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Women in Journalism: Mind the page one gender gap

Women in Journalism: Mind the page one gender gap

In an average month, over three quarters of the stories on the front pages of Britain’s national daily newspapers are written by and about men, according to research by industry body Women in Journalism.

A study conducted over a four-week period last spring, the results of which were published yesterday, found that male journalists lay claim to 78 percent of page one bylines in nine national newspapers.

The study was inspired by a comparable one conducted last December by Women in Journalism committee-member Kira Cochrane. Counting Monday to Friday bylines for seven newspapers over four weeks, Cochrane found the same figure: men had written 78 percent of the front-page stories.

Of the nine newspapers examined this time around (listed in the chart below), the widest gender gap existed at The Independent, where men were found to have written 91 percent of the 70 front-page stories examined, and women only 9 percent. The Daily Express, meanwhile, was the most balanced, with a 50/50 split between male and female bylines.

Where news content was concerned, the study found an even more pronounced discrepancy: 84 percent of the people quoted in front-page stories were men, and 16 percent were women. Moreover, when the researchers classified the first person quoted in each story as either an “expert,” a “celebrity” or a “victim,” they found that 75 percent of experts were male, and 79 percent of victims female.

In front page photographs there was a greater equilibrium, with 36 percent featuring women, 50 percent featuring men, and 14 percent showing mixed groups or subjects of unclear gender. However, the three females who appeared most frequently in main photos during the month were royal sisters Kate and Pippa Middleton, and missing child Madeleine McCann.

Given the emphasis on celebrity and tragedy over substance, it is not much wonder that when women in leadership roles such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Home Secretary Theresa May were pictured (three and four times respectively), they were most frequently making faces of anger and frustration.

The habit of favouring male voices is not exclusive to Britain: a similar phenomenon was observed in the United States in June, when research group 4th Estate found that major news outlets did not tend to consult women as primary news sources on topics directly pertaining to the female sex, such as abortion, birth control and planned parenthood. On the subject of abortion in particular, men were seven times more likely than women to give their opinion in the news, contributing to the report’s conclusion that “the gender gap undermines the media’s credibility,” according to the Washington Post.

Furthermore, Editors Weblog reported earlier this year that in the United States, the realm of opinion journalism still belongs predominately to male voices, with a Poynter revealing that women had written only 20 percent of opinion articles in traditional media and 33 percent of those in new media in 10 U.S. news outlets between September 17 and December 7, 2011.

How can such chasms continue to exist?

In North America, at least, women are studying to join the profession at a faster rate than men: journalism school enrollment is dominated by females by 60-70 percent in the U.S, according to Cindy Royal, and Reuters reported similar figures for Canada last year. Furthermore, women represented 40 percent of television news staffs and 37 percent of daily newspaper staffs in the U.S. in 2011 the Washington Post reports, meaning that the 30 percent Rubicon had been crossed.

It appears that the greatest imbalance lies at the top of the pyramid, where the air is thinner, and the page one decisions are made. “Men overwhelmingly occupy the most senior positions in news organisations,” according to a Washington Post article on the 4th Estate findings--an article that, it should be noted, is placed in the newspaper’s Style section, despite its socio-political subject matter.

In the top reaches of the hierarchy, men are not only more numerous, but better remunerated. The annual compensation survey by Folio magazine, published in late September, revealed that male editors-in-chief earned an average of $15,000 more than their female counterparts last year, or $100,800 compared to $85,100 for women holding the same titles.

Will this ever change? In a media landscape where Ms. Huffington’s eponymous Post is conquering country after country, and the Grey Lady is being presided over by one and held to account by another, there is reason for hope.

Sources: Women in Journalism, Guardian (1) (2), Washington Post, Reuters, Atlantic Wire, Folio, Nieman Lab

Image courtesy of IslesPunkFan via Flickr Creative Commons


Emma Knight


2012-10-15 17:56

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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