July 19, 2013

The New York Times | Poynter.org

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan responded to a Poynter.org piece published earlier this week about a lack of female sources in news stories.

University of Nevada professor Alicia Shepard and student Alexi Layton, who both wrote the piece, analyzed New York Times front-page bylines for two months and found that they quoted 3.4 times as many male sources as female sources.

Sullivan talked with Susan Chira, a Times assistant managing editor, about the analysis and whether she thinks a diversity quota could help.

Quotas or mandates would “result in tokenism that sets us all back,” she said. “The answer has to come from awareness. This is a consciousness issue. How do you get reporters to ask themselves if they have made a stringent enough effort to include women in this story? How do reporters expand their bank of go-to people that they rely on as sources?”

After I asked her about the study this week, Ms. Chira discussed the issue briefly with Ms. Abramson and with Dean Baquet, the managing editor. As a result, Ms. Chira said she will informally go around to section editors and heads of the various desks to make them aware of the study and suggest that they encourage assigning editors and reporters to widen their scope to include more women.

Sullivan said senior editor Dana Canedy, who heads a newsroom task force on diversity, “expects that the group will have recommendations to top editors on the sourcing issue.”

Diversity quotas aren’t very common, but they have worked for MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. After he instituted a diversity quota for “Up with Chris Hayes,” the show began including more diverse guests and the final product benefited, Hayes said.

Of course, diversity quotas aren’t the only solution. As Shepard and Layton explained, the diversity of reporters; the tendency to fall back on the same sources; the lack of women in certain leadership positions and fields; and the question of whether women are more reluctant than men to be sources, all factor in.

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As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website, Poynter.org, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the…
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