Why journalism has a gender problem

The journalism industry is severely lacking in leadership by women and racial minorities, according to the Nieman Reports story published Wednesday.

This year’s census by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), which looked at diversity at print newspapers, shows women accounting for 35.4 percent of supervisors. This barely marks an increase from 1999, when women made up 33.8 percent of supervisors. Women run three out of the 25 biggest U.S. titles and one of the top 25 international titles. They make up 37.2 percent of overall newspaper employees, a whole three-tenths of a percent increase from 1999. Racial minorities fare even worse, comprising 13 percent of overall employees.

In broadcast newsrooms, women make up 31 percent of news directors and 20 percent of general managers, according to a 2014 survey by the Radio Television Digital News Association. The fewest female leaders appear in radio, where they account for 23 percent of news directors and 18 percent of general managers.

The trend is not limited to the U.S., or even to media. A survey of 500 media companies in nearly 60 countries discovered that men hold 73 percent of management positions. And among Fortune 500 CEOs, women account for 4.8 percent.

There are, of course, high-profile exceptions; Arianna Huffington and Marissa Meyer among them. The ASNE survey shows women among the top three leaders at 63 percent of print organizations. But according to the numbers, these instances do little to mitigate a larger trend.

Many say the imbalance is no accident, and instead the result of professional and social factors that inherently tip the scales for men.

Women enter communications schools and the journalism industry at roughly the same numbers as men, according to the Nieman report. From there, the number drops off — only one-third of people with 20 or more years of journalism experience are women.

One factor in this disparity is the fact that more men than women hold “hard” news beats such as politics and world news, where organizations often turn to hire management. An analysis of thousands of New York Times articles this year showed that men wrote most of the articles in the seven largest sections. And for women serving as primary child caretakers — the case in the majority of American families — irregular hours and travel make it difficult to commit to these beats, the Nieman report said.

Women that make it through the pipeline in many industries face cultural attitudes that favor leadership by men. A Fortune study on performance reviews in the tech industry found that words like “bossy, abrasive, strident, and aggressive” appear in reviews of female leaders more frequently than men. Jill Abramson, who was fired from her position as editor of the New York Times this year, was frequently described as such. A Google search of “Jill Abramson abrasive” yields over 110,000 results.

Some have voiced hopes that the emergence of digital media would upend hiring structures that are frequently skewed toward men. As news consumption goes digital, women are leading the way as consumers. Thirty percent of American adults use Facebook for news, and women make up 58 percent of those news consumers, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report.

But men are still leading as the creators in at least several high-profile instances. Vox.com and First Look Media were founded this year by men, and FiveThirtyEight was founded by two men and one woman. A Vanity Fair list of media disruptors, released on Wednesday, is comprised almost entirely of white men.

Why is this important? The report cited several studies showing that diverse newsrooms do a better job at news coverage, and their policies favoring work-life balance are not as prohibitive for working parents of any gender.

The issue of newsroom diversity is not limited to gender — it is also important to promote people of diverse socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, the report said. It cited McClatchy, where women serve as 13 out of 29 executive editors, as a company that has done this effectively.

A more diverse newsroom can yield a wider range of possibilities for coverage, Keith Woods, vice president for diversity in news and operations at NPR, said in a report by The Atlantic.

“When you fail to pursue the most diverse news staff, you fail to open up the possibilities created when you bring a broader range of life experience,” he said.

Support PBS NewsHour: