Journalism's Gender Imbalance Includes Who's Quoted, Too

The Atlantic Wire
Journalism's Gender Imbalance Includes Who's Quoted, Too
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Journalism's Gender Imbalance Includes Who's Quoted, Too

Following a string of reports that reveal a gender byline gap in the media (both new and old), there's a new study indicating that the trend goes deeper than we first imagined. This time the report goes beyond the bylines or breakdown of magazine awards themselves and into who is actually being quoted for stories.

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According to the organization The 4th Estate, which has been monitoring national U.S. election coverage in print, broadcast, and radio since November 2011, "Women are significantly under-represented in 2012 election coverage in major media outlets. In our analysis of news stories and transcripts from the past 6 months, men are much more likely to be quoted on their subjective insight in newspapers and on television."

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And, unlike the differential that exists with bylines, in which women are outnumbered by men in writing about issues like the economy or policy but remain the predominant writers of the "pink topics" (aka, service, relationships, and whatnot), in the case of election coverage, even stories specifically concerning women are more likely to include quotes from men, and not women. (Of course, given that these are election issues, they fall in those "male-dominated" realms of policy and politics). According to the 4th Estate, "For example, in front page articles about the 2012 election that mention abortion or birth control, men are 4 to 7 times more likely to be cited than women," a gender gap that the organization says "undermines the media's credibility."

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Here's their chart:

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So, why aren't more women being quoted with regard to election coverage? There are a few possibilities here, and they're not all quite as bad as assuming a widespread gender bias with regard to who is quoted for a story (though we're not ruling out the possibility that that can and probably does happen). But gender bias is insidious because it's not, generally, so overt: People aren't, usually, obviously sexist, because they know they're not supposed to be. Just as various historical and social realities can be identified as adding to the gender byline inequality (more men have traditionally been reporters, for example), there are historical and social realities that may impact who is being quoted in the news. More men, for example, are in power in politics. More men are CEOs of companies. More men may be "experts" in certain areas. And... Generally... More men are at the heads of news organizations. The point is, these stats and charts are surface evidence of something that extends beyond a problem in journalism. 

The 4th Estate goes on to chart the record of "Top 15 Print Journalists" in terms of quoting women, writing that "statements from female newsmakers only make up 20% or more of statements in articles from four of the top ten journalists when candidate statements are excluded." Note that most of the journalists here are also men. Of those who did the best, according to the report:

Aaron Gould Sheinin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Thomas Fitzgerald of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times and Michael Levenson of the Boston Globe attributed at least 20% of their statements to females when candidate statements were excluded from the sample, and at least 11% when candidate statements were included.

The idea that women are being ignored when topics that pertain to them specifically are brought up is disheartening and seems a parallel to women being kept out of a recent Congressional hearing on Obama's birth control ruling. At the same time, to assume that only women can speak intelligently about women's issues is just as sexist as assuming that only men can. The thing we need to work toward here is, again, a baseline in which quality goes to the top in a way that is blind to gender. But these stats are important, even as they aren't the last word in any of this—partly because this is something that we need to continue to talk about, and also because they seem to show that this is all more than simply a problem of female "lack of confidence."

Still, we need to know more. As Jezebel's Katie J.M. Baker writes, "The stats are fascinating — and depressing — but The 4th Estate doesn't specify whether these men are being quoted as 'experts' on the subjects or if they represent the frustratingly high number of male politicians who think they know all there is to know about vaginas." What is clear is that these problems are all part of a broader social issue—not, simply, "confidence"—that we're attempting to figure out, and the more we do, the better we will be. As Jasmie Linabary, co-founder of The Gender Report told The Daily Beast's Abigail Pesta, "Studies have consistently found that women are roughly a quarter or less of news sources. Counts like these continue to draw awareness and raise questions about why this might be the case. The answers are complicated, but the next question we need to ask ourselves is, what can be done about it?" And that's a question for both men and women.

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