The Real Story: 5 Issues Facing Women Leaders in Journalism

It matters who reports the stories. It matters who edits the stories and it matters who is quoted in the stories. It also matters who is leading the journalism organization and making key decisions.

Why? Because invisibility in the media is erasure in society.

Fair representation in media is a critical issue for society as women working in journalism face challenges in the 21st century, many of them similar to other sectors, but some peculiar to journalism. Take The Lead is addressing all these issues in its upcoming initiative, 50 Women Can Change The World In Journalism.

It matters who reports stories, who edits stories, who is quoted in the stories, & who is leading the journalism organization and making key decisions. Why? Because #invisibility in the #media is erasure in society.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing women in journalism and media is trust and it is connected to representation in newsrooms.

“This is a crisis of democracy, since the press’s role as a guardian of democracy is founded upon the trust of the public. But at least some portion of that distrust is a product of people who rarely see themselves or their stories depicted in the media they consume. A great deal must be done to rebuild public trust. But it can begin by including the voices of all Americans. The press, tasked with protecting American democracy, is best secured by reflecting the American people,” Jelani Cobb writes in Columbia Journalism Review.

At the recent Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced $2 million in funding to promote fair journalism.

NOLA reports, “As artists, you bravely tell stories that enable us to see the world through the eyes of another,” said Meher Tatna, actress and president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association during the broadcast. “These stories are our best hope of reflecting the kind of world we want to live in. We are privileged to share your work with the world.”

1. Under-representation in media by women and persons of color. The American Society of News Editors reports in its latest newsroom census of 2018 that the percentages of women in newsrooms has changed very little since 1999. Women made up more than a third of newsroom employees overall, 41.7 percent in 2018.

Women comprised 41.2 percent of daily newspaper employees in the 2018  survey and 47.8 percent of online-only news organization employees, holding steady from 2017. So digital media is on target for gender parity, that is the good news.

For people of color, the numbers are less encouraging. Persons of color comprised 22.6 percent of employees reported by all newsrooms. Among daily newspapers, about 22.2 percent of employees were racial minorities, and 25.6 percent of employees at online-only news websites were minorities.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing #WomenInJournalism and media is trust and it is connected to #representation in newsrooms.

The Women’s Media Center reports in “The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018,” “Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff, according to industry research that is based on news organizations’ replies to professional association queries.”

2. Leadership gap in media persists. Women run three of the top 25 newspaper titles in the U.S. and only one of the top 25 titles in the world, according to the Women’s Media Center. That number has decreased in the past 10 years. The somewhat good news is the ASNE survey also found that 79.3 percent reported having at least one woman among their top three editors, and 32.7 percent reported having at least one minority journalist in a top-three position. But that is still not 50/50, as is the goal of Take The Lead to have gender parity in leadership across all sectors by 2025.

Join Take The Lead’s  Virtual Happy Hour January 9 at 6:30 p.m., “The Real Story: Women In Journalism Finding Fair Solutions” to learn more and ask questions.

Who leads an organization defines who is hired, promoted and recruited and whose stories are told. In most outlets, the stories we read are not representative of the world we live in. Men are still the majority of storytellers across all platforms.

“Men still receive 62 percent of bylines and other credits in print, online, TV and wire news and have 84 percent of the last century’s Pulitzer Prizes,” according to the Women’s Media Center report “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017.

3. Implicit bias creates a coverage gap. This inhibits fairness and an understanding of issues. According to the Neiman Reports,  “Research shows that female politicians are treated differently in news stories, and by voters, from male politicians, while black families are overly associated with crime and Muslims with terrorism by media outlets convinced they treat every group fairly. Studies such as one in Political Research Quarterly have found that stories in which the candidates running are only women, the focus is more often about character traits and less often about issues. Researchers at the University of Alabama found that terror attacks committed by Muslims received 357 percent more coverage than attacks committed by others.”

Isaac J. Bailey writes in Neiman Reports, “While research into implicit bias is still developing, what we know now has important implications for journalism. A commitment to grappling with implicit bias could become an effective way to help the industry produce news coverage that more accurately depicts an increasingly diverse world, transform audience engagement and increase trust, and identity and overcome unspoken and unrealized internal divisions that negatively affect relationships within newsrooms.”

4. Backlash against women and persons of color online is real. Women journalists and women of color in media especially receive serious backlash, trolling, and even ridicule from the highest posts as Abby Phillip of CNN, Yamiche Alcindor of the PBS NewsHour, April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Network endured name-calling and discrimination recently.

“The three women joined a long line of black women journalists, who have occupied an especially uneasy place in our political culture for almost two centuries. From their earliest 19th-century forays into news coverage and commentary, the derision they have faced has given African American women many reasons to retreat from the public sphere. But they have not. Instead they have wielded their words in a way that enriches public debates and strengthens democracy. Alcindor, Phillip and Ryan embody the best of that tradition. Like their predecessors, they have never retreated, and there is no reason to think they will do so now,” writes Martha S. Jones in Washington Post.

According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey on online harassment, “women report higher levels of emotional stress from their experiences and differ in their attitudes toward the underlying causes of such incidents. Overall, 41 percent of Americans have experienced online harassment, defined in the survey as offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time. But the emotional impact of online harassment tends to be felt more acutely among women.”

5. Pay gap in journalism and media persists. According to the Washington Post, a 2016 study shows that “Dow Jones pay men more than women in jobs of similar tenure. Male staffers with up to five years of experience, for example, earn an average of 13.5 percent more than female staffers at the same level — and even slightly more than the category of women who’ve been on the job for twice as long. The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees 1096’s analysis found that, on average, full-time women at Dow Jones properties make about 87 cents for every dollar paid to full-time men. This includes everyone employed by Dow Jones who’s represented by the union — a group of about 1,400 across North America, including writers, copy editors and customer service representatives.”

According to the Poynter Institute, “The journalism industry is notoriously inconsistent with pay, and women often bear the costs of this disparity. Job offers are often based on salary history, and there’s little transparency around pay within news organizations. Experts say pay transparency is key to reducing the wage gap.”

BuzzFeed news audio fellow Alex Laughlin told Poynter, “All of the women I know who are fighting for this have plenty of other big ideas — do good journalism, launch big projects, experiment with new platforms. But we’re also fighting for equal pay. It’s frustrating, to say the least.”

The upside is there are innovations happening in other parts of the world to address these issues and inequities.

According to Nieman Lab, “The European Journalism Center implemented a full equality action plan. At the BBC, a self-measuring program called 50/50 aims to bring the number of expert voices in programming to half by April 2019. This fall, the Financial Times launched a gender bot to ensure that women were equally quoted in stories. And Zuzanna Ziomecka, founding editor of NewsMavens — Europe’s women-centric current affairs news magazine, says her company has all-female journalists writing the stories.”

Take The Lead’s Virtual Happy Hour this month engages two leaders in journalism to discuss the latest issues and solutions to finding fairness in media coverage, representation and leadership.

@TakeLeadWomen’s #VirtualHappyHour this month engages two leaders in #journalism to discuss the latest issues and solutions to finding fairness in media coverage, representation and leadership.

Amy Emmerich, chief content officer at Refinery29, the leading digital lifestyle media company for women, joins Take The Lead co-founder and president Gloria Feldt in a discussion with co-host Reshma Gopaldas, head of  video for SheKnows Media, which includes BlogHer, Stylecaster,, HelloFlo and

Emmerich has more than 20 years of experience developing content and programming for brands including Refinery29, MTV Networks, Travel Channel, and Vice Media. An award-winning producer, she has a full spectrum of production and development experience across platforms, including linear television, digital video, and emerging social media.

She is committed to creating a dialogue with a powerful generation of women around topics that matter. Prior to Refinery29, Emmerich served as vice president of production at Vice Media, where she contributed to launching two successful YouTube channels while organizing international creative efforts and overseeing production teams across multiple verticals. Before Vice, she was the vice president of production and development for Travel Channel, where she oversaw all network programming.

Mira Lowe, director of the Innovation News Center (INC) at the University of Florida, College of Journalism and Communications, joins the conversation January 9 to share her insights and experiences.

Lowe is President-Elect of Journalism & Women Sypmoiusm, and directs INC, a multimedia newsroom of student journalists and professionals that serves North Central Florida via multiple distribution channels, including PBS, NPR, ESPN and

Lowe was also a senior editor at CNN Digital in Atlanta, managing the planning, execution and programming of daily features content and special projects across a global portfolio. In her other past lives, she was editor-in-chief of JET magazine, the first woman to helm the African-American newsweekly, and assistant managing editor of Ebony magazine at Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago. She also was an associate editor and recruiter at Newsday in New York.

It promises to be a lively and informative conversation.

Speaking recently at  the United Nations Correspondents Association, Amal Clooney told the audience,“We need good journalists more than ever when we are deluged with information from different platforms, and when the accuracy of news is constantly questioned for political purposes. We do not live in a post-truth world, we just need news that is based on truth. And for that we need responsible journalists committed to exposing it,” Time reported.