Where my women at?

It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in the newsroom. Despite the fact that the number of females in powerful positions has increased and that the number of female journalism students have outnumbered male students for the past fifty years, the gender discrepancy in the news industry overall has remained disappointingly static for over a decade.

Studies show that in the beginning of their careers, female journalists tend to start off stronger with better jobs and higher pay. However, it is the men that have staying power in the industry. In print provided by major news agencies as well as on online mediums, women reporters typically account for less than 30% of the bylines

Looking at many of the responses to both broadcast and print work done by female journalists, it's not hard to understand why. Particularly in the areas in political and sports reporting, there’s a serious trend of the audience putting the focus on the woman instead of the message. Unfortunately, it's a trend that's encouraged by other publications. Magazines reduce the work, research, and qualifications of the woman reporting on sideline to her bra size and eye color, with a sly point to the byline, as though the fact that a woman wrote the article makes it all ok

The focus on appearance trickles from lists like 25 HOTTEST REPORTERS EVER I MEAN SERIOUSLY all the way down to the comments available for view online, where commenters freely and eagerly take the opportunity to express their opinion on what the reporter wrote. Instead of informed responses based on the article, logic, or anything relating to the subject that was written about, female journalists find themselves subjected to a barrage of "intensely personalized missives of hyper-sexualized hate"

But how can any news agency create and atmosphere that fosters respect for the work of the female journalist when some members of the media cannot contain their skepticism that a woman could possibly legitimately earn a high-ranking position?

The number and perception of women in the news is a serious issue that cannot be pinned on one particular party; no one is blameless. But it an issue that requires serious examination in order for it to change. Because until female reporters are afforded the same respect and authority that men are, they will never have the same opportunity to grow and flourish in the industry. 

Sarah Perryman is a postgraduate student on the MA in Multimedia Journalism

Comments

I'm not a commenter - usually - but this is a really dated view of a non-existent gender disparity.

I'm currently sitting inside a newsroom and the ratio of ladies to gents is 11 to 9... unspectacular, what a shocker. Yet I can honestly say - even as a rookie - that the female Head of Home News standing next to me most definitely earned her high-ranking position legitimately. 

Calling this... thing... an issue is a serious insult to the successful journalists who just happen to be women -- just as talking about lack of ethnic diversity in newsrooms is an insult to the journalists who just happen to come from racial minorities.

It degrades journalism into some kind of infantile "they're being mean to us" context which simply isn't true becuase when it comes to a profession which has no time for hesitation, and every organisation wants to the best people, there's no room for the kind of discrimination implied above.

By Jehangir Akbar

While I’m pleased to hear that your particular newsroom is teeming with gender equality, it is not representative of newsrooms both domestically and internationally (the latest statistics of which were published merely six months ago by Pew Research Center).

I think (hope) you’ve misunderstood my argument. The issue is not that newsrooms are not hiring women. It’s that the number of women start in the profession starts out strong in the beginning and then fades noticeably as the years pass, and I believe part of that reason is perceptions of and reactions to women in the field. It is by no stretch of the imagination a call to hire female journalists purely because they are female.

My intention was not to imply that your female Head of Home News did not earn her position; it was to show that when women are promoted to high-ranking positions in large companies, that promotion is often subject to sceptical reportage by the media. This is not irrelevant or out dated, it happened two weeks ago when CNN covered Mary Barra’s rise to chief officer of General Motors. My position is not that women who are promoted do not deserve it, it’s that I am unsure how women who work in media are supposed to be able to speak with authority online when the media itself has no qualms undermining the work of successful women in other professions.  

Personally, what I find to be the most egregious “insult to the successful journalists who just happen to be women” is when their career is defined by whether or not they are one of “The Top 40 Hottest Reporters in Sports” rather than the content they have produced, or when the response a thoughtfully written piece is crude Photoshop jobs and venomous rape references. (Articles on sexy lady reporters can be found on a monthly basis in a bevy of publications, and articles echoing my sentiments have been published in both The Atlantic and The New York Times in the past week.) Particularly online, our intellect is ignored while our bodies are considered a topic for public forum. That, I believe, extends far beyond an “infantile ‘they’re being mean to us’” mentality.

Tough skin is a requirement for working in news. We all know that. But having tough skin means pushing past ignorant, intensely personal insults without letting them affect your sense of self worth. Not sitting idly by and accepting that standard of treatment as “just how it is”. 

By Sarah Perryman