Full disclosure here, Alicia Shepard is a friend of mine. That is not critical to the story. But I need to say it.
She is the ombudsman (not ombudswoman) at National Public Radio and she wrote a brilliant, however unsettling piece last week on the dearth of female sources on NPR on her NPR blog.
This is what she and her staff found:
My office researched the number of female commentators who appear on air regularly, along with the number of females who are interviewed or quoted in stories on ME, ATC and the weekend counterparts.
The news is not encouraging, though NPR is trying to do something about it.
Admittedly, the relative lack of female voices reflects the broader world. The fact remains that even in the fifth decade after the feminist revolution; men are still largely in charge in government at all levels, in corporations and nearly all other aspects of society. That means, by default, there are going to be more male than female news sources.
To cut to the chase? The green bars are the female sources. The gold are the men.
But this much? You would think from this graphic that women don’t have a lot to say as sources or commentators. That they don’t answer the phone or emails when reporters cast the net or that they are not listed somewhere as an expert, they don’t have a Web presence or they are just not well-known.
But that inequity reflects the reporter or producer’s choice, not the lack of female expertise in the world. It reflects a comfort zone, a status quo, a settling for what is easy to do, not what is more fair, more ethical or just plain right. It is something all journalists in all platforms can do better.
As you can see, Weekend Edition comes close to parity. Are women more available to talk then?
I tell my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University that inclusiveness is required in good journalism. When we think of diversity of sources, the notion is not limited to race, ethnicity or gender. It is also about age, socioeconomic status, ability, geography, ideology, education, religion, sexual orientation, everything.
Why bother trying to find sources that reflect the diversity of society? Because it makes the journalism better. Because, as I wrote in my last book, “Everyman News,” diversity of thought changes content. Just by asking the same question of a different type of source, you will yield different responses and ultimately deeper content.
In her new book, “Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done” (Times Books), Susan Douglas, a communications professor at the University of Michigan , writes that the myth of the all-powerful woman may be more of a hinderance than an inspiration. It may massage us into complacency thinking just because Oprah rules the airwaves, and Cyndi Lauper is having fun in Donald Trump’s boardroom, all is fair in gender terms.
But no. I agree with Douglas. It’s not time to pronounce victory and say we achieved the goal. It’s time to keep trying to make room for other voices. We can start with female voices and work from there.
Driving to work this morning I smiled when I heard the voice of Christine Brennan, USA Today sports columnist and author on NPR. She was commenting on the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team winning the NCAA title over Stanford University. And full disclosure here, Christine is also a friend of mine, a fellow NU alum. She is an expert, great journalist and the right source on that story. She should be heard.
According to Lisa on her NPR blog:
When listeners don’t hear women as sources and commentators on the air, they can get the impression that women aren’t smart, aren’t experts and aren’t authoritative.
That’s just not true.
I agree. As the other half of the commenting world, we need to speak louder. As journalists and authors we need to report more fully and be more inclusive in the sourcing of our work. It’s only fair. It’s time we all were heard. And seen. And read.