A disappointing study on diversity in news coverage, called Reflect Reality, was released this week.
The study, conducted by a volunteer group called the Global Media Monitoring Project, found that just 24 per cent of news subjects were women. Even more discouraging in this study of print and broadcast outlets in 71 countries, is that the number has only improved slightly over time; up seven percentage points in 20 years and just 3 per cent since 2005.
Some of the numbers in The Globe and Mail are somewhat better in certain areas (more on this later), but nowhere near parity.
It’s hard not to wonder how this can be true when women seem to be in the news every day. We have heard from women in stories about the #MeToo movement, which helped lead to movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s conviction of two felony sex crimes this week. In Canada, we essentially have a gender-balanced cabinet, and there are two top-tier female candidates in the U.S. Democratic primaries.
But the fact is, most of the voices are still men’s. To see how The Globe is faring, I looked at the breakdown of sources in the paper for a period of one month earlier this year. Although a single month doesn’t necessarily reveal the full picture (it’s just a moment in time and highly dependent on the particular news of the day), it can shed some light.
My survey showed that of the main subjects in stories, women made up 20 per cent. I found many articles about provincial premiers, who are all men, and about our national party leaders, who are almost all men. The financial analysts who offer their expertise are predominately men, and the same is true for business leaders. Professional sports coverage, while showing some diversity, is almost all male. On the other hand, health, education and arts coverage all include many main subjects and experts who are women.
So it’s an uphill climb to better reflect our society. There’s much journalists can’t change, such as who business and political leaders are. But journalists can control some things, such as the choice of photos. And writers can make the effort to look beyond the usual sources to find women to interview (as well as other diverse sources).
In my survey, I found photos were a bright spot with 42 per cent of the main subjects being women. And The Globe’s Opinion pages do a good job highlighting women and diverse people. In the Saturday section, where there is more room for outside voices, the percentage of women is 37.
Where the coverage slides is in expert voices and main sources.
There should be a push to find different experts. My survey found just 25 per cent of people quoted as experts were women. Although that may reflect the gender breakdown in business, finance, technology, etc., there are female experts in every field.
Last year, The Globe and the Toronto Star worked with the group that funded Reflect Reality, launching initiatives to find ways to better reflect women and ethnic and cultural diversity. At The Globe, the visual team was a leader in pressing for more diverse coverage, and it showed.
Last year, The Globe’s head of programming Melissa Stasiuk issued a challenge to writers to never file a story without at least one female source.
Real estate reporter Shane Dingman attended conferences seeking to highlight women in the industry and he found a number of good sources. His advice was to piggyback on an industry’s own attempts to highlight women. Corporate law reporter Christine Dobby said reporters don’t always have to quote the chief executive officer and need to think ahead about who else to try. “It’s continually thinking about it. It’s continuing to try,” she said.
The Reflect Reality group said in the study that equal representation is “a matter of journalistic ethics and professionalism … .“
I have done two similar surveys in the past, although they were done in March, which includes International Women’s Day. But even without that extra coverage, visuals of women in The Globe have increased from 27 per cent two years ago to 34 per cent last year and 42 per cent so far this year. So, yes, it can be done.
Ultimately, media coverage needs to include diverse voices of all sorts. It needs to, as the study name goes, reflect reality. It’s time for news media to lead the charge.