May 23, 2005

The Gender Gap

Topics

Across media, are women more likely to be cited in some story topics than in others? To a certain degree the answer is yes, but still at levels much behind that of men. In fact, the only topic area where women were cited in more than half of the stories was lifestyle stories such as one on the CBS “Early Show” about what to do if someone sees a child getting into a car with an intoxicated adult. Beyond lifestyle, the other topics most inclusive of women sources were government (44%), crime (39%) celebrity/entertainment (38%) and accidents (38%).

Even among these, though, male voices still dominate. In all five topic categories, at least one male is cited in more than half of the stories. Celebrity/entertainment stories were the least likely to use a male source but still, 56% cited them. (The only category with a lower percentage (45%) is that of miscellaneous stories which do not fit into one of the main topic areas.

Where are male voices most likely to emerge? In the more traditional categories of government (86%), campaigns and elections (84%), foreign affairs (80%) and defense and military (76%).

Female and Male Sources for Different Story Topics, Precent of all Stories
 
Female Sources
Male Sources
 
0
1+
0
1+
Government
57%
44%
14%
86%
Defense/Military
78
22
24
76
Foreign Affairs
80
20
20
80
Elections
66
34
16
84
Domestic Affairs
63
37
27
73
Crime
61
39
29
71
Business
67
33
40
60
Celebrity/Entertainment
62
38
44
56
Lifestyle
47
53
32
68
Science/Technology
66
34
26
74
Accidents
62
38
35
65
Other
71
29
56
44
Totals may not equal 100 due to rounding

Differences Among Media

Newspapers’ relative strength in including female voices carries through across most topics. At least one female voice was cited in the majority of stories studied in seven out of the twelve topic categories in print. Across all media combined, only one topic category cited a woman in at least 50% of stories—and that was lifestyle.

In print, lifestyle was again the topic most likely to cite women (66%), followed by domestic affairs (61%), election stories (57%), and government stories (56%). The greatest divergence from other media came in election coverage. Across all media, it came in seventh in its use of female sources (tied with science and technology at 34% of stories) versus third within newspapers.

Even in some of these stories, though, the female voice was far from dominant. A New York Times story from March 19 reported on Senator McCain’s comments about John Kerry’s defense record. Times journalist Todd S. Purdum first quoted Mr. McCain, Bush spokesman Terry Holt, and DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera. It was not until the last three paragraphs that a female voice was brought in, that of Victoria Clarke, a former press secretary for both McCain and later the Pentagon.

Online news coverage was similar to print in its overall reliance on women sources, but differed in the tendencies within story topics. Five topic categories cited a woman in at least half the stories, but they differed from the newspaper topics. The “Miscellaneous” grouping—stories which have little connection to other current events, was the most common (68%). This was followed by lifestyle stories (61%) such as one on CNN.com about snowboarding that included remarks from snowboarder Tricia Byrnes. Next came accidents (57%), celebrity (57%) and business (51%).

On commercial network evening news, just three topic categories included a female voice in half or more of the stories. At the top were celebrity/entertainment stories (58%) and lifestyle stories (58%), though these are also among the least common story topics on commercial evening news, (accounting for just 7% of the coverage studied). On February 23 rd, 2004, for example, ABC “World News Tonight” closed with a story on the final episode of “Sex in the City,” a show about city women looking for Mr. Right. The piece by David Wright quoted the show’s creator, Candace Bushnell, and a number of fans, most of whom were women. The next most popular category for women was the “miscellaneous” category, where women appeared in 50% of the coverage.

On morning news, where celebrity and lifestyle stories make up a greater portion of content, they are again the most likely places to find female voices. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of lifestyle stories and 55% of celebrity stories offered a woman’s perspective. No other topic category reached the 50% threshold.

On the PBS “NewsHour” and on cable news, not a single topic area included a female voice in at least 50% of the stories. The two top categories on the “NewsHour” were coverage of defensemilitary issues and sciencetechnology (40% for both). Cable, on the other hand, followed the pattern of its commercial network counterparts, giving women the most voice in celebrity (32%) and lifestyle (26%) stories. Just 19% of government stories on cable and 15% of defense and military stories cited at least one female voice.

The War in Iraq and The 2004 Election

In the two big stories of 2004, the international war on terrorism and the 2004 elections, journalists’ use of women as sources differed somewhat. In the roughly 6,300 stories about the war against international terrorism studied, women were even less likely to be a source than in the news coverage overall. A mere 20%, just two-in-ten of these stories, included a female source. Male sources, on the other hand, were cited in 79%. Journalists were slightly more likely to draw on women sources in stories about the 2004 elections (37%) though they were still more than twice as likely to offer a male perspective (88%).