There’s no doubt that more women than ever are in journalism. When I look around my journalism classes or consider the staff at the Daily Tar Heel (especially the editors), women tend to dominate the crowd.
This trend has not quite translated to the big leagues, but it’s getting closer. Take the White House Press Correspondents. Currently, women from The Associated Press, Bloomberg, Talking Points Memo, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune are all members of the White House Press Corps. This isn’t the majority, but it’s a decent chunk that represents some of the big names in journalism.
Despite this advancement, men are disproportionately represented in political journalism. According to the Women’s Media Center, men wrote three-quarters of 2012 election coverage in newspapers. The survey looked at both the primary and general election periods in both national and state newspapers.
When that survey was released, Emily Bazelon wrote for Slate that more women are on the campaign trail for online publications that weren’t counted by the Women’s Media Center. That may be true, but it is relevant that the gender gap is so wide in election coverage for major and respected newspapers. Even if online publications are the wave of the future, papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post are the cornerstones of journalism today.
Bazelon continued by referencing the survey’s finding that female print journalists who do cover the campaign “write disproportionately about social issues ‘such as abortion, contraception, and women’s rights.’” She argued that this is a good thing: “There’s nothing frivolous or ghetto-ized about those topics. They’re at the center of this election, right where they should be.”
That’s true — but it’s sidestepping a larger issue. Women are still shoehorned into social issue coverage. An analysis done in 2004 found that male reporters cover politics twice as much as women (Craft). Why are women not covering the campaign and politics as frequently as men? There are so many reasons, but one may be that female journalists are not taken as seriously as men.
Netflix’s popular show, House of Cards, depicts female political reporters as “promiscuous, catfight-prone, and entirely unethical,” writes Alyssa Rosenberg of Slate. The female reporters sleep with sources to get ahead and they can’t seem to get along with their female colleagues — to the point where they are calling each other nasty names and behaving unprofessionally.
This isn’t the reality of female political reporters, but too many think it is. It doesn’t help that a popular TV show portrays female journalists in that manner. The blog, “Said to Lady Journos,” documents sexist comments said to female journalists, and many of them echo the sentiments in House of Cards. Women are assumed to be sleeping with their sources, or they are automatically written off as incompetent.
Academic research shows that female journalists contribute a different perspective to political reporting, which can be a positive thing. Male and female newspaper reporters differ when it comes to choosing male and female sources and the prominence of those sources (Craft). When female reporters are solely assigned to women’s issues, they can’t bring their perspective to other areas of news.
As we approach campaign coverage for 2016, it’s time to start thinking about how female journalists will contribute. Only time will tell if women will be better represented in the newspapers documenting next election, but a good start would be taking female journalists more seriously so they can cover the serious issues.
“Men write three-quarters of election coverage, survey says.” Media Report to Women. http://www.mediareporttowomen.com/issues/404.htm
Craft, Stephanie and Wayne Wanta. “Women in the newsroom: Influences of female editors and reporters on the news agenda.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. 2004. (81): 124-138.
Rosenberg, Alyssa. “House of Cards thinks all female political reporters are mean sluts.” Slate’s XX Factor blog. Feb. 6, 2013.
Bazelon, Emily. “Male journalists may dominate campaign coverage, but look what women write about.” Slate’s XX Factor blog. Aug. 28, 2012.
Said to Lady Journos. http://saidtoladyjournos.tumblr.com/
White House Press Corps Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_House_press_corps