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Why few women are leading America’s newsrooms

Women hold few positions of authority in newsrooms across the United States, according to a Nieman report published earlier this week. Some experts say this disparity could have far-reaching impacts for consumers of the mainstream media. Anna Griffin, a reporter and editor at The Oregonian newspaper and the report's author, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the industry-wide problem.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Women hold few positions of authority in newsrooms across the United States. This according to a Nieman report published on Thursday by a Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

    For more about this, we’re joined now from Portland, Ore., by Anna Griffin, she is a reporter and editor at the Oregonian and is the author of the report. So, how significant are the disparities between men and women when it comes to leadership positions in newsrooms?

  • ANNA GRIFFIN:

    They are really, really stark. Women in the United States make up something like 35 percent of all newspaper supervisors, they run three of the top 25 circulation newspapers and the numbers translate internationally too. Women run one of the top 25 circulation international newspapers. So, it is an industry wide problem.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This isn’t a pipeline issue. There are as many women coming out of journalism programs, or communication programs in colleges, so what’s happened, what’s behind this?

  • ANNA GRIFFIN:

    That’s a great question. That’s part of what we try to get into and I think answering it is really complicated, because as you mentioned what we see is, coming out of journalism schools women make up half the population of young journalists, and over the next 20 years of so every time you take a five-year snapshot, the percentage of women has dropped.

    And to get into those leadership roles, particularly at old-school, mainstream news organizations, you have to stick around. Experience still plays a large part in who gets promoted, especially who gets picked for top jobs. Women are opting out, they’re opting out earlier and earlier.

    In some cases it’s the answers you would expect. Anybody who wants to have a family has to make a really hard choice, because journalism it’s a hard job. It’s a low-paying job, it’s a job that requires a lot of flexibility in your schedule.

    But it’s not just that, even in countries that have really family friendly policies that let women and men go spend a lot of time with their families and then guarantee them their jobs by when they get back. The percentages are really similar. It’s not just what you think it is, it’s something systemic that we’re really as an industry struggling to put our fingers around.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What are some of the consequences, let’s say editorially, is the news that we consume different when women are in positions of leadership?

  • ANNA GRIFFIN:

    The academic studies are really mixed on whether there is a tangible ‘today’s newspaper looks different,’ but what we know, and I think you can draw some conclusions from this is that organizations that are run by women tend to quote more women, tend to review more books by women, tend to have women covering harder news beats.

    Every editor, male or female, has their own personal style, their own preference in the kinds of stories they like their people to cover. But I think the broad answer to that is women and men do think differently and different women and men think differently.

    Particularly in mainstream media, our job is to reflect the entire community that we covered at any given organization, you need as broader range of voices as possible. And that’s just not happening right now in a lot of places. In a lot of places it’s exactly who you would expect, you know the middle-aged, white man making the choices. And all of us have blind spots, all of us have biases and that presents a problem.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Anna Griffin, thanks so much.

  • ANNA GRIFFIN:

    Thank you.

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