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[@[


As shutdown loomed, focus was on abortion, women’s health

The biggest news story of the week was the potential shutdown of the federal government if Congress wasn’t able to reach a compromise on the budget. President Barack Obama signed a stop gap bill into law today to keep the government in action through next week until the budget deal for the rest of the fiscal year reached Friday night is finalized.

The hold-up and the threat of shutdown was directly tied to issues of abortion and, as a result, women’s health.

It appears the main abortion provisions Republicans sought were stripped out of the deal in exchange for deeper cuts in spending, including an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. However, a separate vote will be held on that issue next week, though Democrats are anticipated to defeat it. The compromise does, however, contain a provision that restricts abortion financing in Washington, D.C.

Though the focus of the debate is around Planned Parenthood’s abortion services, federal funds already can’t be used for abortions. As we’ve previously noted, only about 3 percent of its health services are abortion related. It provides family planning, cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and other services for both men and women but particularly for low-income women. (For a complete breakdown of Planned Parenthood does, check out this chart from the Washington Post).

The fact that this became a major issue in holding up a budget compromise reflected the culmination of several months worth of Republican action on issues of abortion and women’s health that the Gender Report has highlighted in earlier posts.

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.

‘War on Women’ rages on this week

Filling the majority of the gender-related news hole this week, and throughout the month of February, was the ongoing Republican action on the issues of abortion and women’s health that have been called a “War on Women.”

On the federal level, the U.S. House of Representatives voted at the end of last week as part of a spending bill to eliminate funding to Title X programs, which help low-income families with family planning and contraception, and block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding. Roughly a third of Planned Parenthood’s budget comes from federal, state and local governments, according to a New York Times article.

Though the focus of the debate is around its abortion services, the organization doesn’t currently receive federal funds for abortions. The organization’s website highlights that only about three percent of all its health services are abortion related. Planned Parenthood provides family planning, cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and other services for both men and women but particularly for low-income women.

The House vote was emotional, being preceded by Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier sharing her personal experience with abortion on the floor.

In response to the decision, a campaign to stand with Planned Parenthood was launched, along with a petition and other letter writing campaignsto legislators. A “Rally for Women’s Health” is planned for today, Feb. 26, in New York. A number of public figures have spoken out on the issue this week from Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Some of the other budget actions that would affect women include cuts to international family planning (including barring funds from going to the United Nations Population Fund), Head Start and Women Infant Children (WIC) program, which provides food and nutrition assistance for low-income women with children under age 5.

Several state legislatures were in the news for reproductive health and abortion issues in the past week. Here are some of the highlights:

  • A proposed Georgia law could give the death penalty for miscarriages (as described by Mother Jones)
  • Virginia’s General Assembly voted Thursday that abortion clinics should be regulated as hospitals in a move that may put the majority of the clinics out of business.
  • Iowa bills that would allow for “justifiable homicide” in defense of an unborn child, similar to legislation introduced and shelved in South Dakota earlier this month and proposed in Nebraska, have stirred concerns that they could be used to condone the killing of abortion doctors.

Also making headlines was a controversial anti-abortion billboard erected in New York City this week (and subsequently taken down) that angered some residents. The board showed a young black girl with the words “the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”

Also in the news: Movie time

With the Academy Awards slated for Sunday, in discussion is the representation of women in the film industry, including looks at the “most powerful women” at this year’s Oscars.

Following last year’s history-making awards season in which a woman (Kathryn Bigelow) won the coveted best director award for the first time, no women are up for the prize in 2011. Additionally, no women are up for awards in cinematography. For writing, only nominees for “Winter’s Bone” for adapted screenplay and “The Kids Are All Right” for original screenplay have female authors listed.

A study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University in 2010 found that women made up only “7 percent of directors, 10 percent of writers, 15 percent of executive producers, 24 percent of producers, 18 percent of editors and 2 percent of cinematographers,” according to a post by Martha Lauzen for the Women’s Media Center.

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.

Week in Review: Jan. 31 – Feb. 4

*Week in Review is 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.

Healthcare legislation

This week the GOP moved forward with its plan to dismantle Obama’s healthcare plan by focusing on portions of the legislation dealing with federal funds for abortions. On Monday H.R.3, named  the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” introduced language that would redefine the terms under which a woman could receive federal funds for an abortion after rape or incest. The proposed change aimed to limit funding to pregnancies resulting from “forcible” rape. After criticism from several groups, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of the bill’s authors, said the word “forcible” would be dropped. He told the Washington Post Thursday that lawmakers decided to change the term because it was being “misconstrued.” The bill will now revert back to the language already in place through the Hyde Amendment.

The Hyde Amendment*, originally passed in 1976, governs the current uses and restrictions of federal funds used for abortions. Federal funds cannot be used except in cases of rape, incest, or when a mother’s life is in danger. It also bans abortion funding for women on Medicaid, women in the military or Peace Corps, and those who receive medical care from Indian Health Services. The bill proposed by Smith and other sponsors will make the restrictions set in place by the Hyde Amendment a permanent appropriations law. Currently it has to be recodfied in appropriations each year.

Planned Parenthood also took the spotlight later in this week’s news cycle after undercover videos showed employees giving medical advice to men posing as pimps of child prostitutes. One worker was fired as a result of the tapes. Some members of Congress are using the videos as momentum to remove all federal funding from the organization under H.R.614Live Action, the group responsible for the videos, claims staff turned a blind eye to sexual trafficking and exploitation of minors.

Thursday, 27 groups sent a letter to Congress in support of Planned Parenthood, including the NAACP and Sierra Club. “Right-wing groups are once again attempting to destroy an organization dedicated to providing crucial primary care services to Americans that need them most. Armed with heavily edited videos, countless lies, and a shameless echo chamber that repeats unfounded accusations ad nauseam, they’ve now turned their sights to Planned Parenthood, which offers a range of important health and reproductive services,” the letter reads (as taken from POLITICO excerpt).

According to its website, over 3 million men and women received health-related services from Planned Parenthood’s 820 health centers last year, including 1 million Pap tests and 4 million tests and treatment for STDs. Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services. Currently the organization does not receive federal money for any of its abortion services.

In Other News

A study released this week showed that after 10 years, Wikipedia’s contributor base consisted of less than 15 percent female authors.  The disparity also shows up in the emphasis of posts by male vs. female authors. Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015 (as reported in the New York Times).

*The link to the full text of the Hyde Amendment was taken from the National Right to Life website. The site provided the most easily accessible link to the original legislation, but is not in any way an endorsement of this group or its stance on this issue. Whenever possible the Gender Report tries to link to original sources and primary documents or otherwise fully cites any reprinted quotes or information.