Making History: Why We Need More Women Leaders in Journalism

Journalists (left to right) Waliya Lari, Seema Yasmin, Dilshad Ali and Asra Nomani present panel discussion at the 2016 JAWS mentoring camp.

Journalists (left to right) Waliya Lari, Seema Yasmin, Dilshad Ali and Asra Nomani present panel discussion at the 2016 JAWS mentoring camp.

Generations after women journalists have supposedly freed themselves from the mandatory “pink ghetto” of exclusively writing about topics of food, family, furniture, fun and fitness, the media landscape is still uneven.

And it matters because who reports and edits the news gets to pick what information and news people watch, read and listen to, and what shapes their view of the world.

So what is a solution and how can it change?

The first step is to identify what the numbers really are and where change can occur. Fake news discussions aside, at the top 20 outlets in this country, women bylines and credits are in a minority.

At the top 20 outlets in the US, women bylines and credits are in a minority #WomenInTheNews

A new report from the Women’s Media Center shows that women journalists are reporting far less often across all platforms, but particularly in broadcast news. So if you think most all of the time, you turn on the television or watch a news report on your mobile phone of a man standing in front of a fire or a court house, you are right. Men report an average of  74.8 percent of the broadcast news.

With an eye toward equity, PBS NewsHour stats show that “men produce 55.0 percent of the news and women 45.0 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, “ABC World News comes in last, with men producing 88.2 percent of the news and women, 11.8 percent.”

The simple solution might then for news outlets and operations be to do what PBS does. Hire more women anchors. Make an effort to include the voices of more women on air.

Men report an average of 74.8% of the broadcast news #HireMoreWomenAnchors

According to WMC, that was co-founded by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan, this report  “is evidence, a tool for social change, and creates benchmarks to highlight the status and progress of women in media,” said Julie Burton, President of the Women’s Media Center.

There has been movement, yes, but women are still mostly reporting on the “soft news” of lifestyle and education.

Burton continued, “Men still dominate media across all platforms — television, newspapers, online, and wires — with change coming only incrementally, and in the case of broadcast news, regressing at the three major networks. Our research projects on coverage of campus rape and coverage of reproductive rights show that the gender of the journalist affects how they cover topics and whom they choose as sources. Women are not equal partners in telling the story, nor are they equal partners in sourcing and interpreting what and who is important in the story.”

At traditional ink on paper news outlets, “Men report 61.9 percent of the news in print; women report 38.1 percent. None of the print outlets achieve gender parity, although the San Jose Mercury News (55.7 percent men; 44.3 percent women) and The Washington Post (57.5 percent men; 42.5 percent women) have the narrowest gap.”

Digital news is more fair. ”Compared to the other sectors, women garner more bylines — 46.1 percent of all bylines — at the four online news sites, combined. The Huffington Post (founded by Arianna Huffington)  is nearly equal, with men garnering 50.8 percent of the bylines and women 49.2 percent.”

The next step is for more women to be in top leadership positions.

Gannett, owner of USA TODAY, made big news about itself last week for putting a woman at the helm as editor-in-chief for the first time in its 34-year history. According to USA Today, “Chief Content Officer Joanne Lipman will become editor in chief of its flagship newspaper, expanding her role at a time when the company’s 110 news properties are increasingly coordinating editorial coverage.”

“We really do represent all of America,” Lipman told Valentina Zarya of Fortune. “In total, the network’s publications receive about 110 million unique visitors every month,” Zarya writes.

Why does it matter? In a classic 2006 study of a woman-led newspaper, journalist and University of North Texas Professor Tracy Everbach focused on the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “under the leadership of a female management team.”

Everbach writes, “The newsroom embraced family-friendly policies. News meetings had a more collaborative feel. But one former managing editor said the female-led newsroom discouraged ‘tough, male journalists’ from applying for jobs and that, generally, the journalists who applied were “strong, intelligent, powerful women, and men who are not assertive.’”

The American Society of News Editors has been conducting a newsroom census for decades and the number of women leaders and employees has remained nearly the same since the 90s.

The number of #womenleaders in the newsroom has remained nearly the same since the 90s.

According to the latest 2016 numbers, “Women made up about a third of newsroom employees overall, with a higher number employed at online-only sites than at newspapers. Women comprised 38 percent of daily newspaper employees in this year’s survey and nearly 50 percent of online-only news organization employees.”

Another solution is for networking groups to set an agenda and push for change in the industry. Organizations such as Journalism & Women Symposium work to increase and support the visibility and fairness for women in journalism around the globe.

At the New York Times, more men are serving as editors and reporters, writes Public Editor Liz Spayd in the New York Times. “Among reporters, men often outnumber women, in some cases by significant amounts: three to one in the Washington bureau and in sports, almost two to one in metro. Men claim a comfortable majority on the foreign staff, among the arts critics and on the opinion pages, where male columnists take up 10 of 12 spots. Around the room, testosterone is not in short supply.”

Spayd continues, “It is no wonder that the bylines readers see every day are mostly those of men, although once again perspective matters. The overall scarcity of women may contribute to the persistent complaints from readers who see a sexist tinge to elements of the news coverage.”

It is more than an inkling that gender imbalance in newsrooms leads to an imbalance of coverage. Fewer women leaders in journalism means coverage that is imbalanced.

Researchers from the University of Bristol reported in a 2016 study that after examining content in more than 2.4 million articles over six months from more than 950 different news outlets.

The authors wrote, “We found that males were represented more often than females in both images and text, but in proportions that changed across topics, news outlets and mode. Moreover, the proportion of females was consistently higher in images than in text, for virtually all topics and news outlets; women were more likely to be represented visually than they were mentioned as a news actor or source.”

If journalism is the first draft of history, then it is appropriate that during Women’s History Month, more news outlets work to get women in their newsrooms, on their pages, sites and broadcasts.