Moving forward: Plans for Year 2 of The Gender Report

Last week we celebrated one year since the founding of The Gender Report with a series of posts on what we discovered during our first 12 months (Review those posts here). Now it’s time to think about the future and what is to come in year two. Here’s what we have in store:

Gender Checks

Starting today (Monday), we’ll be reinstating our Gender Checks, but with several changes. The concept of this project will remain the same — weekly monitoring of lead news articles from eight U.S. new websites. However, we will be switching out the websites we monitor in each geographic region. For the South, we will be monitoring the Patch site for Buckhead, a neighborhood in Atlanta, as well as the print-based Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the West, we will take a look at the Los Angeles Times‘ website as well as the state-wide, investigative journalism site, California Watch. The Northeast will transition out of New York to focus on two Boston sites: the Boston Globe’s boston.com and Open Media Boston. As we look at the Midwest, we’ll move north to examine the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago News Cooperative.

In addition, we’ve added a few new monitoring areas to our actual checks. We’ll be including the subject area, based on the Global Media Monitoring Project‘s news stories classification system (Click for a PDF of the system). In our first year, we went back through and classified stories, but this year we will be including those classifications in our original checks. We’ll also be including the word count of articles in our checks. This is in response to comments by Kira Cochrane (and reinforced by Elana Zak) that byline counts are only one method for determining women’s level of representation and that a study of the number of words by female and male authors may be better. We’ve taken that to heart and will be measuring that throughout year two as well.

Week in Review

In addition to continuing our weekly look at top news stories from the week involving women (our Week in Review posts), we will also be following some of these stories in a more long-term fashion (look for the first trending topic in this week’s post). We will also be incorporating weekly polls to get more of your feedback involved in these stories, as well as a monthly quiz to test your knowledge of the top news stories from our site as well as other media sources. The Week in Review is not meant to take a particular angle on these stories or necessarily offer original reporting. Rather, these posts help aggregate multiple stories about the same topic to compare sourcing and potential biases.

Women in Journalism: Your Reading List

In addition to our Week in Reviews, we’re adding a new weekly post that will point readers in the direction of interesting articles from the past week related to women in journalism and media. Many of the stories and posts we’ll look to include here are already regularly shared on our Twitter feed. We’ll just be pulling them together in one place for those who may have missed them.

Features

We have two projects planned to draw attention to those who work in the field and on some of the issues we discuss on this site.

In year two, we plan to continue our “In the Spotlight” series featuring organizations that are working on issues of gender representations in the news. We’ve published Q&As with Global Girl Media and the International Women’s Media Foundation in our first year, and plan to expand this to an every other month feature. Starting in March, we also plan to incorporate regular Q&A posts with female journalists about their experiences in the news industry. If you know of a person or organization we should feature, please email us at genderreport@gmail.com.

Guest posts

One of our goals this year is to increase the number of voices present on the site by soliciting guest posts on topics of interest to our readers. Possible subject areas for guest posts include experiences of female journalists, the representation of women or gender in the media, the treatment of issues of gender in news coverage or current events, and those who are working for change in these areas. Check out our new “Write for Us” page for more information.

Other projects

While we will not be continuing our monitoring of the New Media Index this year, we do have a number of other projects in the works. These will be unveiled in the coming months.

We welcome your input and suggestions on topics or studies The Gender Report should take on. What would you like to see from us in year two? Share your thoughts in the comment section or on Twitter using the hashtag #GRdiscuss.

With one year down, we realize we are just starting to get a handle on the depth of possibilities for our site. We hope year two will offer even more insights and findings to add to conversations around women in the media.

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COMMENTARY: A year’s lessons

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.

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When we started this project, we had a fairly simple question to ask: To what extent are women both represented and participating in print and online media?

After a year, we’ve managed to come up with a few answers, but mostly just a much longer and complex list of questions that we don’t have answers to.

Yes, we can look at the frankly dismal number of bylines and sources from the New Media Index and our own monitoring projects (less than 20% overall, and only a little better in findings from the Gender Check project). For two women passionate about producing media, it just reinforces the status quo we’ve both experienced in our professional lives.

But I think our findings are more disappointing as two women who are passionate consumers of, and advocates for, good journalism. Sitting next to each other in our first college level journalism course, one of the first lessons we learned was about balanced sources. Luckily, we had a professor that valued balance not just as a way of using token sources from opposing sides of an argument, but also that a story should reflect the culture and society it covers. So for a country that’s 51 percent women, why are we still being used as the token “female” source in a story with double, or sometimes triple, the male sources?

One of the answers we have is that we need more women in journalism as both reporters and editors. Newsrooms that reflect the population may be more apt to cover its needs and voices. Some studies suggest women may be more attune to including alternate voices, such as more female sources, in their stories, depending on newsroom culture and training.In our studies, we found that articles by female authors contained 4 to 28 percent more female sources than articles by males, though more research is needed.

However, in order to get more women as expert sources, we also need more women in positions to be experts in their fields. This is especially true in politics. This was demonstrated in our look at the representation of women by article subject, as stories on politics and government had the lowest percentage of female sources. This is not particularly surprising given that women currently hold 16.6 percent of the 535 seats in Congress and 23.5 percent of the seats in state legislatures. There are 6 female governors; of the 100 big-city mayors, 8 are women. So the likelihood that a female will be on the random call sheet for a political officer’s opinion is much lower to begin with, let alone when considering the added stigma these women still face about their authority in some political circles and, consciously or not, in the eyes of some journalists. Similar gaps exist in the sciences and business worlds.

But the goal of our work is not to say women need to be treated with some sort of quota system. In fact, it is the opposite. Until we have more female congresswomen or CEOs or researchers or even journalists, the women we do see used are often used as the “token” female opinion, and her comments are seen as representative of her gender, rather than her position. As we move into a presidential election season, we fear this trend will only escalate, as politicians try to court female votes or cater to “women’s issues,” as if men aren’t stakeholders in education, family planning or health care.

We hope this next year not only improves the quantitative measures of gender in the media, but also the qualitative attitude shift towards more balanced discussions that see all participants as individuals with important things to say.

Whether that hope becomes a reality or not, it is our goal to continue to seek the answers to our original question. In doing so, our intent is to draw attention to these issues in meaningful ways and gain a greater understanding of the representations of women and gender in the media. Up next, we’ll share our plans for our second year here at The Gender Report.

Week of the Year: A look at our Week in Review

When we started this project, one of our big goals was to bring more attention to not only the lack of women in the newsroom, but also to the lack of women in the news. One of the ways we did this was through our Week in Review, a post each weekend that rounded up coverage about one or two big trending stories that either featured female subjects or women’s issues both domestically and abroad. Here are some of our larger trends from our 34 posts in this category:

Top 5 Week in Review posts:

  1. Week in Review: Women Journalists in the News” (Dec. 3, 2011) – A look at prominent cases of harassment and violence against female journalists working abroad.
  2. Women breaking journalism’s glass ceiling: The ascent of Jill Abramson and others” (June 11, 2011) – Ms. Abramson took over as executive editor of the New York Times.
  3. Supreme Court decision in Wal-Mart case brings out discussions about sex discrimination, re-emergence of ERA” (June 25, 2011) – The Supreme Court ruled against the filing of a class action lawsuit against the retail giant.
  4. Concerns expressed over victim blaming in New York Times article on gang rape (Updated)” (March 12, 2011) – a story about a teenage girl in Texas found critics questioning the media’s coverage of the rape’s circumstances and the girl’s clothing and behavior.
  5. The Debate: Is News Coverage of Michele Bachmann sexist?” (Aug. 13, 2011) – The former candidate for the GOP primary faced many stories involving her gender and its relationship to her leadership style and capabilities.

Not surprisingly, the stories our readers explored the most had to do with women in the media itself, rather than media stories that happened to be about women. Other media coverage of the Arab Spring, the continued debates about Planned Parenthood, other healthcare issues, and the politics of gender issues internationally also found and held our attention.

As we move forward, we welcome your feedback about the focuses of these Week in Review posts. Check out daily stories on our News Feed on Twitter and on the right side of our home page. Find a story we missed? Tweet it @GRNewsFeed or post it to our Facebook page.

In the coming year, we also plan to add a weekly news poll to our site to get more feedback and your voices involved in the discussion. Look for our first poll this week.

One year: Examining the prominence of female sources in Gender Check study

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.

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As we unveiled earlier this week, women made up 26 percent of human sources referenced in the articles we monitored as part of our Gender Check project. This percentage gives us a general idea of representation of women’s voices in the news, but it does not reveal how prominently these voices were incorporated. We’ve explored our data a little more indepthly so that we can address this issue and questions such as this: Was the first source in a story – a position of more weight in some respects — even more likely to male than female?

We looked at this after the six-month mark of our study, and found were at least some small signs of a lack of prominence of women sources in the online news articles we monitored. After a year, we find similar evidence.

In our year-long study, we had examined 354 articles from eight U.S. online news websites (for more details on the study, click here). Thirty-one of the articles contained no human sources. Less than 10 percent of articles had nine or more sources. The most sources a story had, as was true at the six-month point, was 25 — an article in June from ProPublica about the criminal justice process in murder cases involving children.

Roughly 15.5 percent, or 55 articles, were single-source stories. That source was male in 35 of the articles, female in 18 and unidentified in two. That made women 32.7 percent of sources in single-source stories.

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 one-third at two other times – source No. 16 (five articles) and source No. 22 (two articles). This has remained consistent since since the six-month mark.

The first source of the articles in our sample was female 23.5 percent of the time, but the percentage of sources that were female jumped 5 or 6 percentage points for the second and third sources and then dropped back down to 21.2 percent for the fourth source.

Here’s what we found for the first five sources in a story as well as the last source in the articles.

  • First source: 23.5 percent female (in 323 articles)
  • Second source: 29.5 percent female (in 268 articles)
  • Third source: 28.3 percent female (in 205 articles)
  • Fourth source: 21.2 percent female (in 151 articles)
  • Fifth source: 25.9 percent female (in 108 articles)
  • Last source: 29 percent female (in 269 articles – not including single source stories)

In addition to the order of sources, we also examined the number of 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.

In the articles we monitored, a larger portion of the female sources referenced in were non-experts compared to male sources. Non-experts made up 29.2 percent of female sources but just 14.1 percent of male sources. Overall, 17.9 percent of sources were non-experts.

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? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or using the #GRdiscuss hashtag on Twitter.

For more results from our year-long Gender Check project revealed this week, review the links below:

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