Gender balance in the media still a global problem


White House Reporter April Ryan questioning Donald Trump. Photo/COURTESY
White House Reporter April Ryan questioning Donald Trump. Photo/COURTESY

Gender balance in the media – or rather the lack of it – is a global problem.

Regardless of the country or region, figures show that women have less of a voice in the news, whether they are subjects, sources or journalists.

But to solve the problem, we need to know the true scale of it.

That’s why a host of resources – from digital solutions and lo-fi tools to awareness-raising initiatives – are being created to track gender parity in the news as a first step to reversing the imbalance.

Gender balance has come to the forefront in numerous industries around the globe, thanks in part to social awareness campaigns like the #MeToo movement.

But when it comes to the news media, women are still under-represented by 3 to 1.

In the five years between 2010 and 2015, women only showed up 24percent of the time as content or sources in print, radio, television or online news, according to the Global Media Monitoring Project.

With the issue of gender equality trending the world over, media organizations and partners are joining forces to create solutions that monitor how often women appear in articles, as sources, content or as the journalists themselves.

These resources come in the form of digital trackers and high tech tools as well as the implementation of policies or awareness-raising campaigns. It’s all in an effort to change the news culture around the globe.

North America and Europe have been pioneers in gender tracking, with several digital tools available.

In Canada, Informed Opinions’ Gender Gap Tracker looks at the ratio of female to male sources quoted in online news across the country.

Users can select a date range and adjust a slider to track the progress of their favorite news sources over a given span of time.

In Sweden, developer Max Berggren has created a similar tool at Prognosis, to monitor Swedish, US and UK news sites. The results of the tracker are posted every 24 hours on Prognosis’ Twitter account.

In the United States, Bloomberg has taken the initiative to correct gender imbalance in its coverage.

Starting in 2018, the organization enhanced its news publishing software so that it could track the diversity of its stories.

The tool allows editors to put a tag every time an article features a woman source.

And the Financial Times, headquartered in London, created a tool last November that warns journalists when their articles quote too many men.

The bot was created after the news organisation found that just 21percent of the people quoted in the publication were women. Now, section editors are alerted if they’re not doing enough to use women sources.

Non-profits are getting on board to create gender-tracking resources as well.

United for News, a global coalition of media, private industry and NGOs, is using awareness-raising, advocacy and support to improve the numbers on gender.

They recently announced pilot programs in Canada, Iraq and Ukraine to address the lack of gender diversity in the news.

UNESCO, with the support of Cambridge University Press, has developed a sports media-focused gender equality Chrome extension called ‘Her Headline’, which does a quick scan of sports articles and highlights gender-biased words and phrases.

And WAN-IFRA’s Women in News programme (WIN) is preparing to launch a free online app by mid-2019 – the WIN Gender Tracker.

It’s being developed as two versions: one for journalists and one for media organizations.

While journalists will be able to run their articles through the app to understand how gender balanced their content is and where to make improvements, media organisations will be able to regularly analyze larger datasets from their digital content and track progress over time.

“This isn’t a public media monitoring exercise,” says WIN’s Director Melanie Walker.

“It is a tool specifically for journalists and media organizations to use internally, to allow them to monitor gender balance in their content so that they understand how to improve it,” she adds.

Tools and bots are well and good, but what if media organisations don’t have the means or know-how to create digital solutions?

At VK Media in Sweden, journalists and editors have been doing things the old-fashioned way to keep track of gender balance.

Since 2002, the media organization has been measuring the gender of main characters in the print edition of its stories by simple counting methods, after a study showed that women were only the primary character in news stories 23percent of the time while women represented 51percent of readers.

“The first three months we counted main characters every day in every story in every section on every page,” says Marie-Louise Jarlenfors, COO of Digital at VK Media. “That was the winning formula for us.”

In the first six months, women as main characters in articles at VK Media jumped to 38percent and now, that number is up to 49percent.

And in the UK, the BBC has run its 50:50 Challenge since January 2017 as a way to ensure gender balance in the expert voices used across its channels.

The challenge looks at bylines, references and photographs when calculating how many women and men are represented in a news piece.

What started with their Outside Source programme has now expanded to programmes such as BBC News at Six and Ten and The One Show, and the BBC’s director-general has announced a target of an equal amount of men and women expert voices across all of its programmes and websites by April 2019.

The 50:50 challenge is now being piloted by news organisations in Europe and the US.

Strong gender balance strategies are essential

Other news organisations are sticking to more traditional methods of ensuring gender balance in their newsrooms – proving that you don’t need tools and trackers to shift the gender balance.

At India’s Mint, a strong ethics policy has ensured that 50percent of the publication’s journalists are women, including the 16-member leadership team.

The editorial team also works to ensure that gender makes its way into content on a regular basis.

To encourage media organisations to make gender balance in the news a common practice, non-profits are working to offer resources and tools for journalists and editors.

Awareness-raising is often a first step for those who don’t know where to start.

Who Makes the News, an information and resource portal, hosts the Global Media Monitoring Project, the world’s longest running research and advocacy initiative that works to promote gender equality in the media.

Free Press Unlimited has created a Gender Equality Policy of tools and operational plans for organisations to use to ensure gender balance.

And Chicas Poderosas, an NGO that works across Latin America, the US and Europe, provides women with new media skills.

Hope for the future

The race to gender equality has begun, and with so many resources available – from tools and trackers to editorial policy – we as an industry look set to see major changes.

With the efforts of all – from managers and CEOs to journalists and editors – great things can happen in the name of gender balance in the media.

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Story By Allan Irungu
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