Women’s Voices in the Newsroom

A young white woman with a notebook and pen talks to another young white woman in a crowd.

A reporter interviews a young woman at a protest against sexual assault and bullying.

May 27, 2016

 

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of AAUW Outlook magazine. For more stories like this, subscribe to Outlook today.

Here’s a headline that’s less than surprising: Women are underrepresented in journalism. Why does that matter? Journalism defines the way we understand our communities and identify and prioritize problems worth solving.

A Women’s Media Center report found that “in evening broadcast news, women are on camera 32 percent of the time; in print news, women report 37 percent of the stories; on the Internet, women write 42 percent of the news; and on the wires, women garner only 38 percent of the bylines.”

When it comes to hard news, women’s representation can be even lower. Media Matters examined women’s representation in cable news and found that women reported 22 percent of the segments on foreign affairs and national security in 2014 and 28 percent of the segments on economic issues.

Despite being underrepresented, women have led Pulitzer-winning coverage of everything from “black site” prisons to the ethics of research on primates, and women writers are inspiring national conversations about long-ignored issues such as work-life balance. But good journalism requires journalists who want to enter and stay in the field, and women writers and editors face systemic challenges that keep them from advancing. Perhaps the most entrenched barrier is the network of white men who rely on their own professional and personal communities when they make personnel decisions, assign stories, and recommend sources to reporters.

“I don’t think it’s a bias toward white men,” Gizmodo Editor in Chief Annalee Newitz told Medium. “I feel like what it is is more laziness toward trying to find people to make it diverse.”

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Being overlooked for an assignment or panel discussion is a small thing on its own, but it adds up over time, making women less visible. In 2011, the New York Times profiled up-and-coming political journalists in Washington. Even though plenty of young women covered that beat for well-regarded publications, none were included.

Even in areas where most of the journalists are women, their work can still be disegarded. Women’s publications regularly cover serious topics, from the challenges facing women in Syria to the exploitation of breast cancer awareness. And yet, over a 10-year period, the American Society of Magazine Editors’ annual awards honored men’s magazines for profile writing but no women’s magazines.

The need to address the gender gap in journalism goes beyond representing more voices in a community. It’s also about who decides which people get remembered and which issues are front and center for the public. If the New York Times publishes 66 consecutive obituaries and only seven are about women — as it did in 2014 — is that because men are deciding whose lives are historically significant? If a local paper documents a rise in domestic violence, is that because women are in the editorial room? Women are making and breaking news we need to know; let’s make sure our voices are increasingly represented in the media.

Rachel Wallace works on global women’s issues at the U.S. Department of State. Any views expressed here are not representative of the federal government.

 


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