(WOMENSENEWS)–Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s Web site is stark and simple: an all-white home page with one incomplete sentence: “Ratio of male to female writers in national ‘general interest’ magazines: 525:170.”
That’s the current tally that Konigsberg is keeping of bylines at Harpers, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair and The Atlantic Monthly.
Konigsberg, an associate editor at Glamour magazine, went live with the site in November, but has been compiling the numbers since September and maintains it as a purely personal project. In taking unilateral initiative in quantifying women’s presence in the press, however, she is not alone.
Rather she is part of a group of women who, one by one, are drawing attention to the dearth of female voices across the media industry.
“It started as a personal pet peeve, but as it turned out, I’m not the only person out there who has been counting bylines, or even posting them online,” Konigsberg tells Women’s eNews. “So it wasn’t even a terribly original idea. But it was a good way to get in touch with a lot of other women who have this issue on their minds as well.”
Since launching the Web site, Konigsberg has garnered some significant media buzz about her project. She has attracted the attention of publications such as The New York Times, which, on Nov. 7, ran a short piece profiling her project. Susan Estrich, who earlier this year pointed out that male op-ed writers vastly outnumbered female contributors to the Los Angeles Times op-ed page, mentioned WomenTK.com in one of her columns. Mediabistro’s blog, FishBowlNY, highlighted the article on Konigsberg in its daily synopsis of the news, and it also spawned many postings across the blogosphere.
It’s the bloggers that Konigsberg credits for building and keeping the momentum around the site.
“The New York Times article was certainly a great way to draw attention to it, but the bloggers are the ones who keep it going,” she said. “I’m glad for the media buzz; the whole goal of my project was to draw attention to the disparity. I was a little surprised at how much traction my little site got, but that’s the beauty of the Web.”
While lacking any formal committee or umbrella organization to work under, Konigsberg is still considering whether to harness the broad response she has gotten from her project into more of a group effort.
Monitoring The New Yorker
Elizabeth Merrick is another byline counter. The Brooklyn-based Merrick is founder and director of the Grace Reading Series and Miss Grace’s Salon–a series that supports and celebrates women literary writers through monthly readings, book recommendations and interviews with women writers.
Through her Web site, gracereadingseries.com, Merrick calls attention to the lack of female writers in both the fiction and nonfiction arena and encourages women to count bylines.
“Miss Grace suggests that you make it a habit of counting bylines and remember that bylines translate into having a writing career or not, health insurance or not, that kind of very basic survival for women authors,” the Web site reads. Merrick also provides a link to The New Yorker Web site to help facilitate counting.
The New Yorker, particularly, is a publication that Merrick has spent a significant amount of time studying.
For a year, in 2004, Merrick tallied New Yorker bylines on her blog in a regular posting called “Weekly Spiritual Reckoning with the New Yorker.”
“I did it for a while,” she said. “But then it got too depressing. It was like clock work; every week only 20 percent of the bylines would be from women and it was usually the same extremely established women writers.”
While Merrick gave up her weekly column, she believes the cause remains important. “We need to keep tallying. It’s women’s careers at stake; it’s not just a political issue. Society really needs women’s voice out there.”
Observations Led to Research
Pat Arnow, a freelance writer and photographer in New York, didn’t count bylines so much as find herself customarily noticing them. “It’s something that I take note of mentally. I’ve always looked at bylines.”
Arnow took the habit in a formal direction in 2004 when she researched and wrote an article for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting–the New York-based national media watch group–in which she counted the number of stories written by women on the front page of The New York Times during one week in May. Her article, “New York Times Bylines Sideline Women,” found 51 bylines belong to men and just seven–or 12 percent–belonging to women.
Jennifer Weiss, a recent Columbia Graduate School of Journalism graduate, wrote an article for the Columbia Journalism Review where she counted bylines at the National Review, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Harper’s Magazine, The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Nation, the National Journal and the Columbia Journalism Review. Her article, “The Gentleman’s Club,” based on a study she conducted from October 2003 through May 2005, corroborated the male domination of bylines at general interest magazines.
As a young woman entering the job market out of journalism school, Weiss feels the institutional bias that women are perceived as more equipped to cover “softer” issues. “I could more easily get a job at a fashion magazine than an intellectual magazine, even though I have more experience writing about politics.”
Nolan Tracked Atlantic Monthly
Chris Nolan, the founder of Spot-on.com, a Web site that offers a range of political commentary and points of view on issues and events of the day, counted bylines from January 2005 through May 2005 in The Atlantic Monthly. Nolan found that while women often wrote smaller items, the magazine had not run a major feature by a female writer since the beginning of the year. She published her findings in an article, “Not Seen. Not Heard.” on Spot-on.com on May 12, 2005.
“We all know that men dominate political coverage,” Nolan says. “What Konigsberg didn’t look at was where women are writing. Women aren’t writing for the main feature well. They are writing for the front of the book and the back of the book. I counted it up. Those aren’t the well-paying sections.”
Jennifer Pozner, founder and executive director of Brooklyn-based Women In Media and News, a media watchdog group, views the under-representation of women in these general interest magazines as a result of women only being seen as experts on issues such as abortion, health care and child care.
“Women are not seen as authorities on the red meat issues of journalism that many of these general interest magazines cover,” says Pozner.
To combat this problem, Women In Media and News conducts media training workshops for women to give them the tools they need to challenge media bias. The trainings focus on teaching women how to deconstruct media spin, learning how to develop relationships with the press, how to generate positive coverage and how to access independent media alternatives.
Pozner says counting bylines is vital step in helping to close the gender gap. “When we do media training for women, we encourage people to count. You have to continue to show the inequity by the numbers so it is irrefutable.”
Konigsberg believes that in order to close the gender gap, getting angry is not going to get women anywhere. “The strategy, moving forward, has to focus on engaging people who have the clout to make change.”
Nolan believes that women need to take a slightly more radical approach to close the gender gap. “Mainstream journalism has lost 700 editorial jobs in the last six months. The business is online now. If you want to change the business, women, in particular, should be online.”
Hannah Seligson is a freelance writer based in New York. Her book, “New Girl on the Job,” will be published by Citadel Press in 2006.
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For more information:
“Female Op-Ed Journalists Should Ignite Fireball”:
Women in Media and News:
Pat Arnow’s Clips–
New York Times Bylines Sideline Women
Female reporters found mainly on inside pages, back sections
from Extra! July/August 2004:
Columbia Journalism Review–
Spot-on: Chris Nolan, San Francisco
“Not Seen. Not Heard.”: