Editor’s note: In January 2011, we set out to examine the ways in which women are represented in online news both as sources and as authors. To mark our first year here at The Gender Report, we’re revealing our findings from our year-long studies as well as other statistics and commentaries in a series of posts. View other coverage of our one-year anniversary here.
A year ago, we asked: What percentage of the most talked about articles on the web feature or are written by women? What we found as we sought to answer this question was not encouraging.
But before we share those results, here’s how we approached answering that question. For a full year, from January through December 2011, we monitored each of the web’s top articles based on the links provided by the Project for Excellence in Journalism‘s weekly New Media Index reports. The New Media Index reports the top five linked to and discussed stories and opinion pieces from the web during a Monday through Friday week based on commentary from blogs and social media sites. For the purposes of our study, we chose to focus in on the main top five in the blogosphere.
During each month of this year span, between 11 and 33 articles could be checked, resulting in a total of 250 articles examined for the completed study.
Though each week generally averaged five subjects, there were occasions when more than one link was offered on the subject. When that was the case, we chose to monitor the first mentioned or that which appeared based on the writing as more dominant, unless it was mentioned or implied that two articles shared the attention, in which case we checked both. For some weeks or subjects, no links were provided, resulting in lower numbers during those months’ totals. For each article, we recorded the subject matter, the gender breakdown of the sources and the gender of the authors or producers, similar to what we’ve done with our weekly “gender checks.”
It is important to note that PEJ made some changes to its methodology for the New Media Index in August, including the use of more sites to track the top stories as well as a larger sample size and range of sources (Read more about those change and the process here.) As a result, we did see some major differences in the sources of the articles and our findings in the months after that change, which is why we’ve provided our results overall as well as broken out for those articles before the August changes and those after. This did skew the overall results, so we caution readers to keep these limitations in mind.
Without further ado, here are our overall findings for this study:
In this study, women were 19.1 percent of sources whose gender could be identified. Approximately 520 sources were male and 123 were female.
Our low and high points for the year for female sources came in the first six months. The low point for female sources came in May, when women were only 13.3 percent of sources. The high was in February with 28 percent.
Somewhat disturbing was the finding that 87 of the 250 articles, or 34.8 percent, had no female sources at all, in other words contained only male sources. However this percentage has dropped from the six-month mark, when 41.5 percent of articles contained no female sources. In contrast, only four articles had no male sources.
What has gone up is the percentage of articles with no sources at all. Only 8.5 percent of articles at the six-month mark had no sources. By 12 months, 30.4 percent, or 76 of 250 articles, had none. This difference was largely a result of the change in the New Media Index’s methodology, which resulted in more blog posts rather than news articles in the top five, many of which did not name human sources.
For articles in the sample written by women, females made up 25.1 percent of sources. In articles written by men, that percentage falls to 18.1. In articles with shared bylines between a man (or men) and a woman, 16.7 percent of sources were women.
A woman (or on occasion two) bylined 23 percent of articles by authors of one gender or the other and 19.6 percent of articles overall. Over the course of the year, 164 articles were by one or more man, 49 by one or more woman, 16 with a shared byline between a man (or several) and a woman, and 21 were not bylined or were written by staff.
The year low for female authorship occurred in September, when women made up a dismal 9.5 percent of authors of one gender or the other and 8.3 percent overall. February again had the high with women as 41.7 percent.
Twenty-six articles linked to were op-ed or commentary pieces over the course of the year. Just three of those were by women. One was a staff editorial. In addition, of the blog posts, nearly all showing up after the change in methodology, five of 61 were by women and only one of eight posts by a business was by a woman.
During the year, 13 articles were written by more than one person of the same gender. Three were shared bylines with females and 10 shared bylines among males.
Before changes: January to July 2011
Prior to the change in the methodology for the New Media Index, the majority of links provided were to news articles from major news websites, with the majority of articles from the LA Times, Washington Post and BBC. In these seven months, we reviewed 137 articles, averaging 19.6 articles per month. These were the findings overall from these articles:
- Women were 19.6 percent of sources during this time. The articles contained 374 male sources and 91 female sources. There were on average 66.4 sources in a given month.
- During this time 45.3 percent of articles contained only male sources. Only three articles contained only female sources. Eleven articles, or 8 percent, contained no sources at all.
- Thirty-eight articles were written or produced by women while 75 were written by men. This means women wrote 33.6 percent of articles by a person(s) of one gender or the other. Twelve articles had shared bylines between a man and a woman and 12 were by staff, meaning that women had 27.7 percent of bylines overall.
After changes: August to December 2011
In contrast, following the changes in the New Media Index, no particular website had more than five out of the total 113 articles or posts. Those that had five were three tech sites 9 to 5 Mac, Engadget and Ubergizmo, as well as posts from Google on its official company blog. The majority of the top stories during these five months were not from mainstream news sites, but instead blogs and specialty or alternative sites. During this time, there were an average of 22.6 articles per month. The following are the overall findings from these articles and posts:
- Women were 18 percent of sources. The articles contained 146 male sources and 32 female sources. There were on average half as many sources in a given month as the earlier period with 35.6 sources per month.
- In this time frame, 22.1 percent of articles, or 25 out of 113, contained no female sources (only male sources). Only one article was the reverse, containing only female sources. However, 57.5 percent of articles during these months, or 65 articles, contained no sources at all.
- Just eleven articles were written or produced by women while 89 were written by men. By percentage, this means 11 percent of articles by a person(s) of one gender or the other. Four articles had shared bylines between a man and a woman and nine were by staff, making those articles written by women a mere 9.7 percent of the whole.
A look back
Review our posts from the year on our New Media Index study through the links below:
For other data on gender representations in online news and to compare these findings to others’, check out our “Findings and Statistics” category and our “Useful Resources” page.
Up next: Check back Wednesday for results from our year-long Gender Check study.
We’re interested in what you make of the findings. Share your thoughts in the comment section below or using the #GRdiscuss hashtag on Twitter.