Women are underrepresented in media.
Sure, most J-schools are 90% women, but that has little bearing on how everything pans out. In 2015, 68% of bylines at the New York Times went to male reporters, 67% at USA Today and 59% at The Wall Street Journal.
That’s not all: women are also missing in the stories themselves. The Global Media Monitoring Project reported that in 2015, only 24% of all people heard, read about or seen in the media are women. When you drill down to subject matter, the stats get even more skewed; only 16% of political coverage features women and 35% in tech and science.
This isn’t ‘new’ news to anyone who works in media; we all know this is an ongoing problem. Men get quoted more frequently as experts for a number of reasons (accessibility, relationships, etc) and while I’m sure no one intentionally does this, it’s a real issue. As long as one gender gets disproportionate column space, the other, by default, becomes a second class citizen and gets excluded from topics that relate to everyone. Journalists need to be cognizant of their own reporting bias, and make an extra effort to include both sexes
This issue is personal for me; on a recent story for Drone360 Magazine I was halfway through my reporting when I realized that every badass director, drone operator and entrepreneur I’d spoken to was male. To counter this, I reached out to the kickass Amelia Dronehart community to get some female voices. This wasn’t a story about sexism in drones (which I have written before) but one about the entertainment industry, and it was weird to find that it was only boys who were obviously involved/ talking about it/suggested as the company spokesperson.
That’s pretty awesome – but it got me wondering if this is something I’m guilty of. I don’t get a pass just because I have two X chromosomes. I decided to take an in-depth analysis of my own work over the last year. As a freelance journalist, I cover a bunch of different topics – recent stories include revenge porn laws, the business of pet funerals and yoga boxing – and I broadly fit into the ‘tech and lifestyle niche.’ With this in mind, I’d expect a relatively balanced gender division of sources.
I write for a lot of different publications, but to narrow this project down I’ve focused on my work for OZY Media, a company I do a lot of reporting for. I wrote approximately 67 stories between January 1st 2015 and March 2016; I use ‘approximately’ because I’m counting from date invoiced; not all my stories have been published yet, and some from 2014 were published during this time.
I’m aware this is a relatively small sample size, and I’m using this just to try and get a better understanding of my own work and bias; to discover what I need to work on. Way bigger studies and analysis have been done by other organizations; look a Max Berggren’s gender equality tracker (hat tip: Victoria Turk) the Women’s Media Center and the Geena Davis Center for more detailed research.
I counted the gender of all experts quoted, and the gender of the main characters in my stories. This was counted per story; a number of people have been quoted in multiple pieces (men and women) and this wasn’t documented separately.
Here’s what I found (put into percentages for ease of analysis).
Overall gender total: This includes every person spoken to
This is encouraging. I was a little worried – as someone who does a lot of tech reporting – that this might not be the case. I’m not sure why this is so balanced, I’m going to put it down to having a good network of female tech experts I contact regularly.
Gender total: Sources/Experts only
Gender total: Story main focus
Still pretty even, but a shift from earlier. Perhaps this is related to the number of male tech CEO’s?
These results are nice and all – a great virtual back patting’s going on now – but I wanted more data. This is my dive into story genres, to see if this switched things up.
Gender count: Technology Story focus
These are the numbers I expected to see earlier, and they make me feel pretty bad. Sure, men make up between 70-95% of all tech CEOs (depending on which study you read) but that’s no reason to not include women who are kicking ass.
Gender count: Technology Story sources
This is also strangely skewed. I’d account for this by the fact that I have a number of great women tech reporters that I regularly use as expert sources. I’ll make more of an effort to be inclusive to the great male experts as well.
Gender count: Travel Story focus
Thoughts: This is unexpected, and I can’t really account for this, other than I was unaware in my reporting that men were so prevalent in travel; I’d kinda assumed this might be pegged as ‘female’ in the same way that fashion is. I have looked at my fashion stories, and they skew significantly towards women as CEOs, but I had so few that I didn’t feel that data should be included here.
Gender count: Travel Story sources
I’m surprised and pleased by these results. It feels to good to know I’ve been fair in my reporting, and that I’m representing people well. I still need to work on making sure I speak to more women, especially those who are tech CEO’s/entrepreneurs, but overall I feel pretty good. This has taken up more time than expected, and that’s OK, there’s value in understanding what I’ve been doing, not just blindly moving forwards, but having knowledge and forethought for future work.
I’d suggest more reporters attempt this with their own work; the better we understand ourselves, the better we can reach our readers.
Note: I’m aware this is an incredibly complex topic, and that by looking purely at gender I haven’t touched upon ageism, race or ableism. I hope to expand on those issues in follow up blogs; I kept this tightly focused on gender due to the narrow scope of this story. I welcome any comments/follow up thoughts people might have.