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public editor

A global media group, United for News, recently reported this discouraging statistic: that women make up only 24 per cent of the persons heard, read about or seen in the world’s news media and only 19 per cent of the experts cited.

Last month, Globe and Mail editor-in-chief David Walmsley committed The Globe and Mail to be the United for News initiative’s Canadian partner. The plan is to study and test different ways to increase and amplify the voices of women and produce a paper of best practices for newsrooms around the world. The Globe is testing an algorithm to track the gender balance of sources in stories and front-page photography.

So what’s the starting point? I went through five weeks of newspaper coverage counting the number of photographs, bylines and sources or subjects across the sections. The results are better than the United for News survey, but nowhere near equity.

It’s a fair question to ask if absolute equity is possible given that coverage generally follows the news. The Prime Minister and most of the premiers, along with the news-dominating U.S. President, are men. So, too, are most of the professional sports figures and business leaders.

Still, over the past weeks, there have been many women’s names front and centre, including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould; Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei; British Prime Minister Theresa May and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

News and arts coverage have been much more balanced in terms of diversity, while both sports and business tend to be dominated in terms of news by men and male spokespeople – not a great surprise.

I tried to include a look at diversity, and I admit it is a flawed look because how you identify is a personal decision, the definition is far from clear and I couldn’t always tell from the names (although I did image-search all the names I could).

My survey found 64 per cent of photos were men and 36 per cent women. Of that, about 16 per cent were diverse men and 10 per cent diverse women. Of bylines and writers, 68 per cent were men and 32 per cent women. The diversity here was much smaller at 4 per cent each, although as I said the figure is far from exact. (Opinion has a better record here than other sections.)

The numbers for the main subject or source were the poorest at reflecting our society. Men were 74 per cent and women 28 per cent, with diversity around 10 per cent.

That’s the figure that most needs to change. It means going beyond the obvious and usual sources to seek out women as experts to quote and to write and to think differently about which stories should be told. Photos are a big help in showing female leaders, but we won’t recognize women’s role in society until we make the effort to do more articles of interest to women and about women and go beyond the usual sources.

In the world of expert panels, there has been a move against “manels” – all-male panels. The same should happen to news stories where experts and voices should never be all male. It would be a good challenge for The Globe to take up.

I hear from women and men who want to see greater diversity in voices, sports stories, female photographers and more.

I’ve seen some progress. For the past two years, I have surveyed the number of photos in March, which includes International Women’s Day. This time, I tallied weeks in February and March and I found a small improvement from 27 per cent in 2017 to 34 per cent in 2018 to 36 per cent today.

International Women’s Day earlier this month had a majority of photos of women, but even on that day, there were more male writers and most of the main subjects and sources were men.

It’s easier to follow the news than to lead, but now is a great time to lead by showing greater diversity in leaders, voices and ideas. The progress and plans so far are helpful, but it would be great to pick up the pace.