In the Spotlight: Q&A with the 4th Estate

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts featuring organizations working on issues related to gender representations in the news. View other posts in this series here.

Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage by the 4th Estate (Click to go to the site for more)

The 4th Estate released the report “Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage” last week. The report (see graphic) shows that even on topics related to women, very few of the sources quoted are, in fact, women.

The study showed that on topics such as abortion, birth control and Planned Parenthood, women are only 12 to 26 percent of quoted sources. Women are seen more often in women’s rights stories but still represent slightly less than one-third of quoted sources.

The study received attention following an article in The Daily Beast (Disclosure: I’m quoted along with fellow Gender Report co-founder Joy Bacon). Subsequently other media outlets and blogs picked up on the study and graphic, including The Atlantic (which also named it “infographic of the day“), Huffington Post, Slate’s XX Factor, and others.

To get to know a bit more about the organization behind this study, we spoke Michael Howe of the 4th Estate project via email about the work the organization is doing to analyze news coverage of the 2012 election, including the representation of women among quoted sources. Here’s what he had to say:

1. For those unfamiliar with your work, give us your elevator pitch — What is the 4th Estate?

The 4th Estate is mapping the public social influence of the media and newsmakers around the presidential election; so from a journalism point of view we see this as a means to raise the quality of the questions that we ask, hopefully in a manner that improves the understanding people have about the media information they are consuming.

2. What made you interested in looking at the gender gap in election coverage specifically?

Although it appears that we have come out of the blue, the technology behind the 4th Estate has been deployed for almost a decade. The 4th Estate team has been using the platform and the core methodology to perform behavioral and media intelligence work for a wide range of corporate and political clients. Over the course of these years, the technology behind the methodology has continuously improved. At this point, the technology is able to measure and visualize thousands of patterns in traditional and social news – gender being just one.

The 4th Estate team has been aware of the gender gap in sourcing for some time. When we started doing our work on the election, we figured this pattern would be present, and it was. The data matched our data from numerous previous projects covering a variety of domains and subject matters. We have seen these patterns repeatedly.

3. What do you consider to be the biggest issue when it comes to the representation of women in journalism?

We feel very unqualified to answer this question. As we mentioned above, we look for patterns and relationships within data in general – we were definitely not looking for gender data specifically. It popped out as a very noticeable pattern. As mentioned earlier, we have seen the gender gap in other data sets, not just within Election 2012 coverage.

It felt like it was important data to put into the public forum. But beyond publishing the findings, I don’t think we are comfortable interpreting these results. It really is for the public at large to debate what the results mean.

4. How is your organization a part of the solution?

The 4th Estate is not an advocacy organization. I have great respect for people doing advocacy work, but that is not what we are doing. We are examining trends, measuring changes, and bringing these observations to the public’s attention with visual representations. Our goal is to build a widely accessible tool that is performing real time parsing of news coverage across many domains, so people will be able to monitor and analyze on a continuous basis those topics that are of interest to them. We realize our data might be important for a variety of advocacy groups, but we believe our greatest value is in providing quantitative data and letting more qualified content experts make sense of that data.

5. What project are you currently working on that you’re most excited about? Share a little bit about it.

The building and designing of the 4th Estate project into a viable sustainable ongoing venture! In the short term, we are focused on election coverage, but there is so much untapped potential in the technology to explore and parse how large-scale societal issue after issue is being covered.

6. What else do you think is important for our readers to know about you?

We believe our data should be viewed as the beginning of a discussion, not the end of one. It should be a door, an opening, to a continuing discussion, not used as a hammer to ‘win’ an argument. We love information and putting it into a context that is relevant for decision makers.

Find out more about the 4th Estate by visiting its website at Follow the organization on twitter @4thEstateVoices and “like” it on Facebook here.

Are you a member of an organization that looks to address issues of gender representation in the news? Contact us about being our next “In the Spotlight” organization by e-mailing genderreport[@[

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