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Home > Publications > Quill > Diversity Toolbox



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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Diversity Toolbox

In newsrooms and stories, women still absent

By Tracy Everbach

We who teach college-level journalism have observed for years that women dominate our classrooms. In fact, an annual survey shows that two-thirds of students in journalism programs are women, a number that has held steady since the 1980s.

The latest statistics from the American Society of News Editors show approximately the reverse: Women remain 37 percent of newsroom employees. In television news, women are 40 percent of the workforce. In radio news, women represent only 22 percent of the workforce, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association annual Women and Minorities survey.

Young women and young men start out working in journalism in approximately the same numbers. But women are much more likely to leave the profession after five years, research shows.

A colleague and I examined the question of why women leave newsrooms in detail for the Newspaper Research Journal. We conducted in-depth, standardized interviews with 17 diverse women around the United States who had voluntarily left journalism after working in it full time. Their journalism experience ranged from one year to 30 years.

Though the women were primarily white, three were Asian-American and one was black. Nine were married and eight were unmarried, and nine of the women had children. They had worked in newspapers, radio and television.

What we found was fascinating. Their main reasons for leaving were not, as we had expected, family concerns. The women told us:

• They felt a lack of opportunity for career advancement in newsrooms.

• They often felt treated like second-class citizens in newsrooms.

• They felt their work was not meaningful because their definitions of news differed from male managers.

• They felt they could earn more money and more respect in other professions.

Many of the women who changed careers entered higher-paying professions such as law and advertising. A few others went to lower-paying professions that they said were more fulfilling, including teaching and freelance writing.

Some reported that the male-centered culture of newsrooms repelled them. One, a former reporter for two of the largest U.S. newspapers, described her feelings

about the workplace:

“Many of the editors are men, and it’s the human condition to relate to people who are most like you,” she said. “The only people the (male) top editor would come out into the newsroom to talk about sports and other stuff like that were the ones considered the good reporters because they were brash and had bravado. My reaction to that is that the reporters with brash and bravado were the ones I trusted the least.”

Several women said they became disillusioned when they discovered male colleagues earned more money than they. One woman, a former reporter for two large California newspapers, said she left the business because of low pay: “Just like men, we didn’t want to stay here and eat dirt for the rest of our lives.”

This may sound like an old story, but it’s interesting to note that these women saw antiquated practices continue.

Some of the women pointed to what they described as a “male focus” on news that prevented them from reporting stories they felt were important. A former reporter for a large newspaper in California said she realized, “I was never going to write the kinds of stories I wanted. They weren’t interested in in-depth psychological stories; they were interested in quick-hit gang stories.”

Overall, these women felt unsupported and unappreciated in newsrooms. I should note that they were not a group of disgruntled former employees. We took care to find a diverse group who had worked for respected institutions. Reputable journalists referred us to all the women.

Of course, not all women feel this way about their work, but these particular women who left newsrooms had similar reasons for leaving that indicate a pattern.

When I discuss these topics with my female students — most of them members of the millennial generation — they wonder whether a place exists for them in journalism. I’ve seen a lot of them opt for advertising and PR, industries they perceive might be friendlier to them, pay higher salaries, be more flexible with hours and offer more secure jobs.

The lack of women in newsrooms, along with male-centered cultures in most media organizations, can make them unfriendly workplaces for some women. In fact, the male focus becomes clear in numerous studies examining the gender of news sources.

Recently, an election research project, 4thestate.net, found that women aren’t even the main sources in stories about topics involving women, including women’s rights, birth control, Planned Parenthood and abortion. Women constituted less than one-third of these sources. The same study found that in 2012 election coverage in major newspapers and on major TV news shows, women sources ranged from a low of 12 percent to a high of 31 percent.

It’s 2012. Where are the women?

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