Tuesday, 24 September 2013

(Still) not enough women in media

Written by

There’s been a huge amount of commentary about the lack of women in the new federal cabinet. Most, in fact nearly all, of that comment is by the male writers who dominate the media. How has the gender imbalance changed over the last year?

At the end of 2012 Chrys Stevenson conducted a detailed analysis of the gender balance in Australia’s major newspapers. As an adjunct to her article, The Tribune also published a review of the gender balance in what was then the three main online opinion/analysis sites – Crikey, The Drum and New Matilda. We also included The Tribune because it would have been disingenuous and petty to ignore our own publication.

The results in October/November 2012 were not good.

  • 14% of the 308 articles on the Crikey emails between 15th October and 9th November were written by women
  • 25% of the 157 articles published on ABC’s The Drum between 1st October and 7th November were written by women.
  • 31% of the 72 articles sent out on the New Matilda emails between 2nd October and 13th November were written by women
  • 39% of the 238 articles published in the last 12 issues of The King’s Tribune were written by women.

Almost every major media outlet in Australia has published articles recently about the gender balance (or lack of it) in the new Government front bench, so it seemed like a good time to see how things have changed (or not) in our own backyards.

Of the 100 articles published up to 23rd September 2013:

  • 14% of the articles on Crikey were written by women
  • 30% of the articles on The Drum were written by women
  • 38% of the articles on New Matilda were written by women
  • 55% of the articles on The King’s Tribune were written by women

New Matilda has improved some, The Drum has improved slightly, Crikey hasn’t moved at all and The Tribune has made significant progress.

So this is awkward.

The last thing we want to do is to set ourselves up as judge and jury on this matter. But we also don't think we should ignore the issue. Apart from being a legitimate story in its own right, it is simply the case that unless we, as an industry, face the matter of gender imbalance head-on, nothing will ever change. We can't just not talk about it and hope it will improve on its own.

The Tribune has the greatest respect for all the publications mentioned above and, as we’ve said before, we don’t think of other independent media as competition, they’re allies in our efforts to present readers with a better alternative to the mainstream publications.

Crikey and New Matilda, in particular, are battling, as are all small independent media outlets, to maintain their high quality content under more and more constrained income. They’ve both produced some outstanding works of journalism and it sits ill with us to undermine their efforts.

However, it was nearly a year ago that we published the first article about the gender balance in what were then the major opinion/analysis sites (and it’s an interesting side note how that list has expanded in less than a year). The editors of all those outlets knew their gender balance was a problem and that it needed to be addressed.

The Tribune made it a priority to change the gender balance in our publication. Without ever needing to compromise on quality, we made a deliberate effort to cultivate talented female writers and establish ongoing relationships with the best of them. The results speak for themselves.

In the article published last year, we acknowledged the difficulties in finding experienced or expert female writers, particularly in the politics, media, foreign affairs and business/economics areas, which is where most articles in Crikey and New Matilda are concentrated.

Obviously this has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with a systemic bias against women in so-called “hard” media topics. This bias is self-reinforcing as inexperienced female writers find it easier to get published on “soft” topics; senior and executive level positions in most industries are heavily weighted towards men (meaning recognised experts are more likely to be male) and editors look for well-known writers to boost their publication’s standing. Thus female writers are regularly steered into soft media stories and male writers become the recognised and experienced names in the hard areas.

Crikey and New Matilda, who rightly pride themselves on only publishing opinion and analysis from experienced journalists or recognised experts, have a difficult time finding a wide range women in this category. The pressure of daily publication and short deadlines make this even more difficult.

The Tribune publishes more articles on gender and feminist issues (16% to 8% or less in the other outlets) and pop culture topics. It’s not difficult to find qualified women to write on such subjects, so it was easier for us to find a balance. We also publish only once a week (as opposed to daily at Crikey and The Drum) and fewer articles in a week than New Matilda. This gives us more time, flexibility and resources to find a wider variety of writers.

None of this is making up excuses for perpetuating a gender imbalance, it is simply recognising the difficulties involved. But it is important, now more so than ever, that women have a greater voice in public debate and criticism of politics and media. The dearth of female voices won’t ever change until we make a concerted effort to change it. While still acknowledging that our style of publication makes this task easier than it would be for New Matilda and Crikey, it is discouraging to see that there was no improvement at all at Crikey and minimal improvement at the other outlets.

Crikey is arguably the best of all the independent media outlets. Bernard Keane is one of Australia’s best political analysts, Guy Rundle is unique in his ability to combine lyrical prose with political insight and First Dog on the Moon is incomparable. But surely it couldn’t be difficult for them to find equally exceptional women to contribute regularly to their content?

New Matilda also has a long history of producing outstanding work. They are dedicated to the sort of analysis and reporting that are all too often ignored by the mainstream media. And we recognise that they too have been bringing awareness of the shortage of female writers in Australian media to public attention. And that they have made an effort to increase the number of female writers they’ve commissioned. Given the difficulties noted above, this is a laudable effort.

ABC’s The Drum has less excuse. They have access to all the talented writers and journalists at the ABC and do not suffer the same financial or resources constraints that put so much pressure on the small independent outlets. There is also a valid argument to be made that, given they are funded by the taxpayers, they have an obligation to represent all of them.

If the media is going to have credibility in criticising the dearth of women on the coalition front bench, we need to be sure that we are not suffering the same imbalance ourselves.

We, in the independent media, pride ourselves on doing many things the mainstream can’t or won’t do. The shortage of women in media has long been an issue. It’s well past time to change that. It’s even well past time to just talk about changing it. It’s just time to just fix it.


The Tribune asked The Drum, Crikey and New Matilda if they wanted to comment on the lack of women in online media. Responses from The Drum and Crikey are below. At the time of publication we have not had a response from NM, but given that the request was made on short notice, this is not a reflection of anything other than the time pressure that we are all under.

Chip Rolley, Editor of The Drum:

The Drum is certainly aware of the problem and we do make efforts to increase the number of women's voices. But sadly we still fall well short of the mark.

While we are not completely reliant on unsolicited submissions, a major factor is that men submit to the Drum more than women – by a margin of two to one. There are many times as an editor when you need to rely on the submissions. Do we say no to a piece in hand that is timely, well-written, on the news of the day and ready to publish in favour of commissioning a piece where someone might or might not have the time to write for us?

Jason Whittaker, Editor of Crikey:

The Crikey newsroom is dominated by women – from our publisher, deputy editor and two other staff journalists – and as an important voice in Australian media accepts the responsibility to put forward a diverse range of writers and opinion. There are not enough female voices on Crikey pages – no question -- and we strive for a better balance every day.

But Crikey isn’t an opinion site that works to quotas. Our issues-driven coverage is largely delivered by in-house journalists who we happen to think are pretty good – be it our Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane, media reporter Matthew Knott or senior journalist Andrew Crook. If and when we can take on more reporters it will obviously be a consideration.


Notes on the Data Collection:

The last 100 articles from The King’s Tribune, New Matilda, Crikey and The Drum were used for the analysis. The publications produce content at different rates, so the spread over time is not the same for each outlet.

Topics are subjective. An article on the lack of women on the Coalition front bench could fit into politics or gender. An article about female journalists in the Press Gallery could be politics, gender or media. We tried to use broad categories and classify them by the main thrust of the article, but this is a matter of perception and could be disputed.

Some articles had two writers. In this case we used the gender of the first writer rather than count the articles twice. In the data set we used, there were no articles co-written by male and female writers.

Some articles did not include a byline (eg: Crikey’s Tips and Rumours) so these articles were not included in the analysis.

We did not include cartoons from any publications in the analysis.

Two writers in New Matilda could not be identified as male or female and were excluded from the analysis.

The full data set is available in spreadsheet format from the attachment link below.


Jane Gilmore

Jane Gilmore is the editor of The King's Tribune.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @JaneTribune