May 23, 2005

The Gender Gap

Differences Beyond Topic and Media

What other elements seemed to make a story more or less likely to include a female voice?

According to this data, at least, story length and the number of viewpoints offered makes a difference. Longer stories and more viewpoints raise the level of sourcing overall, increasing the use of female sources as well as male sources.

Print and online stories over 1000 words were twice as likely to contain a female source as were stories under 500 words (52% versus 24%). They were also nearly twice as likely to contain a male source (97% of stories over 1000 words and 59% of stories under 500).

Similarly, stories that offered a mix of viewpoints were 20 percentage points more likely to cite a female than those with just one viewpoint (47% versus 27%). The advantage was slightly less for male voices, 14 percentage points (94% versus 80%).

Another possible element to consider is the gender make-up of our newsrooms. Past research suggests that female journalists tend to use more female sources than do male journalists. A study of three newspapers of different circulation sizes found that 24% of all the sources females reporters used were females. Just 16% of the sources male reporters used were female. (1) This was most evident at the smallest paper (201,000 circulation) where women were also more likely to rely on ethnic sources than were males.

Women journalists, then, may help diversify the source list, but in most newsrooms they are still a minority. Roughly 38% of print journalists in the U.S. are women, according to data collected by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and 35% of supervisors.(2) In television, just 24% of American producers, writers, and directors are women, reports Media Awareness Network.(3) And looking at top executives of American media, telecommunications and e-companies, a 2001 study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found just 13% are female. (4)

Whether the starting point is a pool of sources more dominated by males or a pool of journalists more inclined to seek out males, there do seem to be some steps one could take to create more opportunity for female voices to emerge.

(1) Rodgers, S., & Thorson, E. (2003), “A socialization perspective on male and female reporting,” Journal of Communication, December, 658-675

(2) Newsroom Employment Census, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Table M, April 6, 2005, www.asne.org

(3) “Women Working in the Media,” Media Awareness Network, www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_working.cfm

(4) “Progress or No Room at the Top? The Role of Women in Telecommunications, Broadcast, Cable and E-Companies,” Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2001