May 23, 2005

The Gender Gap

The PBS NewsHour

One striking finding in this examination of gender is the scarcity of female sources on the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” With a gap of 42 percentage points, stories are roughly three and a half times more likely to include a male source as a female source on the signature evening PBS newscast. Just 17% of stories on the “NewsHour” cited at least one female source versus 59% that cited at least one male. This puts the “NewsHour” second only to MSNBC in its lack of female sources.

These data paint a complex picture of the “NewsHour.” For one, the Project’s 2005 Annual Report (which studied the same content) found that the program devoted more of its content than any other medium—even newspaper front pages—to foreign affairs, the topic where women were the least likely to be found.

In addition, the “NewsHour” tended to cite more sources in its stories than other kinds of television news and share more information about the background, expertise and potential biases of those sources. Almost a quarter of its stories (23%) had the highest level of transparency, four or more fully identified sources, versus 18% on commercial evening news and 11% on morning news segments.

Source Transparency, Network Evening News
Commercial Network Evening
PBS
Network Morning
No Sources
37%
36%
39%
1Source
14
21
23
2-3 Sources
32
20
28
4+ Sources
18
23
11
Totals may not equal 100 due to rounding

Looking deeper, with the addition of gender, it turns out that while PBS excelled at having multiple sources in its stories they were almost always male. The program, for instance, stood out for having four or more male sources in a news story. Nearly a quarter of its stories (24%) contain four or more male sources versus 17% on commercial evening news and 9% on morning news.

But when it came to female sources, PBS was less likely than commercial or morning news to include one, two, three or four.

A March 8 th 2004 story about Iraq’s new constitution, for instance, relied on five male sources and not a single female source. Reporter Gwen Ifill (a woman) began with sound bites from Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi governing council, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Iraq’s grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Ifill then entered into a panel discussion with Feisal Istrabadi, an advisor to the governing council and Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Michigan. While the story was in depth and well-sourced, Ifill’s was the only female voice aired.