Editor’s note: Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its new issue (and new website). Its cover package focuses on a single issue: the status of women in media. Here’s the lead story, by The Oregonian’s Anna Griffin.
At a time when women head fewer major U.S. newspapers than they did 10 years ago, there is a place where women run not only some of the nation’s leading papers but the major public TV station and private TV and radio stations, too. In fact, some media leaders and members of the public even feel journalism here needs more men.
This land of female empowerment is not Sweden, Finland, or Norway, home to some of the world’s parent-friendliest policies regarding childcare and maternity leave.
No. When it comes to the state of women in media leadership today, the best place in the world to be a female looking to rise in management is … Bulgaria.
Elsewhere, women aren’t in charge in large numbers because they’ve been discriminated against in ways both explicit and unintentional, because they’ve been labeled too brusque or too weak, because they’ve opted out to raise children. In Bulgaria, women are in charge because journalism has never been taken all that seriously. Under Communist rule, the press was heavily censored and journalism jobs paid little. Today, the mainstream media focuses on tabloid-ish content: entertainment, celebrity news, and scandal.
In Bulgaria, journalism is a low-status profession. Worldwide, though, even in places where the Fourth Estate is considered a vital part of public discourse, the statistics tell a troubling story, one of progress halted and even eroded. Despite making up half the population, and more than half of communication school graduates each year, women represent just 35 percent of newspaper supervisors, according to the 2014 American Society of News Editors (ASNE) newsroom census. They run just three of the nation’s 25 largest titles, eight of the 25 biggest papers with circulations under 100,000, and three of the 25 biggest with circulations under 50,000. Only one of the top 25 international titles is run by a woman.
The numbers also are skewed in radio and TV. In a 2014 Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) survey, women made up just 31 percent of TV news directors and 20 percent of general managers, despite making up more than 40 percent of the TV workforce. The same survey found that women accounted for just 23 percent of radio news directors and 18 percent of general managers.
It’s the same bad news around most of the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media surveyed more than 500 media companies in almost 60 countries, and found that men occupied 73 percent of the top management jobs.
The ouster of The New York Times’s Jill Abramson and Natalie Nougayrède’s resignation from Le Monde — which both took place on May 14 — made news, and prompted a quick, hot industry-wide conversation about the state of women in journalism. These very public departures were merely the latest sign that, with a few notable exceptions and in spite of years of work toward more diversity, men still run the industry.
As they do most. The Fortune 500 lists just 24 female CEOs. The Financial Post 500, Canada’s version, includes 26.
The results of this gender disparity in leadership are especially pernicious in journalism. To best serve the public as watchdogs and truth-tellers, news organizations need a broad array of voices and perspectives. To thrive financially, they must appeal to an equally broad array of potential viewers, listeners, and readers. Plus, content analyses and anecdotal evidence suggest that a newsroom leader’s gender can have a subtle but important influence on everything from what stories get covered and how, to who gets promoted and why.
Yet, despite overall historic gains and pockets of progress, women lag when it comes to leading. That has many senior female leaders as concerned and pessimistic as they have ever been, and worried that the new generation of digital start-ups is recreating many of the same gender imbalances that characterized old media. “What we’re seeing in media is part of a larger phenomenon for women in leadership in all sorts of fields,” says Melanie Sill, former editor at The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer and The Sacramento Bee and now vice president of content at the public radio station KPCC in Southern California. “We’re slipping, as an industry and maybe as a society, back to a place where women didn’t get the same opportunities and didn’t have the same influence.”