Women in the media: Who's making the news?

Who’s best at promoting female voices in journalism? And what difference is there between the topics that men and women get to cover? Clara Guibourg has looked at British newsrooms - and found that they’re still a men’s club.

Women are underrepresented in the newsroom - and get pushed to cover ‘softer’ topics than their male colleagues. An analysis has revealed that just one in three news articles on British news sites are written by female journalists.

“It’s quite shocking. Half the world is female, and only a third of bylines are,” said Cath Levett, head of graphics and interactives at the Guardian.

“That’s crazy - it’s 2015!”

Cath Levett has been working in the London media industry for fifteen years. She says news organisations still have a long way to go - not just when it comes to the gender balance, but also in terms of hiring from minority backgrounds. And the issue is an important one, she said.

“We should represent our readers. I think that’s a big issue we’re facing also with BAME hiring in the workplace, which is something we need to look at to represent the nation as a whole, or our readership.”

To get an idea of how skewed the gender balance was in newsrooms, we analysed nearly 3,000 articles, from national broadsheets, tabloids and new media organisations and looked at the gender of the authors. Here's what we found:

Here's what we did

Analysed 2,951 articles over the period 21-28 May and looked at the gender of the journalists writing them.

Mostly male readers

The Daily Mail is the only paper with more female than male readers, according to The Media Briefing.

"Womens' topics"

Sports are covered almost exclusively by male reporters - whereas lifestyle and entertainment is covered by women.

The results show that most are still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Counting bylines and making note of the journalist’s gender showed that overall just 35% of articles about news and politics were penned by women.

So how do the different newspapers compare? Is the Huffington Post better than the Daily Mail when it comes to promoting female voices in journalism?

(The short answer? No.)

“Women get asked to dress a certain way, or cover certain subjects more.”

Looking closer at the results reveal huge differences between the publications. The Times and the Guardian have just 26% and 33% female bylines, respectively, whereas the Daily Mail lands on 63%.

“Although we have seen an increase in the number of female editorial staff over the past few years, we recognise that more needs to be done to ensure this continues,” a Guardian spokesperson commented.

And Cath Levett, who’s worked at both the Guardian and the Independent, says that she feels lucky with her employers, although the percentage of female bylines is below average at both places. She doesn’t feel it affects the newsroom environment.

“I think there’s a culture of openness. I have friends who’ve worked at other places, and women get asked to dress a certain way, or cover certain subjects more,” she said.

Men’s and women’s issues?

Analysing articles from different sections of the papers unearthed some interesting results. There are still huge differences between what topics are covered by different genders.

When looking at all newspaper sections together, 46% of articles were written by women and 54% by men. Looking at these overall figures, newsrooms seem pretty balanced.

But these hide a far more skewed reality.

Out of the 174 sports articles analysed, just 6 had a female byline. (That’s 3%.)

The lifestyle section, meanwhile, is an altogether more feminine place, with almost three in four articles written by women. At the Daily Mail, an overwhelming 9 out of every 10 lifestyle articles were written by a female journalist.

Women made up 35% of the journalists writing about hard news, the biggest section with nearly 1,000 articles analysed.

So what? Does it matter who’s writing about what?

Well, for one, it may be hurting their career paths. Women being assigned certain topics could make it harder for them to get promoted, according to the Global Media Monitoring Project, who conduct research on representation in media.

“Men are given the political and economic assignments which are seen as part of the career path to senior editorial and media management positions.”

Expert: Why stereotypes matter

Consequences spread beyond the workplace, too. Since journalists’ work is so public, a skewed gender balance in the newsroom may reinforce imbalances in society.

“As long as we keep reading, seeing people on TV and seeing bylines that associate men with the serious, big stuff, and women with the more peripheral, flippant stuff, or with children and family, it just goes into that big melting pot of messages that carry on reasserting and entrenching really quite false gender binary assumptions,” said Tamsin Hinton-Smith, associate director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Sussex.

Gender imbalance in the media takes on many different forms, and representation in the newsroom is just one of them. Another is stereotypically gendered image choices.

“If it’s a ‘womens’ issue’ they’ll go looking for a woman. For everything else, they might not go looking for a woman.”

A female politician looking girlish photographed from above while her male counterpart is made to look imposing photographed from below. An article about female CEOs illustrated with a stock photo of high heels. Whether by laziness or mere thoughtlessness, it seems the industry is struggling to overcome some ingrained ideas about gender.

This becomes especially apparent when looking at the gender balance of people interviewed in articles.

A 2010 study found that men make up 75% of the people cited in pull quotes - partly for the obvious reason that people who appear in the media are a reflection of the people with power in our society. Tamsin Hinton-Smith called this a classic example of “unconscious bias” about what men and women are like.

“Just as male and female journalists are asked to write different articles by their bosses, when those male and female journalists are thinking about finding interviewees, the same type of gendering of masculine as normal takes place,” she said.

“If it’s a ‘womens’ issue’ they’ll go looking for a woman. For everything else, they might not go looking for a woman.”

Continuing to address the issue of representation across society is key, she said, to effecting any change.

“That might make people more likely to think ‘Well, who am I going to ask to write this article?’ Or ‘Who am I going to find as an interviewee?’”

Get the data. See anything interesting in the dataset? Find me on @cguibourg and let me know!