In an industry without many top women editors, the news that Georgina Henry will be taking over digital operations at the Guardian may be a small sign of a changing newspaper culture.
According to The Guardian, Henry will be responsible for all aspects of the Guardian.co.uk except news. She is no stranger to the publication, as she is coming from her spot as the head of culture at The Guardian and Observer. In 2008, she helped revamp the "Comment is Free" section of the website.
Her predecessor, Janine Gibson, will be moving to head the Guardian's digital operation in the U.S. She will lead a team based in New York. Earlier estimates stated that the newspaper hoped to have the U.S. site up and running by September.
Henry is not the first woman digital editor at The Guardian, in a the newsroom that is more woman-friendly than most. The British Journalism Review published an article arguing that the digital era was giving women more opportunities to shatter the newsroom's glass ceiling. It noted that the Guardian has one of the best records in placing women in high-level posts. It has had female home and foreign editors, amongst others. The article explains Georgina Henry's take on the matter, as she has credited this with the Guardian's generous maternity leave and the facility for mothers and fathers to work part time and job-share.
The same article recalled a journalism seminar in 1994 organised by former Sunday Mirror and Sunday Express editor Eve Pollard. After the event, which brought up the lack of opportunities for women to be promoted to news editors or publishers, Ginny Dougary phoned every national newspaper to ask how many women were either in the top three editorial positions, or heading up traditionally male departments such as news and sport. The answer at the time was about three out of 63.
To illustrate where women stand today at the top of the media hierarchy, the Guardian's annual guide to the 100 most powerful people in the industry is a good start. From a statistical perspective, the numbers are disappointing. The 2011 list only features five women in the top 50 influencers. In fact, women barely make the top 20, with Dame Majorie Scardino of Pearson holding spot number 18. Compared to the 2009 list, in which 10 women were featured in the top 50, fewer women are industry heavy weights.
However, the list is also prone to political and digital popularity fluctuations. Mark Zuckerberg was listed as number one this year, a dramatic change from his 100 spot four years ago. Women that hold steady positions at the top of publications are not necessarily recognized unless they have been making headlines.
Women editors are important for the industry because they add variety to content. For example, Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek, has increasingly featured women as solo cover images. Earlier this month, Poynter highlighted the change. In the first 14 issues Brown edited, six featured women. In the 14 issues prior to her tenure, only one cover featured a woman.
Georgina Henry has some high expectations as the Guardian ventures into its digital push. Under her guidance, perhaps the publication can turn around from its loss of £33 million in cash terms last year. If she manages to double the newspaper's digital revenues, perhaps next year she will claim a spot on the MediaGuardian's 100 list.
Photo Credit: WomenInJournalism.co.uk