In 2016, a newsroom survey from the American Society of News Editors found that about a third of newsroom employees were women, as were 37 percent of newsroom supervisors. Meanwhile, advocacy groups worldwide have spoken out against the news media’s portrayal of women and its over-reliance on male experts. The Women’s Media Center, for example, released an analysis in 2016 showing that most of the political analysts who appeared on CNN, FOX and MSNBC to comment on the U.S. presidential election were men.
As journalism evolves to accommodate new technologies and funding sources, scholars continue to scrutinize the role of gender. Research on gender in journalism tends to fall into the same two categories: women who work in journalism and how women are portrayed. Oftentimes, researchers look at the two topics in tandem. In more recent years, they also have focused on the way female journalists appear online and on television. Spanish-language news shows in particular have drawn criticism for promoting female journalists in provocative clothing.
As reporters and others examine these issues, they should become familiar with the academic research that has been published. To help with that work, Journalist’s Resource has pulled together a collection of peer-reviewed research and other resources we think will be helpful.
Women as journalism leaders
“When Women Run the Newsroom: Management Change, Gender, and the News”
Beam, Randal A.; Di Cicco, Damon T. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 2010. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/107769901008700211.
Abstract: “This study examined content at 10 small daily newspapers at two points in time — before and after a woman replaced a man as managing editor. The results were then compared with content changes at 10 ‘matched’ papers at which a man was managing editor for both points in time. The mix of topics that the newspapers covered changed little across time for both groups of publications. But the types of articles changed for the papers at which women became managing editors. The emphasis on feature approaches to the news increased, and standard hard news declined.”
“What Does It Take for Women Journalists to Gain Professional Recognition? Gender Disparities among Pulitzer Prize Winners, 1917-2010”
Volz, Yong A.; Lee, Francis L.F. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 2013. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699013482908.
Summary: This study looks at the proportion of women who win Pulitzer Prizes and the categories they are most likely to win. It also compares the characteristics of female and male winners in terms of age, upbringing, educational background and newsroom type.
“The Culture of a Women-Led Newspaper: An Ethnographic Study of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune”
Everbach, Tracy. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 2006, Vol. 83. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/107769900608300301.
Summary: This case study focuses on a Florida newspaper under the leadership of a female management team. The newsroom embraced family-friendly policies. News meetings had a more collaborative feel. But one former managing editor said the female-led newsroom discouraged “tough, male journalists” from applying for jobs and that, generally, the journalists who applied were “strong, intelligent, powerful women, and men who are not assertive.”
“Women Matter in Newsrooms: How Power and Critical Mass Relate to the Coverage of the HPV Vaccine”
Correa, Teresa; Harp, Dustin. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 2011. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/107769901108800205.
Abstract: “This study explored how female journalists affect news content when holding positions of power, reaching a critical mass in the newsroom, and covering an issue that appeals to them. The study compared a male-dominated news organization’s coverage of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine with coverage by a more gender-balanced organization in terms of news executives and reporters. It also explored whether content produced by female reporters from both organizations differed. The more gender-balanced organization covered the vaccine more frequently and more prominently, and used more diverse themes than its counterpart. The content created by female reporters at different outlets also diverged.”
Women’s voices, representations in news
“Women Are Seen More than Heard in Online Newspapers”
Jia, Sen; et al. PLoS ONE, 2016. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148434.
Abstract: “Feminist news media researchers have long contended that masculine news values shape journalists’ quotidian decisions about what is newsworthy. As a result, it is argued, topics and issues traditionally regarded as primarily of interest and relevance to women are routinely marginalized in the news, while men’s views and voices are given privileged space. When women do show up in the news, it is often as ‘eye candy,’ thus reinforcing women’s value as sources of visual pleasure rather than residing in the content of their views. To date, evidence to support such claims has tended to be based on small-scale, manual analyses of news content. In this article, we report on findings from our large-scale, data-driven study of gender representation in online English language news media. We analyzed both words and images so as to give a broader picture of how gender is represented in online news. The corpus of news content examined consists of 2,353,652 articles collected over a period of six months from more than 950 different news outlets. From this initial dataset, we extracted 2,171,239 references to named persons and 1,376,824 images resolving the gender of names and faces using automated computational methods. We found that males were represented more often than females in both images and text, but in proportions that changed across topics, news outlets and mode. Moreover, the proportion of females was consistently higher in images than in text, for virtually all topics and news outlets; women were more likely to be represented visually than they were mentioned as a news actor or source. Our large-scale, data-driven analysis offers important empirical evidence of macroscopic patterns in news content concerning the way men and women are represented.”
“Where Are the Women? The Presence of Female Columnists in U.S. Opinion Pages”
Harp, Dustin; Bachmann, Ingrid; Loke, Jaime. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 2014. doi: 10.1177/1077699014527457.
Summary: “Empirical and anecdotal evidence shows that the news media are male-dominated. This study updates the extant literature on women’s representation in the op-ed pages of 10 U.S. newspapers. A content analysis showed that female authors are moving beyond topics traditionally linked to females and are writing columns on topics such as politics and economy. However, they remain a minority, and, thus, women’s voices have yet to gain more visibility in the world of opinion writing in U.S. journalism.”
“A Paper Ceiling: Explaining the Persistent Underrepresentation of Women in Printed News”
Shor, Eran; et al. American Sociological Review, 2015. doi: 10.1177/0003122415596999.
Abstract: “In the early twenty-first century, women continue to receive substantially less media coverage than men, despite women’s much increased participation in public life. Media scholars argue that actors in news organizations skew news coverage in favor of men and male-related topics. However, no previous study has systematically examined whether such media bias exists beyond gender ratio imbalances in coverage that merely mirror societal-level structural and occupational gender inequalities. Using novel longitudinal data, we empirically isolate media level factors and examine their effects on women’s coverage rates in hundreds of newspapers. We find that societal-level inequalities are the dominant determinants of continued gender differences in coverage. The media focuses nearly exclusively on the highest strata of occupational and social hierarchies, in which women’s representation has remained poor. We also find that women receive greater exposure in newspaper sections led by female editors, as well as in newspapers whose editorial boards have higher female representation. However, these differences appear to be mostly correlational, as women’s coverage rates do not noticeably improve when male editors are replaced by female editors in a given newspaper.”
“A Case of More Is Less: The Role of Gender in U.S. Presidential Debates”
Turcotte, Jason; Paul, Newly. Political Research Quarterly, 2015. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1065912915605581.
Abstract: “This study applies a quantitative content analysis to explore the influence of (1) candidate gender, (2) journalist gender, and (3) voter gender on the presidential debate agenda. In examining the issue focus of debate questions, we find that participation from women candidates and women journalists does little to improve agenda diversity and that the agendas set by women journalists fail to satisfy the issue priorities of women voters participating in these same debates.”
“He Wrote, She Wrote: Journalist Gender, Political Office, and Campaign News”
Meeks, Lindsey. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 2013. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077699012468695.
Abstract: “This study examines the intersection of journalist gender and campaign news coverage across legislative and executive political offices in a gender-prominent context: mixed-gender elections — those with at least one woman and one man. Based on a content analysis of U.S. newspaper coverage, this study focuses on ‘masculinized’ and ‘feminized’ political issues and character traits, and explicit references that highlight a candidate’s novelty. Results revealed no direct relationship between journalist gender and news coverage; however, when type of office was considered, there were significant shifts and differences in the focus of coverage by female and male journalists.”
“Is She ‘Man Enough’? Women Candidates, Executive Political Offices, and News Coverage“
Meeks, Lindsey. Journal of Communication, 2012. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01621.x.
Abstract: “This study analyzes news coverage of four female political candidates — Elizabeth Dole, Claire McCaskill, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin — and their male competitors, as each competed in two elections between 1999 and 2008. Analysis focused on novelty labeling, and ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ political issues and character traits to determine whether the coverage of women and men differed in general, and across the offices of senator, governor, vice president or president. Overall, women received more news coverage, and the gendered gap in coverage was especially large for novelty, issue and trait coverage when women sought the ‘executive’ offices of governor and in the White House. These findings provide insight into the evolving gender dynamics of women running within the masculinized domain of politics.”
“Gender, Twitter and News Content”
Armstrong, Cory L.; Gao, Fangfang. Journalism Studies, 2011. doi: 10.1080/1461670X.2010.527548.
Abstract: “With the continuing disparity between male and female mentions in news content, this study seeks to compare how news organizations employ men and women in Twitter feeds and how that connects to portrayals in news stories. In particular, the research examined how mentions of men and women in tweets may influence mentions in news stories that were linked to tweets. The study employed a content analysis of national, regional and local newspaper and television tweets, along with their accompanying news stories to compare media platforms and coverage areas. The results indicated a positive relationship between male and female portrayals in tweets and portrayals in news content. Further, male mentions were more likely to appear in national news stories than in regional or local news stories and more frequently than female mentions in print media than in television. Thus, it appears as if news agencies have not developed new dissemination strategies for employing Twitter.”
“Framing Latinas: Hispanic Women through the Lenses of Spanish-Language and English-Language News Media”
Correa, Teresa. Journalism, 2010, Vol. 11. doi: 10.1177/1464884910367597.
Abstract: “It is argued that the media’s tendency to stereotype minority groups is due, in part, to a weak identification with them. This study compared the frames used by the Miami Herald (MH), an English-language newspaper targeted to general audiences, and El Nuevo Herald (ENH), its Spanish-language counterpart targeted to Hispanics, to explore whether the stronger media identification with the audience affects the type of frames used to depict Latinas. Using framing as a theoretical framework, this investigation found that the MH emphasized the individual achievements of successful women and described them as a new profitable market. ENH highlighted the family sacrifices of successful females and depicted them as family-devoted and sensual. As a result, the greater cultural identification with the audience may avoid manifest negative stereotypes but embrace pan-ethnic stereotypes that, eventually, may become harmful because they contribute to the homogenization and racialization of a group such as Latinas.”
“Bimbo or Boffin? Women in Science: An Analysis of Media Representations and How Female Scientists Negotiate Cultural Contradictions”
Chimba, Mwenya; Kitzinger, Jenny. Public Understanding of Science, 2010. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662508098580.
Abstract: “This paper examines the gendered representations of scientists in the UK media. Our analysis reveals the asymmetrical ways in which men and women working in science, engineering and technology are portrayed, in particular through the emphasis on women’s appearance and a focus on their exceptional status. It also highlights the way female scientists may be used to ‘sex up’ the discipline in the context of increasing concern about the (un)popularity of science. This media analysis is contextualized by drawing on data from 86 scientists examining how women themselves experience press and television coverage and address the cultural contradictions surrounding their role. The research highlights the challenges facing women working in these fields and the dilemmas for those seeking to develop a ‘human’ face for science and promote a positive image for women.”
Women in specific beats
“Token Responses to Gendered Newsrooms: Factors in the Career-Related Decisions of Female Newspaper Sports Journalists”
Hardin, Marie; Whiteside, Erin. Journalism, 2009. doi: 10.1177/14648849090100050501.
Abstract: “Through in-depth interviews, this longitudinal study explores how women in the industry manage their gendered and professional identities and make career decisions. Our findings suggest that although participants framed their decisions to stay or to leave in idealized terms, their choices were also guided by cultural and structural impediments acknowledged but accepted as natural and immutable. The women noted negative gender-related experiences, but most minimized them and saw their gender as an advantage. They also described their struggles to balance their work and social lives, the latter of which they saw as a necessary sacrifice to become ideal workers. We discuss these issues and suggest that sports media will fail to reach gender parity until these barriers are addressed; until then, the revolving door will keep turning.”
Other helpful resources:
- A 2017 report from the Women’s Media Center, an advocacy organization founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem, suggests female journalists report less news than male journalists. Among the findings of the report: Men report 74.8 percent of broadcast news and 61.9 percent of news appearing in print.
- A 2014 report from the International News Safety Institute and the International Women’s Media Foundation suggests most women journalists have experienced threats, intimidation or abuse in relation to their work.
- A 2014 article published in Nieman Reports, “Where Are the Women?,” focuses on changes in female leadership in U.S. newsrooms.
- A 2011 report from the International Women’s Media Foundation, “Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media,” found that men held 73 percent of top management jobs and 64 percent of reporter jobs.
- The Journalism and Women Symposium is a non-profit organization that “supports the professional empowerment and personal growth of women in journalism and works toward a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.