Sheila Gibbons

(WOMENSENEWS)–The steady drip-drip-drip of discouraging findings from individuals and groups analyzing women’s presence in media has just been girded by a clutch of new studies and data.

Recent byline studies of influential magazines–no matter their slot on the political spectrum–publish far fewer articles by women than men. Former Glamour deputy editor Ruth Davis Konigsberg found that, on average, women write one article for every three by men in the Atlantic, Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Alternet’s Ann Friedman found that the ratio of male to female contributing writers for progressive magazines was an appalling 30:5 at the Washington Monthly, 26:4 at the Nation and 21:12 at the American Prospect, to name several. Only In These Times, at 6:6, offered parity.

PBS’s “NewsHour” is largely a stag event, with fewer than 2 out of 10 guests being female, says an analysis from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting released this month.

“The big surprise is that the number of women in journalism hasn’t increased” over the last decade, reports “The American Journalist in the 21st Century,” a book by Indiana University professor David Weaver and a team of academics published this fall by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Added to the grim data analysis is the news that Gail Collins, the first female editorial page editor of the New York Times, is stepping down to take time to write a book and then return to the paper as a columnist. Collins oversees the Times’ 18-member editorial board, which determines the paper’s stance in its editorials; seven of those board members are currently women. She will be succeeded by Andrew Rosenthal, currently deputy editor and son of the paper’s former executive editor. It’s great that Collins will own a piece of the Times’ op-ed real estate on her return–currently, only one woman, Maureen Dowd, is a regular Times columnist compared with seven men–but regrettable that another woman wasn’t tapped to take Collins’ place.

Crises Still Covered by Men

Meanwhile, anyone with the slightest interest in world events can see the problem at work. The current crisis over North Korea’s nuclear prowess largely has been a discussion featuring men, much like the aftermath of Sept. 11.

A refreshing exception was the Oct. 11 appearance on the “NewsHour” of Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discussing the importance for the United States of engaging in direct diplomacy with North Korea.

Activists in and outside journalism have succeeded in persuading industry groups, such as the Radio-Television News Directors Association and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, to track the progress of women.

Independent watchdog groups such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and individuals such as Konigsberg, Friedman and in the 1990s, M. Junior Bridge, who conducted content analyses for the now-inactive Women, Men and Media, have helped monitor what’s going on with women in media.

But ever since early gains in the post-civil rights era of the 1970s, when women in media organizations successfully pursued grievances filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and lawsuits against employers who had relegated them to reporting ghettoes (such as the women’s pages) and paid them less than male colleagues, all the findings confirm the same thing: a glacial rate of progress.

Patches of Progress

Of course there have been improvements. For many years, the newspaper business has been trying to improve diversity in its staffs. By the early 1980s, media giant Gannett (for which I once worked) had in place a compensation policy that tied managers’ bonuses to their success in diversifying their staffs. Money talks and this got results, with more women and minorities recruited into newsrooms.

But progress in two key areas–expanding the number of women in journalism and advancing more to top jobs and improving the ways women are depicted in newspapers, magazines and on television–has been inconsistent.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors’ attempts to improve minority employment in newsrooms provide a useful case in point.

ASNE adopted a highly publicized goal in 1978, which challenged the industry to achieve racial parity by 2000 or sooner (no such goal exists for women, by the way). In 1978, minorities represented 4 percent of newsroom professionals.

Nearly 30 years later, the goal remains elusive. Minorities comprise 11.55 percent of the reporters, copy editors, photographers, graphic artists and editors at U.S. daily newspapers, ASNE says, but minorities constitute an estimated 28.4 percent of the U.S. population, according to the latest Census data.

By 1998, realizing that the goal of parity wouldn’t be reached by 2000, ASNE reset the clock, adopting a diversity mission statement that says, “The nation’s newsrooms must reflect the racial diversity of American society by 2025 or sooner. At a minimum, all newspapers should employ journalists of color and every newspaper should reflect the diversity of its community.”

Clock-Watching Is Not A Strategy

This approach shows a high level of misplaced confidence in the passage of time producing a correction. Waiting does not work.

Women, for example, have been the majority of majors in colleges and schools of journalism and mass communication since 1977, but that hasn’t translated into comparable numbers for women on the career track years later.

Watching the clock isn’t a strategy. Those inside the business can create programs and incentives to spur women’s advancement, but I sense that the enthusiasm for that, quite high in the 1980s, has faded.

It’s important that readers, viewers and listeners step up to exert pressure. We must keep asking editors for more material from female writers, reporters and commentators whose work we admire and want to see more of.

We should send examples of work we regard as important to our local media outlets and ask that they employ that writer or explore that topic and suggest a woman to do it.

We need to praise editors when they feature strong work from female journalists and columnists and pester them when they don’t.

We need to do this not once, and not for just one woman, but consistently and generously and for many. And we need to enlist our colleagues, friends, family and other fans of female journalists in this effort.

We can do this by e-mail, phone or U.S. mail. The medium doesn’t matter; the message does.

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of “Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism,” Strata Publishing, Inc., which received the “Texty” Textbook Excellence Award from the Text and Academic Authors Association, and of “Exploring Mass Media for A Changing World,” Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, publishers.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].

For more information:

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “Are You on the NewsHour’s Guest List?”:

Indiana University, “Big news covered by fewer full-time journalists”:

AlterNet, Ann Friedman, “The Byline Gender Gap”:

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