura fo sentences and words such as “I write my own story” “, “I am only getting started”, “Confidence”, “I own my space’ etc.

#NoVoiceLeftBehind – Facebook/Quote This Woman+

And often, they were shocked about how few women experts they had.
On the one hand, they were thinking, “Oh! I love quoting women, and I think it’s essential to ensure that there is diversity in the media.”
But on the other hand, when they looked at it, they realised, “Oh, my word, we need to do better.”

So the reception of the idea was incredible.
The only thing that we still struggle with all the time is the status quo. The status quo is always easier.
But in the end, the media has been our biggest fan.

I understand that this is the exact opposite of what you were expecting.
Initially, you expected that experts would be enthusiastic about joining the database to get their voices “out there” while the media would be more challenging to convince.
But you discovered that the experts were harder to get on board, and you decided to provide experts with media training.
Tell me more about the reactions of the experts that you approached and why you decided to offer training?

So many forces come together in society to push women down and tell marginalised groups that their voices aren’t valid.
When we reached out to potential experts, many responded by saying they weren’t experts.
You have to understand.
We were reaching out to people with PHDs in these topics, and they would reply, “No! Maybe you should speak to my colleague ?”

So we approached the subject with empathy and understanding.
This wasn’t about people rejecting us, our ideas or what we stand for.
These were people who were simply thinking, “I’ve been put down for so long, it’s really hard for me to step up”.

So we decided to offer media training to the experts who join the database.
Kathy is the principal trainer.
The training is very powerful. It isn’t typical media training addressing subjects like “this is what you need to wear, this is what you need to say”.

Our training helps the experts take a step back, focusing on questions like “why you are a valid voice? Why do you deserve to be heard?”

The Quote This Woman+ database is based in South Africa – do the experts talk only on South African issues? Or do they comment on subjects that go beyond the national borders?

Most of the time, the media that comes to us is asking about South African issues.
I’m guessing that this might be due to bias because the QW+ experts don’t come from Europe or the US.

For example, take a global subject like climate change.
We have incredible climate change researchers in South Africa, but they mainly get asked about South African issues.
Hopefully, as time goes on, we will get to a point where the issues will broaden.
But as it stands now, the experts mainly get asked to give a South African comment.

What are the biggest challenges of running Quote This Woman+ ? 

Funding.
Funding has been our biggest hurdle so far. It means that we’ve had to stay a small team, we haven’t been able to afford to pay more than the three staff we currently have.
Excitingly though, we will be bringing on somebody new thanks to a new grant from the Open Society Foundation for South Africa that we received this year.
But funding is our biggest challenge.

What is the vision you have for QW+? Where do you see Quote This Woman+ going?

There are two main points.
The first is that we want to work on expanding our + community.
We now have a lot of women, but we haven’t been able to reach out to more rural communities, people with less education, or non-English-speaking people.
So this is important, and we are working on that to diversify the database.

Today, we still do fall into the trap of mainly reaching out to academics, primarily because it is easy to reach out to them.
So we are putting aside more time and effort to reach out to organisations that represent other marginalised groups.

The second thing we are trying to do is ensure that we have many people to cover the topics that we get asked about most frequently.

“Women hold our country together
and their stories need to be told.”
Quote This Woman+

We want to increase the number of political and economic analysts in the database.
We want to offer an excellent, sturdy database of people that we can recommend when media outlets and journalists reach out for these kinds of queries. 

Feature image: Jordan and Kathy Magrobi  courtesy of Quote This Woman+

Want more information?

Journalists/news producers – link you to the Woman+ expert you need to quote.
Woman+ experts – believe you belong on the QW+ database?

To learn more about Quote This Woman+ and to read the resources they publish, visit the QW+ website 

Funding is the biggest challenge that stands in the way of increasing the voices heard in the media. You can also support the Quote This Woman+ initiative by sharing their work and/or donating to their cause

Follow QW+ on social media Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and sign up to their newsletter for media alerts and more.

If you enjoyed this article you might also be interested in how Kimiko Hirata created a website using zip codes to to build a grassroots movement that forced Japan’s coal industry to abandon their projects in “The woman who stood up to coal power – and won.”

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