Skip to content

Why we need to get more women in UK newsrooms

March 5, 2011

The Women in Journalism group has released a depressing study coinciding with next Tuesday’s International Women’s Day revealing that just 33 per cent of editors on UK national newspapers are women – and just 30 per cent of reporters on the nationals are female.

In addition, the report’s survey of the UK’s top 28 national newspapers shows a pathetic mere four per cent per cent of sports journalists are women, while so-called ‘soft topics’ are also heavily covered by men, with 49 per cent of lifestyle reporters and 70 per cent of arts reporters being male.

Hello, newsdesk? Can I NOT be assigned a story on fluffy kittens?

“Broken down by topic, the split between men and women is evident. So-called ‘soft’ topics such as Lifestyle are the closest to parity, while News, Sport, Financial, and Politics contain disproportionate numbers of men. Columnists – widely viewed as agenda and opinion leaders – were also found to be primarily male,” the research adds. And this just the UK, the report does not cover global newsrooms or international newsrooms (and if anyone can point to such research let me know), but I have a feeling the results will be depressingly similar.

This is, quite frankly, appalling, and needs to be addressed. Notwithstanding the blindingly obvious need for proportional representation, I would have thought it obvious that news does not do well when it is written by a non-representative section of the population. And news will not be consumed if it does not reflect the population’s demography in turn.

I was a journalist for 11 years and will always consider myself one at heart, but in a time when the majority of journalism degree applicants are women (as discovered when it asked City University) it is cold comfort to them, and me, that they face a much smaller likelihood of entering into and thriving in the profession.

So why the lack of women in national newsrooms? Many point to the unsociable hours, the tendency of women to be pushed to so-called ‘lifestyle’ sections or feature desks, and particularly in some sections of the news media eg politics and sport, a boys club mentality (just ask Andy Gray and Richard Keys!) that excludes women, and of course the temerity of women to take time off when they have children.

Furthermore, as the report points out, the lack of women in senior positions is also a factor – it cites a recent EHRC report that notes only 11% of directorships of the top 100 FTSE companies are women-held.

Certainly in my experience of several newsdesks, the planning and features desks have been staffed more by women and this can partly be offset by the number of women in part-time work, but it does reflect a need to retain and encourage women who work in hard news.

So where do we go from here? We could start by beginning to reflect the diversity of this nation much more adequately in newsrooms – and calling out those who don’t – and I see no reason why more flexible working patterns for women cannot be improved upon.

But ultimately it’s about attitudes. Newsrooms will not change unless there is a commitment and buy in by editorial boards and media owners that they need to be more representative. Otherwise the attitudes of the likes of Keys and Gray – who let’s face it only suffered punishment because they were caught – will prevail.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: