Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Women short-changed as newsrooms shrink

A headline today on an online op-ed, "Still Missing: Women in the Media," spurred me to crunch some of the census numbers released this week by the American Society of News Editors.

By my estimates, women have lost ground in the country's newsrooms over the past decade, accounting this year for 36.6 percent of the overall work force at newspapers and their Web sites, vs. 37.1 percent in 2000. In real numbers, that's 15,180 women working today as supervisors, reporters, photographers, videographers, page designers, online producers and copy editors, vs. 20,876 in 2000.

What's more, that decade-ago total for women is still less than the number of white men alone -- 23,249 -- currently working in newsrooms. (The ASNE numbers are here.) Men today comprise 63 percent of the work force in U.S. newsrooms, with the vast majority of them white.

The census has been conducted annually by ASNE since the late 1970s in an effort to track newsroom diversity. And the numbers released this week showed that minorities lost ground as layoffs and buyouts continued at newspapers battered by the recession. That prompted UNITY: Journalists of Color Inc., the umbrella group for Asian American, Hispanic, black and Native American journalists' associations, to ask ASNE to help "rebuild our newsrooms with diversity as a key strategic value."

I couldn't find any similar call from women's press clubs, which have lobbied on behalf of female journalists for decades. (Note that it was only in 1998 that ASNE voted to include a count of women in the annual minority survey of newsrooms.)

But the "Still Missing" op-ed proffered other grievances: that fewer women are interviewed for news stories; that they aren't as sought after for commentary; that they own very few of the country's radio and TV outlets; that they're underrepresented on the boards of media companies jockeying for dominance.

Yet the author's overarching worry that women are being marginalized could easily have enveloped the newsroom census, too: "Sure, we’ve made great strides -- we’ve got Rachel Maddow and Katie Couric and Oprah. But our work for gender equality in the media is far from over. It’s as important as ever to tie the media reform movement to the advancement of women."

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