Gender check: 2/14/12 – West

*Gender Checks are quick examinations of gender representation in individual news articles for the purpose of discovering trends over time. Click here to read more.

Website: Los Angeles Times

On, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 3 p.m. (PST) Tuesday, Feb. 14, was titled “Whitney Houston drug probe likely to include her doctors.”

Here is its breakdown:

Subject: Celebrity, arts, media, sports: Celebrity news (Global Media Monitoring Project No. 45)

Word count: 453

Author: Male (2)

Human sources (listed in order mentioned):

  1. Female, defense attorney
  2. Male, spokesman for coroner’s office
  3. Female, singer’s spokeswoman (unnamed)

Notes/analysis: The photo with the story features mostly female mourners. It was taken by a male photographer.

Website: California Watch

On California Watch, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 3 p.m. (PST) Tuesday, Feb. 14, was titled “Calif. cement plant has one of nation’s highest mercury emission levels.”

Here is its breakdown:

Subject: Science and health: Environment, pollution (Global Media Monitoring Project No. 24)

Word count: 2239

Author: Male

Human sources (listed in order mentioned):

  1. Male, lawyer with environmental group
  2. Male, VP of regulatory affairs at cement association
  3. Male, spokesman for cement company
  4. Female, environmental activist
  5. Female, spokeswoman for air quality management district
  6. Female, resident
  7. Male, mayor
  8. Male, resident involved in monitoring
  9. Male, air pollution control officer
  10. Female, spokeswoman for National Resources Defense Council

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.


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.