Gender Check breakdown: A look at source order and gender

From the initial six-month findings of our Gender Check monitoring project in July, we know that women made up 25.3 percent of sources in the articles we examined. While this tells us the representation given to women at a basic level, it does not reveal how prominently those voices were used within stories. In other words, was the first source in a story — a position of more weight in some respects — more likely to male than female or the other way around?

Now that we’ve had more time to spend with our data, we’ve sought to address this issue. And what we’ve found thus far shows us there are at least some small signs of a lack of prominence of women sources when they do appear in online news articles.

At the six-month mark, we had examined 190 articles, all but three of which had one or more sources. Less than 10 percent of articles had nine or more sources.The most sources a story had was 25 — an article in June from ProPublica about the criminal justice process in murder cases involving children.

Thirty articles (or 15.8 percent) were single source stories. That source was male in 20 of the articles, female in eight and unidentified in two.

The number of female sources only exceeded that of male sources twice: when we were down to two articles at source No. 21 and down to one article at source No. 25. Female sources only exceeded 40 percent at two other times – source No. 16 (four articles) and source No. 22 (two articles).

The first source of the articles in our sample was only female 20.5 percent of the time, but the percentage of third sources that were female jumped to 30.2 percent and the percent of last sources that were female was slightly higher still at 33.1 percent.

Here are the basic findings for the first five sources in a story as well as the last source in the articles.

  • First source: 20.5 percent female (in 187 articles)
  • Second source: 25.4 percent female (in 157 articles)
  • Third source: 30.2 percent female (in 119 articles)
  • Fourth source: 20 percent female (in 85 articles)
  • Fifth source: 24.1 percent female (in 58 articles)
  • Last source: 33.1 percent female (in 157 articles – not including single source stories)

We also looked at expert and non-expert sources of both genders. An expert source is an official or public figure, a person in position of authority or someone with significant knowledge on the subject.

A larger percentage of the female sources referenced in these articles were non-experts compared to male sources. Non-experts made up 34 percent of female sources and only 14.7 percent of male sources. Overall, 26.1 percent of sources were non-experts.

While the number of male non-expert sources never surpassed that of male expert sources, the number of female non-experts exceeded that of female experts at source seven and in 10 more source numbers after that up to No. 25.

These findings in particular raise more questions for us. Does this reflect a lack of female experts as a whole or is something different at work?

We’ll be continuing to watch for trends that emerge in source prominence over time as our study progresses. We’d like to hear from you: What did you find most surprising or interesting about these results? Why do you think there is a higher percentage of female sources that are non-experts than males?

For more information on gender representations in online news, check out our “Findings and Statistics” and “Useful Resources” pages.

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