Oprah vs. Tyra, Walters vs. Sawyer

Picking apart Forbes' annual "Most Influential Women in Media" list

By Judy Berman
Published July 16, 2009 5:17PM (UTC)
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I don't have to tell you who tops Forbes' new list of the Most Influential Women in Media. But despite Oprah's perennial domination, the class of 2009 still provides plenty of fodder for discussion. It's tempting to see the list as a series of celebrity death matches, with Barbara Walters, at No. 3, losing second-place honors to fellow ABC grande dame Diane Sawyer (although Walters does make another strong showing, at No. 11, as founder and co-host of "The View"). And it certainly raised my eyebrows to see Tyra Banks at No. 5. It's no secret that she aspires to be an Oprah for her generation, and at this rate, she may just do it. Does Martha Stewart (No. 9) feel Rachael Ray (No. 10) nipping at her domestic goddess heels?

There are also some nice surprises among the top 30, who appear in an online slide show (those looking for the full list will have to read the print edition): It's nice to see Christiane Amanpour (No. 16), who will be launching her own CNN International news program in September, recognized for her daring reporting in the Middle East. Broadsheet favorite Rachel Maddow also comes out swinging at No. 15. But perhaps the biggest shocker on Forbes' list is Heather B. Armstrong (No. 26), the woman known to the blogosphere as Dooce. According to Forbes, her "earnings were small compared with the others on the list but [her] enormous social media presence (behind only Ellen, Oprah, Rachael Ray and Rachel Maddow) pushed her above more well-known names like Maria Bartiromo and Soledad O'Brien."

The list, dominated as it is by TV personalities, includes only a handful of other writers. More important, it seems to reflect the coming print media apocalypse: New York Times Op-Ed institution Maureen Dowd (No. 14) is the only newspaper writer in the top 30. Online media makes a stronger showing, with Arianna Huffington (No. 12), Tina Brown (No. 25) and the aforementioned Dooce all earning spots.

Now, I could spend all day picking at a list like this one. But what really strikes me are the bizarre metrics Forbes uses to quantify "influence":

The Most Influential Women in Media is based on money, fame, audience and power. Money is determined by an estimation of earnings from approximately July 2008 to July 2009. Audience is determined by average Nielsen Media Research numbers for television ratings and net traffic for the past 12 months. Fame and influence is determined by overall mentions on Factiva and by social media outreach, or the amount of followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook.

Forbes doesn't bother to clue us in about how they determine an individual's "power" -- and that, perhaps, is why Kathie Lee Gifford (No. 13) and Julie Chen (No. 17) rank so much higher than Andrea Mitchell (No. 30). Although NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent has four decades of reporting experience under her belt, according to Forbes, her "lack of social networking counted against her." Consider yourself warned, Andrea Mitchell: Start tweeting, or you're nobody.

Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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