Study: More women writing op-eds, but female bylines still cluster around ‘pink topics’

TheOpEdProject
The OpEd Project released a new study today saying that there have been “major improvements” in women’s op-ed writing throughout the past six years. But women’s writing outside those pages tends to cluster around certain subjects.

From Sept. 15 to Dec. 7, 2011, the OpEd Project — which is designed to enrich public conversation by expanding the range of voices we hear — looked at more than 7,000 articles from The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal (categorized by the research as legacy media), The Huffington Post and Salon (new media) and Harvard, Columbia, Yale and Princeton (college media).

The third annual survey found that women wrote 38 percent of the op-eds that appeared in the college publications surveyed, 33 percent of those at new media outlets and 20 percent at legacy outlets.

While past Byline Surveys have found that legacy news outlets tend to feature the fewest female voices in op-eds (usually around 15 to 20 percent), the newest survey says there’s been an increase in the number of op-eds written by women in The New York Times (22 percent now compared to 17 percent in 2005), The Washington Post (19 percent now compared to 10 percent) and The Los Angeles Times (24 percent compared to 20 percent).

In both legacy and new media, women tended to write a lot of stories on “pink topics” — food, fashion, family and furniture. Among the new media organizations surveyed, 34 percent of the stories women wrote were on pink topics. In legacy media, pink stories accounted for 12.4 percent of female writers’ overall output, compared to 3 percent of male writer’s overall output. “Put another way,” the survey says, “out of 1,410 general interest articles (politics, economy, health, education, etc.) women wrote only 261.”

“In new media, women wrote proportionally far more of the pink articles than they did in legacy media (e.g., 40% of food articles in legacy vs. 67% in new media), but women also wrote a higher proportion of articles on every other subject, with the exception of national politics, which was 20% for both new and legacy media.”

With regard to economic coverage:

“Just 11% of economics articles in legacy media were written, or co-written, by a woman. In new media, that number was less grim, but still sad, 19%. It’s true that this number is, at least in part, a result of a higher number of men in economics. In fact, only 9% of economics doctorates were awarded to women in 1974, but the number has been steadily on the rise, reaching 27% by 2000. Not only is this 10% figure not representative of women in general, but it is not representative of women in the field of economics.”

The Byline Survey renews attention to an argument that women have been making for years: there aren’t enough female voices in opinion pages. In an interview last year, OpEd Project Founder Catherine Orenstein told me the problem isn’t so much that news organizations aren’t featuring female contributors; it’s that women aren’t contributing in the first place.

“A lot of [women] will in some way discount themselves and their knowledge,” she said. “If you think about it, what it means is that there’s a disconnect between what we know and our sense that it actually matters.”

The OpEd Project’s Katherine Lanpher said in an interview today that she thinks editors want to feature more op-eds from women. “Women and others who aren’t out there need to submit their ideas more,” she said via email. “To this day, many women and other minorities need to be reminded that they’re sitting on powerful solutions to big problems and if they don’t share their knowledge the world is a poorer place. … Op-eds aren’t about writing. They’re about power. And it’s just time for more of it be shared.”

Related: Live chat today: How can we help crack journalism’s glass ceiling? (Poynter.org) | It’s 2012 already: Why is opinion writing still mostly male? (CJR) | Can the Inquirer survive on aging testosterone? (Phillymag.com) | The New Yorker & Harper’s editors respond to study demonstrating what ‘bro-fests’ they are (Observer) | New York Times’ Kristof: To get social issues on the agenda, get them on the op-ed pages (Poynter.org) | Gail Collins: Women don’t put their hands up as often as men (Poynter.org)

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