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[@[


By the numbers: Women visibly absent from contraception stories

Since the issue began blowing up, The Gender Report has kept track of a small slice of the news stories about the birth control ruling from the Obama administration. We separated our data from stories about the original ruling (starting Jan. 20), as well as stories after his announced compromise with Catholic leaders (after Feb. 10). We looked at news stories on the issue from the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, POLITICO, and USA Today. We did our best to avoid stories that came from other services (such as wires) on these sites or stories posted to the sites’ blogs or special feature services. Keep in mind that this is just a small sample of stories coming from dominant news sources. Here are our results of women in these stories:

Before the compromise: 37 stories, published Jan 20 – Feb. 10

  • Bylines: 48.4 percent women (15 female bylines, 16 male bylines); 6 shared bylines between men and women
  • Sources: 30.9 percent women directly quoted (60 of 134 sources), 29.1 percent of all persons named or mentioned (88 of 302 mentions)
  • Author gender and sources: Women were 38.1 percent of sources in articles by female authors; they were 29.7 percent of sources in articles by males.

After the compromise: 16 stories, published Feb. 11 – Feb. 17

  • Bylines: 38.5 percent women (5 female bylines, 8 male bylines); 3 shared bylines between men and women
  • Sources: 24.7 percent (14 of 43 sources), 24.2 percent of mentioned sources (22 of 91 mentions)
  • Author gender and sources: Women were 26.7 percent of sources in articles by female authors; they were 22.2 percent of sources in articles by males.

Overall: 53 stories, published Jan 20 – Feb. 10

  • Bylines: 45.5 percent women (20 female bylines, 24 male bylines); 9 shared bylines between men and women
  • Sources: 29.5 percent (74 of 251 sources), 28 percent of mentioned sources (110 of 393 mentions)
  • Author gender and sources: Women were 35.9 percent of sources in articles by female authors; they were 28 percent of sources in articles by males.
  • News sites: The New York Times had the highest percentage of female sources with 46.8 percent (33 male vs. 29 female sources in 12 articles). Politico had the lowest percentage at 17.6 percent (56 male vs. 12 female in 17 articles).

Other groups have also found similar trends in data. ThinkProgress, a division of the Center for American Progress, found that out of a total of 146 guests who discussed contraception on cable news shows, 91 men were invited compared to 55 women as commentators. In other words, males comprised 62 percent of the total guests who commented on contraception. (The study looked at shows on Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.) In a more balanced finding, in a self-conducted survey, NPR discovered that of those interviewed and quoted between January 13 and February 13, 26 were women, ranging from Catholic students to lawyers to professors. This compares to 18 men who were quoted by name.

This image from Think Progress of a witness panel of all men testifying in the Congressional hearing on contraception Thursday went viral. (Photo via @ThinkProgress)

It’s important to take a closer look at some of the potential causes, and subsequent pitfalls, behind these numbers. First, much of the debate has involved leaders of the Catholic Church; these voices are, by church rule, male. Some groups interviewed included female leaders in the Catholic church, but even when Methodist or Lutheran pastors were included in the sources, these were male pastors or church leaders. The second group taking the spotlight in much of the coverage, especially in stories from the past week, looked at the responses of the candidates for the republican presidential nomination. Again, all these candidates are male. The third group is Congress, which we’ve stated before is currently only 17 percent female; if you’re interviewing a senator or representative, you’re most likely going to end up with a male voice due to basic probability.

However, despite these caveats, we still are asking the question: Where are the women? While the percentage of women represented in birth control coverage is slightly higher than the representation of women in the news overall (see our Findings & Statistics section for details), the lack of women’s voices in these particular stories is especially glaring considering it is an issue related to women’s health.

The individuals quoted in these stories (with the exception of a few features such as those about experiences with and opinions about birth control at Catholic campuses by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times) were often the same people repeatedly across media outlets. For women, Sister Jane Marie Klein (chairwoman of the board of a system of 13 Catholic hospitals) was most often quoted, followed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebeliu and then Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Both Klein and Richards were named among the three people (the other being Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan) that President Obama is said to have called to alert to the change in the policy.

In our research, only a small handful of non-expert female sources were quoted in the 53 stories. This included the woman whose testimony was canceled in this week’s congressional hearings on the ruling. In any policy story, we would expect to see the perspective of not just the policy makers, but the people whom the policy impacts the most: users of birth control. In the case of contraception, this almost exclusively means women, since male forms of contraception such as condoms do not require a prescription and thus are not a main focus of insurance policy.

A photo (above) from the Congressional hearing quickly went viral this week, as it highlighted the all-male panel in Thursday’s debates. NPR’s ombudsman also pointed out this lack of female representation, writing: “Airing diverse voices and views that reflect the country is critical.” We will continue to follow this story, and provide updated statistics and findings as the debate continues.

Looking for more opinion? Check out these stories and opinion posts on the contraception debates:

Women in journalism: Reading list 2/13/12

The Gender Report is now providing a weekly round-up of links to online articles that may be of interest to our readers. The links below are to noteworthy articles on topics related to women in journalism and the media during the past week.

-REPORT: By A Nearly 2 To 1 Margin, Cable Networks Call On Men Over Women To Comment On Birth Control (Think Progress)

-Four Tips for Male Journalists Who Want to Discuss Women’s Health (Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress)

-Sunday Shows Overwhelmingly White And Male: Study (Huffington Post – Media)

-A Painterly World Press Photo Winner: “We seldom see veiled women in this way, at such an intimate moment.” (Lens – New York Times photo blog)

-BBC ‘got it wrong on women’ (The Guardian)

-The grammar of assault: Salisbury paper learns why ‘performing a sex act’ misrepresents the crime (Poynter)

-Cal Thomas Apologizes To Rachel Maddow For Contraception Comment (Huffington Post – Media)

-In the New York Times, Sheryl Sandberg Is Lucky, Men Are Good (Rebecca Rosen for The Atlantic)

-Finding ‘Life, Death And Hope’ In A Mumbai Slum: Interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo (NPR’s Fresh Air)

-When did The New York Times first get…[a woman reporter with a desk in the newsroom]? (Poynter)

-What it’s like to cover ‘unbearable’ stories of rape in Congo (by Lynsey Addario for Women Under Siege, a project to document sexualized violence in conflict. The project’s website launched this week.)

-From darkness, dignity: Why sexualized violence must move from the shadows (by Lara Logan for Women Under Siege)

-$20K grants available for female-driven digital journalism start-ups (10,000 Words)

-Help PhD research into women in journalism (

Articles included in this feature do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gender Report or its writers. We encourage readers to submit suggestions of articles to include in future editions of this feature by sending an email to For links to articles like these throughout the week, follow @GenderReport on Twitter.

From Bachmann’s migraines to Summer’s Eve: A roundup of six women-related news stories

In honor of The Gender Report marking six months of our monitoring projects this week, we’ve turned this Week in Review post into a recap of six of the women-related news items, in no particular order, that were receiving attention in the media over the past week:

(1) Report recommends full coverage for birth control

In a move that’s being seen as a win for women, a report released Tuesday by the Institute of Medicine recommended that health insurance plans should fully cover the costs of all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives (i.e. without a copay). The report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to determine gaps in women’s health care coverage as part of the health care reform law. The department is now reviewing the report and will make its decision soon.

Though birth control was getting the headlines (and under debate by certain opponents), it wasn’t the only women’s health service the panel recommended that should be offered at no cost sharing. Other services included annual “well-woman” preventative visits, services for pregnant women including screening for gestational diabetes and lactation counseling, screening for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and counseling and screening for domestic violence.

(2) Creators of “Got Milk?” pull PMS-related campaign

One of several posters as part of the Got Milk? PMS campaign

A campaign by those who brought us “Got Milk?” that aimed at PMS was pulled this week after it came under heavy fire for sexism (including through petitions like this one).

The California Milk Processor Board and its advertising agency had launched a campaign around the idea that milk can help reduce symptoms of PMS with posters and a website — — that were targeted at men as a “home for PMS management.”

Posters which pictured men cowering behind offered milk cartons included sayings such as “I’m sorry for the things I did or didn’t do.”

The site now redirects to to provide a place for further dialogue about the campaign.

(3) Congresswoman “not a lady”

In response to her criticism of his support of a budget plan that would cut Medicare, Rep. Allen West sent an email calling Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz “vile, unprofessional and despicable” and included a line that read, “You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”

Several House Democrat women in response called for an apology and for GOP leadership to condemn the email and rebuke West. The women said this was indicative of the problem of gender discrimination in the workplace.

“We see this as a historic and systemic way that women have been subjected to sexism particularly in this venue, in this political environment,” Rep. Gwen Moore said. “Just once again, we have been told that in order to be a ‘lady,’ we need to just stay in our places.”

(4) Michele Bachmann has migraines

A story first “broke” by The Daily Caller this week set off a firestorm of coverage over whether GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s migraines matter and would affect her ability to govern. This led to a debate whether coverage of this issue was sexist or not, as migraines affect millions of people, mostly women, and are often linked to menstruation and menopause. As Clara Jeffery of Mother Jones tweeted: “2 to 1 that Bachmann’s pill popping = advil and estrogen. It’s called menopause, people. Survived by powerful women all over the world.”

Additionally, it’s been debated whether her migraines merit attention at all as a deciding factor of whether she should be president. Many commentaries have used the line or something similar to, “I can think of many reasons Michele Bachmann shouldn’t be president, but migraines aren’t one of them…” But others have also noted that it’s natural to scrutinize a presidential candidate’s health She has since released a statement and a doctor’s note on her conditions.

(5) News Corp. women get media attention

With gobs of media attention on the phone-hacking scandal this week, at least one commentary asked the question of whether the women of News Corp. are getting fair coverage or being played off as stereotypes. Judith Timson of the Globe and Mail looks at portrayals of Rebekah Brooks, who recently resigned as CEO of News International,  as well as Wendi Deng Murdoch, wife of Rupert Murdoch who received much media attention this week after giving a hard hit to an attacker of her husband during the parliamentary hearing. Read Timson’s take here.

(6) Summer’s Eve campaign gets flack

Summer’s Eve’s new campaign “Hail to the V” (which its marketing director says is “all about empowerment“) is getting called out for using racist stereotypes as well as taking heat from those who point out its feminine washing product is unhealthy.

The ads in the campaign (some of which apparently appeared before “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” of all things) feature the talking hands of a white, black or Latina woman (meant to represent vaginas) with voice narratives that have been described as “racially stereotyping.” As Jessica Valenti said (as quoted by Christie Thompson for Ms.): “White vaginas hit the gym, vagazzle and say BFF a lot. Black vaginas care about their hair, hitting the club and do neck rolls. Latina vaginas say ‘aye aye aye,’ ‘boo,’ and are concerned about tacky leopard thongs. Did I miss anything?” Watch one of the ads to judge for yourself below:

The advertised items are Summer’s Eve douching products, and as several commentaries pointed out, many doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) do not recommend the use of such products (though Summer’s Eve isn’t mentioned specifically) because they can upset the normal balance in a health vagina and can lead to yeast and bacterial infections as well as pushing the bacterial infections up into the other female reproductive organs.

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Editor’s note: Six months ago, we set out to look at how women are represented in online news both as sources and as authors. To mark our progress, this week we’re reviewing our findings as well as unveiling new statistics based on what we’ve uncovered thus far in a series of posts. View other six-month coverage here.