Who brings us the news? Men, mostly

Mar 31, 2017

By Gene Policinski
Inside the First Amendment

     Who brings us the news? Mostly it's still men, according to a new Women's Media Center study, "Divided 2017."

      The report says that among the major TV networks, online versions of CNN, Fox, The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast, and the nation's ten largest newspapers:


  • Male anchors and reporters predominate by about three to one among broadcast news outlets, which the Center notes is a "regression" from how things used to be. Work by women anchors, field reporters and correspondents actually declined, falling to 25.2 percent of reports in 2016 from 32 percent when the WMC published its 2015 "Divided" report.
  • For newspapers and wire services such as The Associated Press and Reuters, "bylines" run about 62 percent male. Online, men receive 53.9 percent of bylines.
  • WMC reports that "men produce the most stories on sports, weather, and crime and justice. Women's bylines are largely on lifestyle, health and education news."

         The gender disparity shown in the WMC survey is obvious in terms of numbers and simple equity, considering that women make up 51 percent of the population. But its implications, including the impact on news credibility, may not be so clear to news consumers. WMC Director of Communications Cristal Williams Chancellor noted in an interview that many of our fellow citizens are "comfortable" with men in anchor chairs or dominating story bylines. But in an era in which a majority of people say they distrust the news media and its motives, the most credible news operations should have diverse staffs that represent both their subjects and their audiences, she said.

         Clearly, the news industry still falls short of having enough women to meet that goal. Why?

         It's not for a lack of qualified female job candidates-in-training: Women made up two-thirds of the student body enrolled in journalism and media-oriented degree programs during the fall 2013 semester, according to data from most recent Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Enrollment.

         One factor in the lack of overall visibility may come from the finding that "lifestyle, health and education" remain the topics where women most likely appear. I can recall that same circumstance in newsrooms of the 1960s.

         Another bit of history: The American Society of News Editors' annual newsroom census found in 2016 that the number of women leaders and employees has remained nearly the same since the 1990s. The survey that year reported that "women made up about a third of newsroom employees overall, with a higher number employed at online-only sites than at newspapers. Women comprised 38 percent of daily newspaper employees in this year's survey and nearly 50 percent of online-only news organization employees."

         At a 2014 ASNE conference, women who were editors also called for changes in hiring and the review/promotion process to address old canards of how women in leadership roles are perceived. Fast Companysenior editor Kathleen Davis referenced a study of 248 performance reviews of 180 men and women in media, prepared by both men and women, which showed the word "abrasive" was used 17 times for women and never for men.

         None of these stats or biases is the sole province of newsrooms, to be sure. And going back to the mid-20th century, women in leadership roles in major news operations — from the news desk to the corporate suite — more often resulted from inherited ownership than from corporate diversity considerations.

         But the profession that represents us all in gathering and reporting the news ought to be more of a leader in the 21st century in being representative of all of us.

    Gene Policinski is chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute. He can be reached at gpolicinski@newseum.org. Follow him on Twitter:@genefac.