Media is ‘failing women’ — sports journalism particularly so

The Women’s Media Center released its third annual Status of Women in the U.S. Media report today, and if you’ve been paying any attention to gender imbalances across print, broadcast and online platforms, it’s more of the same. Men – especially white men – vastly outnumber women. Still.

“The media is failing women across the board,” Women’s Media Center president Julie Burton said in a press release that accompanied the report. “The numbers tell a clear story for the need for change on every media platform.”

The report compiles recent studies from several sources — Media Matters, the American Society of News Editors, even Gawker — all of which show that despite efforts (or at least talk of efforts) to achieve parity in media organizations, from CEOs to copy editors, we haven’t come close.

An ASNE newsroom census cited in the report showed that newsrooms were 63.1 percent male and 36.9 percent female in 1999. In 2012, those percentages were exactly the same. For 2013, it was actually worse: 63.7 percent male and 36.3 percent female. That said, when it came to journalists of color, gender representation tended to be more balanced, and there were actually more Asian women than Asian men (52 percent versus 48). That’s great, but the percentage of minorities in newsrooms is far smaller than their representation in the United States population. That’s not so great.

WMC also highlighted a study of female sports journalists — still a rare breed, despite the fact that more women than ever are sports fans. Sure, Meredith Vieira got the chance to host the Olympics in primetime last week, but she was the first woman ever to do so and it was only because regular host Bob Costas had double pinkeye and first-choice replacement Matt Lauer was too tired.

An Associated Press Sports Editors-commissioned report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that there was an increase in women of color sports journalists, but it still wasn’t enough to merit more than an F grade for gender representation in columnists and editors. And the majority of female columnists and editors worked for ESPN, which the report notes has made an effort to diversify its newsroom. Without ESPN, things would be far worse. As it is, 90 percent of sports editors are white and 90 percent are male.

And, it should be noted, the few female sports reporters we do have get to deal with Bleacher Report’s regular slideshows of the “50 Hottest Female Sports Broadcasters from Around the World” “20 Sexiest Sports Reporters of 2012,” “20 Sexiest Local Sports Broadcasters” or “40 Hottest College Football Reporters.” (Two of those lists were written by a woman, so there’s one female sports journalist byline, I guess.) Not to mention harassment from fans, the athletes they cover and even their own colleagues. Sports journalism is a uniquely difficult beat for the few women that are lucky enough to get the job.

It’s not just the journalists who tend to be white men; their sources are, too. According to Media Matters, non-MSNBC Sunday morning shows were more likely to feature a white man than a white woman or minority of either gender combined. (MSNBC, led by the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, was much more inclusive.) Another study showed that male sources in New York Times front-page stories outnumbered female sources 3.4 to 1 in January and February 2013.

At the time, Times Associate Managing Editor for Standards Phil Corbett said that he found the gap to be “disappointing” and that the Times would continue its push for a more diverse newsroom. New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy says now that this continues to be a priority for the paper – “not just gender diversity, but also racial, ethnic, geographic and religious diversity.” Half the editors on the Times’ masthead are now women – a significant milestone – but only one isn’t white. Executive editor Jill Abramson told public editor Margaret Sullivan that one of her goals for this year is to “make good gains in areas like race as well as gender.”

That said, the majority of bylines on The New York Times’ front page belong to men – often by a wide margin – according to the daily byline tracking site, recommended by WMC in its report.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about WMC’s latest report is its similarity to the ones that came before.

“Women, it seems have come far only if you count progress in inches,” Arizona State University’s Cronkite School associate dean Kristin Gilger said in the press release. “This report reminds us all how important it is to take a step back, see where we’re at and pay attention to how far we still have to go.”

To that end, the report leaves us with suggestions for what news organizations and consumers can do to make things more balanced. So far, it seems, few have been willing to follow them.

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  • AK

    And the gap continues to widen every year between the number of women college graduates and men. Reason No. 3,523,532,053 why the left has zero credibility — persistent stories like this.

  • Gayle Falkenthal

    Following on RGTBT’s “live by the sword, die by the sword” comment: Many of us who report about sports long ago did an end around to avoid the stereotype driven traditional media. Example: I am a boxing writer for Communities Digital News ( If there’s any sport where women aren’t considered common, it’s boxing. But there are a surprising number of women writing and reporting on boxing whether running sites like, shooting video interviews like ESNewsReporting, or working as photographers like Esther Lin and Stephanie Trapp for Showtime. In my case it’s not a fulltime job, nor do I want it to be. This sort of niche work is becoming more common and it works for a lot of us.


    Until women start getting these jobs based on their actual journalistic chops, instead of their looks (a huge issue in television journalism) not much headway is going to be made here. And, the women who got their jobs this way (and there are a TON of them) have a glass ceiling because that attribute takes you just so far. Eventually, you have to put up or shut up after getting your foot in the door. The fact that the news media has turned much more into an entertainment forum than a news one only serves to work against women as far as this problem is concerned, too. It’s the same thing kind of thing that moved Cristine Craft to sue KMBC TV in Kansas City after she was fired only 8 months into her 2 year contract to co-anchor the news there because, at age 37, she was deemed “too old, too unattractive, and not deferential enough to men” to be of any ratings value. And this was in 1981 before “news media” became a sentence with two lies in it!

    Cut to today. I live in Omaha and and I had the impromptu opportunity to meet and chat with Erin Andrews for a few minutes while she was here doing the College World Series for ESPN a few years ago. To say that she is not a Mensa would be an understatement. If there was ever a more clear cut example of what I am talking about than her, I can’t think of it. At he current age 35 as I write this, here is a prediction for you. Within 10 years Erin Andrews is just another name from the past in female “broadcast journalism”. Once her single attribute is gone, so will she be, much like many that came before her.

    Where women are concerned, there is a whole lot more to the issue than meets the eye (pardon the pun).

  • Nadine Bonner

    I started out as a sportswriter in 1977 for a daily newspaper in Coatesville, PA. I was the only woman sportswriter in the Philadelphia area. I covered all high school sports, boys and girls, and some college football. By the time I was ready to move on to a bigger paper, the dailies were pulling women feature writers into sports so that could say they had a woman sportswriter. So when I applied for a job, they would say “we already have a woman sportswriter.” I would say, “But I’m a woman who covers sports.” It didn’t resonate, and I moved back into news. Seems as if things have not changed in 30 years.

  • rbruce20

    If there are 20 reporters in a news room, what would be the demographics that would make everyone happy?

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