An editor at the Huffington Post says a male Medill professor told her she “probably had issues” with her writing ability because her voice was higher-pitched and sounded like that of an undergraduate on a phone call.
Amanda Terkel, a political reporter and editor at the news website, said the professor — who Terkel declined to identify — was a reference on a Medill student’s application for an internship at the Huffington Post. Terkel said she called to ask questions about the student and her writing ability when the professor made the comments.
Terkel said she told the professor his words were “incredibly offensive.”
“You can’t tell someone’s writing ability from the sound of their voice,” Terkel told The Daily.
Terkel, who first mentioned the conversation publicly in a series of tweets Wednesday morning, said she declined to name the professor because she doesn’t want him to face intense online backlash that can sometimes follow incidents like this.
In an email to The Daily, Medill Prof. Alec Klein said he was the professor with whom the editor had spoken. Klein said when he saw that the editor had tweeted about the exchange, he immediately called back and apologized for any “misunderstanding.”
“It was never my intention to leave the impression that the Huffington Post editor’s voice had anything to do with her writing ability,” Klein said in the email. “I wanted to make sure the misunderstanding didn’t hurt the student’s chances and I was assured it wouldn’t.”
Klein said he had “strongly recommended” the student seeking the Huffington Post internship.
Later Wednesday afternoon, Terkel tweeted that she appreciated the professor’s apology.
Terkel told The Daily earlier in the day that it was “unnecessary and unhelpful” for a Medill faculty member to “attack” a journalist who is interested in hiring a Medill student.
University spokesman Bob Rowley said the University had no comment as of Wednesday afternoon.
Terkel said the incident is indicative of a more widespread sexism in the news industry, particularly surrounding the way women speak. Certain word choices or “vocal fry” — the low crackle a voice can make when a word is drawn out — can make some listeners think a woman “sounds dumb,” Terkel said.
“Policing women’s voices is something that goes on quite a bit,” Terkel said. “Often I have people thinking I’m younger than I am or making assumptions about my age. I have a coworker who mentioned to me she was doing an interview, and someone kept telling her she’s too young to be a reporter.”
Despite the encounter, Terkel said she still has “great respect” for Medill and Northwestern and that many Huffington Post reporters are Medill alumni.
This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. to include comments from Medill Prof. Alec Klein.
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