February 19, 2014

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 WhoWritesFor.com, 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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