Database shows women as 28 percent of news sites’ principal staff

Approximately 28 percent of the principal staff members at online news outlets are female, at least according to data pulled from the Columbia Journalism Review‘s database of online news sites.

The News Frontier Database is a collection of searchable data and write-ups on 125 outlets, with more added on a regular basis as they fit the criteria. It includes information on the type of coverage, staff sizes, revenue sources and content management systems of the sites along with written profiles and links to CJR coverage.

Most interesting to us was the “principal staff” listing for each outlet in the database. According to the survey news sites are requested to fill out for consideration to be added to the directory, CJR requests a list of the top editorial staff members and titles. It’s suggested news sites stick to naming three individuals, but the directory will include up to five. Sites have offered up names of one to five people who hold a variety of position titles from upper management to writers and contributors and those who do some of everything.

We pulled information from the database June 3 to get a general idea, based on what was provided, of how well women are represented among the positions news sites considered relevant and important to list as “principal staff.”  Aside from the overall finding that women represented 28 percent of those listed, here are some of the other interesting tidbits we discovered from looking at this data:

Missing gender

Most disturbing was the fact that 46.4 percent of the sites in the database had no female listed at all. A male was absent from the principal staff list on only 8.8 percent of sites.

There were a total of 125 sites on the day we pulled the data. Fifteen sites listed more women than men, while the database contained 84 sites where the number of men listed outnumbered the women (This includes those sites with no person of a certain gender listed).

Staff size

We also took a look at the data by editorial staff size. In the case of all 15 sites listed as having one editorial staff member, all of the singular principal staff members were male. One site listed both a male and a female (she was art director), though it was noted that the male was the only paid staff member. This seems to suggest that men are more likely than women to develop and run an online news outlet solo.

When the representation of men and women at the news sites was divided out by the range of editorial staff members, a trend emerged that appears to show women have greater representation among the principal staffs of smaller sites (the exception being the staff of one, see above) and increasingly less representation as the staffs get larger until it hits the “more than 40” range. Here’s how that plays out. For sites with the editorial staff specified, the following percent of principal staff members listed are female:

  • 2 to 5 editorial staff: 32.9 percent
  • 6 to 10 editorial staff: 31.3 percent
  • 11 to 20 editorial staff: 18.9 percent
  • 21 to 40 editorial staff: 9 percent
  • More than 40 editorial staff: 20 percent

Type of coverage

When it came to the type of coverage listed in the database entry, women had parity on hyperlocal sites and for those that covered education with representation hovering between 48 and 50 percent.

No women were included for sites with the type of coverage listed as ethnic, foreign, sports or transportation, though only a few sites from each at this point are included in the database.

Women represented 20 percent or less of the principal staffs for sites that covered business, politics, science and technology. In the case of politics, 11 of the 20 sites with that coverage type did not list a female principal staff member.

The remaining coverage areas — arts and culture, general and investigative — showed women at 26 to more than 34 percent of principal staffs, with investigative at the higher end.

Site location and coverage area

Women were better represented overall from sites identified with a particular state only rather than those that were considered national. Women made up 31.6 percent of the principal staff members listed at state-specific sites versus 20 percent of those from national sites.

Twenty-two of the 37 sites under “national” did not include a woman in their principal staff lists. Only one national site did not list a male and it covered arts and culture.

This information gathered from The News Frontier Database gives us just a glimpse of what the gender breakdowns at these online-only publications might be, at least in the positions considered to be key to the organizations.

To see how these results compare to other studies as well as information we’ve gathered, view our posts on findings and statistics. Additional research on women’s representation in the news media, can be found on our “Useful Resources” page.


2 thoughts on “Database shows women as 28 percent of news sites’ principal staff

  1. Michael Meyer June 6, 2011 / 8:07 pm

    Hi. I run the News Frontier Database Project at CJR.

    Just wanted to say that I was really glad to see the data we are collecting used in this way. Very interesting.

    • Jasmine Linabary June 6, 2011 / 8:19 pm

      Michael — Thank you for your comment and for your work with the database. It’s a fantastic resource and we’re happy that CJR has taken it on.

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