A look at the representation of women in articles of “national” online news outlets

Our purpose here at The Gender Report has been to identify how women are represented in online news and how that compares to traditional media. One of the ways we’re doing that is to look at those sites that are online-only news sources specifically and women’s presence in their coverage and staffs.

Last month, we examined the number of female principal staff at the online news outlets listed in the Columbia Journalism Review‘s News Frontier Database, based on what was included in the sites’ individual database entries. We found that 28 percent of these top editorial staff members were women.

“National” sites in the News Frontier Database

The News Frontier Database, CJR’s collection of searchable data and write-ups on online news outlets, now has a total of more than 130 entries including sites that are nationally situated as well as those that pertain to a particular state or location. It was these “national” sites that we decided to take a closer look at this month.

The database currently contains 40 sites under the “national” search, with three added since June 3, the day we last took a look at it. Those additions still leave these sites in the 19 and 20 percent range in terms of the percentage of women in their principal staffs, which is lower than the overall total.

On July 1 we visited all 40 of these websites at about 11 a.m. (PST) and pulled the top or lead article, which we then “gender checked,” including taking note of the subject, gender of the author (or authors) and the gender breakdown of the sources referenced.

Here’s what was found:


Women made up 22 percent of the sources in the 40 articles monitored. That broke down to 71 male sources and 20 female sources.

Our sample included three stories with one or more female source that contained no male sources. These were also the only articles with more female sources than males — in other words, if a story had male sources, it always had more of them than females.

Fourteen stories that used one or more male source had no female source. These articles contained as many as eight sources total, all of which were male.

Interestingly, 13 stories in the sample cited no human sources. In most cases it was because these quoted other news sources (i.e. according to the New York Times) or were alternative story forms like charts or lists.


Of the articles in the sample, 12 were written or produced by a woman, 23 by one or more man, three with a shared byline between one or more man and one or more woman, and two credited to staff. That puts women at 34.3 percent of bylines of those articles that were written by a person of one gender or the other.

As a note for further study, we’ve had regular occurrences of stories we’ve monitored be written by more than one man but very few if any written by just more than one woman. That’s something we’ll keep an eye on in the future.

When gender matters

With this study, we opted to see if the author’s gender made a difference in the use of female sources. It turns out that it did.

The 12 stories written by women used 13 male sources and eight female sources, putting women at 38 percent.

Meanwhile, the 23 stories written by men contained 45 male sources but only five female sources. That meant women were only 10 percent of sources.

For the stories that were produced by both a man and a woman, the percentage was closer to that of female authors, at 37 percent. That separated out to 13 male sources and seven female. Stories attributed to “staff” had no sources as they were both lists.

With or without women as “principal staff”

With the differences seen by the author’s gender, we also decided to take our data a step further and look at it based on our previous study of the gender breakdown of the sites’ “principal staff.” For simplicity, we took the findings from the 23 national sites that listed no females among their principal staff members and compared them to those of the 17 sites with at least one female staff member.

Though the sites with at least one female listed appear to have better representation of women as both authors and sources, the difference was particularly apparent in bylines. Of the lead articles from national online news outlets with no females as principal staff, women had 23.8 percent bylines. Those with at least one female had parity overall with women as 50 percent of authors.

In sourcing, a look at articles from news sites with no principal female staff showed women as 19.3 percent of sources. At sites with one or more female at the top, that percentage reached 26.5 percent.

It’s true that other factors could be at play in these sites to create these differences. More research would need to be done to see if there are other shared characteristics. From initial glance at the data, both groups — those sites without a female principal staff member and those with — include those of the full range of editorial staff sizes as well as coverage topics with few exceptions.


This is just one small sample, so further research will be needed to determine how these findings hold up and to see if other factors are at play. However, in comparing the overall percentages of female sources and authors in this study to those of others, it appears to be on target.

The Global Media Monitoring Project (2010), in its first study that included monitoring news websites, found that women were 23 percent of news subjects and bylined 36 percent of stories in its sample.

And, in the first quarter of our weekly Gender Checks of eight online news sites across the United States, we found that thus far women were 24.6 percent of sources and had 31 percent of bylines.

For more data on gender representations in online news, check out our “Findings and Statistics” category or visit our “Useful Resources” page.

May brought few female sources, bylines in New Media Index stories

Women made up less than 15 percent of both sources and authors in the top linked to and discussed articles in the blogosphere in May, significantly lower than the findings of the first four months of the year.

Since January, we’ve been gender checking each of the top articles based on the links that the Project for Excellence in Journalism provides through its New Media Index roundups in addition to our geographical checks each week.

The New Media Index chronicles the top five linked to and discussed news stories and opinion pieces around the web in a Monday through Friday week based on leading commentary on blogs and social media sites. We chose to focus on the main top five in the blogosphere. In cases where more than one link was provided on the subject, we’ve picked the first mentioned or that which appears based on the writing as more dominant to check, unless it is specifically mentioned that two articles shared the attention for that particular subject.

From each of the articles, we’ve been cataloging the gender of the authors or creators, the source breakdown by gender and the subject matter. Overall, in the first four months of checking the New Media Index, women made up 21.8 percent of sources and 31.3 percent of authors.

Women were found in lower percentages of both in May. Here’s the breakdown:

May 2011

New Media Index: May 23-27, 2011

Between May 2 and May 27, we found the following. In total, only 12 articles could be checked this month. No links were supplied by the PEJ roundup for the week of May 16 to 20 because a special report was done on the Israel-Palestine conflict that week. Additionally, as has been the case in the past, a link to a specific story was not included for several large news events including Bin Laden’s death (at least the first week), the Shriver-Schwarzenegger split and the Joplin tornado. Other months have had between 17 and 25 articles to check, so the lower amount may have played a role in the results overall.

Here’s what the 12 articles showed:

  • In the articles monitored this month, women made up 13.3 percent of sources. The articles included 39 male sources and six female sources.
  • Eight articles were written or produced by men and only one was by a woman. Additionally, two were by both a man and a woman and one was not bylined.
  • Two top linked-to articles in blogs were opinion pieces. Both were by male authors.

Links this month predominately came from the LA Times, with a few for the BBC, one from the Washington Post and one from the New York Times.

For more information or research on women’s representation in the news media, check out our “Useful Resources” page as well as our other posts on findings and statistics.

Check back on The Gender Report next week for June’s findings from the New Media Index.

Gender Checks show higher count of female bylines in fourth month, fewer female sources in fifth

Though the fact that we missed some Gender Checks in the fourth and fifth months of this project may have slightly altered our results, overall between the two months women represented 25.7 percent of sources and 44.8 percent of bylines in the articles we monitored.

The percent of female authors in particular is significantly higher than what we found in our first three months of Gender Checks. During that time, women were 31 percent of authors. This difference is largely attributed to our fourth month (see findings below) in which for the first time in this study the number of female authors outnumbered the amount of males. That result may have been due to the fact that we missed several Gender Checks from the Northeast that month, and, of our four regions, it tends (at least as an average of our first three months) to return the lowest percentage of female bylines.

For each Gender Check, we looked at two websites from that region — one associated with a newspaper and one that was online-only. In doing so, we pulled the top articles on their websites at the time of the check and gathered information on the gender of the author and the breakdown of the genders of the human sources referenced in the articles among other details. (For more on what Gender Checks are, read our introductory post here.)

Here’s more detail on our findings of both sourcing and authorship from the two months broken down by geographic region and news site association:

Fourth Month: April 19 – May 20, 2011

We reviewed 32 articles, two in each Gender Check. This month we had five Gender Checks from the Midwest and South, four from the West and only two from the Northeast.


The articles contained 71 male sources and 31 female sources, which put women at about 30.4 percent of the human sources referenced in these articles. This does not include sources whose gender was not identifiable.

Here’s how it broke down by geographic region:

  • West: 13 males, 6 female (Women at 31.6 percent)
  • Northeast: 15 males, 6 females (Women at 28.6 percent)
  • Midwest: 20 males, 13 females (Women at 39.4 percent)
  • South: 23 male, 6 female (Women at 20.7 percent)

And, here’s the breakdown by news sites associated with a traditional newspaper and those that are not.

  • Newspaper website: 41 males, 15 females (Women at 26.8 percent)
  • Online-only:  30 males, 16 females (Women at 34.8 percent)


Overall, 16 articles were written by an individual woman and 12 by one or more man, which meant for the first time in this study there were more female than male authors. All geographic areas were fairly evenly split. As stated earlier in this post, this may not have been the case if we had completed an equal number of Gender Checks in the Northeast this month, as it has shown to have the lowest percentage of female bylines thus far in our study. In addition, four articles had a shared byline with a man and a woman.

Here’s a look by geographic region:

  • West: 5 by an individual woman, 3 by an individual man
  • Northeast: 2 by a woman, 2 by a man
  • Midwest: 4 by a woman, 2 by a man, 4 by a man and a woman
  • South: 5 by a woman, 5 by a man

And, here’s the look by news website association:

  • Newspaper website: 9 by a woman, 5 by a man, 2 by a man and a woman
  • Online-only: 7 by a woman, 7 by a man, 2 by a man and a woman

Fifth Month: May 24 – June 24, 2011

We reviewed 30 articles, two in each Gender Check. This month that included five Gender Checks from the West and Midwest, four in the Northeast and only one in the South. Keep in mind that the lack of Gender Checks from the South may have changed slightly our results overall. In the first quarter, the South had slightly higher percentages of women authors and sources than the other geographic regions.


The articles contained 62 male sources and 15 female sources, which put women at about 19.5 percent of the human sources referenced in these articles. This does not include sources whose gender was not identifiable (particularly unnamed sources with no pronoun modifiers, which we saw more often this month).

The Northeast and Midwest performed particularly poorly for women this month. Here’s how it broke down by geographic region:

  • West: 18 males, 7 female (Women at 28 percent)
  • Northeast: 19 males, 2 females (Women at 9.5 percent)
  • Midwest: 20 males, 3 females (Women at 13 percent)
  • South: 5 male, 3 female (Women at 37.5 percent)

And, here’s the breakdown by news sites associated with a traditional newspaper and those that are not.

  • Newspaper website: 37 males, 11 females (Women at 22.9 percent)
  • Online-only:  25 males, 4 females (Women at 13.9 percent)


Overall, 10 articles were written by an individual woman and 20 by one or more man, which meant women were 33.3 percent of authors this month. There were no shared bylines.

Here’s a look by geographic region:

  • West: 2 stories by an individual woman, 8 by an individual man
  • Northeast: 4 by a woman, 4 by a man
  • Midwest: 3 by a woman, 7 by a man
  • South: 1 by a woman, 1 by a man

For authorship, the number of female bylines newspaper sites and online-only sites matched this month. Here’s the look of what that meant in numbers:

  • Newspaper website: 5 by a woman, 10 by a man
  • Online-only: 5 by a woman, 10 by a man

A reminder for our readers: These results reflect a limited amount of data from our simple Gender Checks. We hope you recognize the limitations of this data, since we’ve only sampled a few articles from eight news sites (and in some cases, as in these past two months, not as consistently as we would have liked). Further research and time is needed to verify any validity across the board.

To look at past month breakdowns and other data on gender representations in online news, check out our “Findings and Statistics” category.