The Silence Heard Round The World

        I am getting ready for a panel at the upcoming Association for Educators in Journalism & Mass Communications conference August 5-8 here in Chicago about what is missing in news coverage and opinion in domestic and international media.

       Well, women are missing. We are invisible. And while it may only be an historic omission, it is time to correct the past and make a deliberate attempt to represent gender equity in staffing, story ideas, sourcing and presentation. Here’s some of what I plan to say at the conference:

 We do not want to be gender blind. We want to be gender visionary. We can require the field be level in our classrooms and on our campuses.

Katie Orenstein, founder and director of the OPEd Project notes that male submissions to editors for op/eds far outweigh female submissions with ratios from three to 1 to nine to 1. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal have a range of 10-20 percent women’s bylines. In the Washington Post, 88 percnt of the bylines are male. At The Christian Science Monitor, 30 percent of the bylines are female.

It is not just in this country where the inequity exists. At the Asia Media Summit in 2004, 12 put of 90 speakers were women, according to the group, Network of Women in Media, India. “When it comes to numbers, there are just too few women at the top,” said Dat NgPoh Top, group editorial and education adviser to the The Star in Malyasia. In a survey on Arab Women and the Media, done by the Center of Arab Women for training and research, of 173 articles published in what was termed “women’s media” in Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, only two editorials were devoted to women’s issues.

A consortium of European stations created the presentation, Screening Gender, which seeks to show how gender impacts routine news coverage. I urge you to seek it out: In 1996, five public broadcasting companies – YLE/Finland, SVT/Sweden, NOS/the Netherlands, DR/Denmark and NRK/Norway decided to pool resources to encourage greater diversity in their programming. This network was later joined by ZDF/Germany .

According to the website, “the co-operation of the network includes joint research and training events, as well as exchange of good practices and experiences. This network was introduced to broadcasting professionals from all over Europe at the EU Prix Niki Conference, Thessaloniki, Greece, in October 1997.  The project Screening Gender was launched in July 1997 as a three-year initiative and it has received financial support from the European Commission‘s Fourth Community Action Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.”

  What they found is that gender is portrayed differently from camera angles to source selection. Although it was last updated in 2000, it can still be used as an effective teaching tool. It discusses how to deal with “the silent wife” in an interview and where to place subjects on video. It also states in the report, “Gender portrayal, or the depiction of the feminine or masculine as a gender role, is a cultural phenomenon, embedded in historical processes. Gender roles, in other words, are not fixed, but changeable.”    

The study, “Gender in Journalism: by Monika Djerf-Pierre released in June 2008 found that underrepresentation of women in media is a global problem. In Sweden, which ranks number one in the Global Gender Gap published by the World Economic Forum, for instance, journalism is male-dominated. While half reporters are women, 75 percent of media leadership are men. Similar disparity is reported in the UK. In Spain, 46 percent of journalists are female, though only 24 percent hold management positionsw. In Italy. 27 percent of newpspaer journalists are female and 37 percent are in television news, and 38 percent of public spokespersons are women.   

A July study released by the Center for the Study in Women and Television and Film at San Diego State University showed that 70 percent of newspaper film reviewers were men. A spokesperson for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists said , “This important study shows in concrete and shocking terms that women—more than 50 percent of the population—are still being left out of a national discussion  of sweeping cultural and financial significance.” This perhaps explains the poor reviews for Sex and the City and Mamma Mia.   

In a November 2007 panel on Women and News at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, columnist Ellen Goodman, said, “…many of us had the belief back then that we would integrate the news and the masthead the way we had integrated the help-wanted ads. Women would not only become full participants in political life, but women’s issues family, children, values, would become equal news.”

Goodman continued, “Women today constitute about a third of full-time journalists at daily newspapers and about the same percentage at all the other news media, but that’s roughly the same percentage that it  was 25 years ago. What happened to the idea that we would sort of naturally bubble up? I’m afraid that the fizz went a little flat.”          

          It is time to bring back the fizz. What is missing is relevant reporting of global issues of dynamic and immediate importance to women and I am not referring to lifestyle stories of the f-words, food, fashion and family. We are missing equal coverage and souring of politics and civic interests, economy, education, healthcare, environment, science, technology, business, as well as entertainment. A 2007 Pew study showed that men follow political news more closely than women , and there is a distinct information gap  between the genders. So what comes first? The absence of news relevant to women or women’s lack of information?    

Here are some of my tips:

Gender Gap 101: What To Do About the Gender Information Gap

Michele Weldon/ AEJMC Chicago 2008

  • Do news exercises on framing information for audiences: How would you write this story for an audience of mostly women ages 24-39?, etc.
  • Hold brainstorming sessions for story ideas that are inclusive. Look for ways to add a gender perspective to different stories. Aim for stories beyond lifestyle issues that are focused on women.  

·       Require a diversity of sources in every story. Is there a balance of male and female sources, different ages, race, background, ideology?

·       Give examples of great writing from women journalists as well as men.

·       Do byline counting as an exercise on any random day on a newspaper front page, website or newscast.

·       Do an exercise counting stories that would be of particular interest to women—in major media outlets and compare.

·       Have a goal in every story to have students ask, “Am I inclusive, did I represent the gender issue fairly?”

·       Bring in speakers and guest lecturers who are successful women journalists.

·       In multimedia reporting, be sure that the stories show men and women equally.

·       On group projects, be sure the assignments are fair and equal in the group.

·       Show examples of  sexist language, placement or stereotypes when you find them.

·       Sensitize students to the sexism of description and casual language. Why is a woman described this way and a man not all? 

·       Compare domestic media with global media in coverage of women’s issues, major news events involving women as newsmakers.

·       Ask students what coverage do they feel is missing?

·       Be sure all your materials—quizzes, syllabi, handouts, Power Points—are fair and gender balanced.

·       Be sure your sources are mainstream as well as specifically aimed at women, ie womensenews.

·       Look for stories that specifically affect women as an audience. Be sure all students are expected to do this. Young men as well as women can write about date rape and domestic violence; avoid the ghettoization of women’s news for women journalists.

·       Emphasize the need for balanced coverage to be good journalists. Tell them about herding. Tell them they deserve better.

·       Help students see that they need to fill this gap and not contribute to and perpetuate the historic imbalance of gender coverage.







Filed under Media, Newspapers, Uncategorized

2 responses to “The Silence Heard Round The World

  1. Thanks for enlightening tips about closing the gender gap. Your suggestions are practical and very applicable. I think we should all put them to work..

    Thanks, too, for mention Martha Lauzen’s study on film criticism and gender, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. The study substantiated what we already knew–that women’s voices in film criticism are marginalized and neglected. Still, the stats are shocking. I’d like to invite your readers to take a look at Martha Lauzen’s study for the full picture. We’ve published it at, the website for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. We hope to stimulate awareness and discussion about this egregious situation, and create a movement for improvement.

    Jennifer Merin
    Alliance of Women Film Journalists

  2. Hi, Jennifer.
    Thanks for your comment and for your great work. Do you know about Journalism & Women Symposium? It’s a wonderful group of print, broadcast, digital and film journalists and we would be lucky to have your input. Check it out: Please keep me up to date on what you and your group are doing.

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