Why do men still dominate the content of newspapers?

In a couple of weeks, I will be delivering my first lecture of a new term to students taking the MA course in journalism at City, University of London. I will look out from the podium to a sea of women. More than half of the 300-strong cohort, probably 60%, will be female. Since I joined the university 14 years ago, the male-female ratio has gradually changed in favour of women.


The same change has occurred among the undergraduate intake too and this appears to hold true across all universities that offer journalism courses. The university admissions service, UCAS, noted the fact in a 2015 report.

It is fair to say that the number of women working in journalism has increased substantially in this century. But whether it has advanced sufficiently, and whether the change in the gender balance has effected newsroom output, are moot points.

Looking solely at national newspapers, it would appear that many women now hold senior executive posts (although, of the 12 daily titles, only two have female editors). The appearance is certainly deceptive.

Even more difficult to discern is the relative lack of power and influence women exert within the editorial hierarchy and, therefore, over content.

Several research studies suggest that women’s advance up the newsroom ladder has not been matched by any perceptible change in output. Among the most notable surveys is one produced in 2012 by the campaigning group Women in Journalism (WiJ) and another by Suzanne Franks, head of the journalism department at City, about gender disparity in newsrooms. They indicate problems in both content and staffing.

Now comes yet another report by the European Journalism Observatory, that underlines what those studies discovered: men continue to rule the newsprint offices of mainstream media.

Based on a content analysis of seven recent print issues at four national titles, the researchers (Caroline Lees and Hannah Anson) found that most of the news, business and comment articles were written by men.* And most of photographs on the news, business and comment pages were of men.

Their survey of bylines and photos in The Times, Financial Times, The Guardian and the Daily Mail revealed that 65% of all articles in the news and business sections were written by male journalists. And more than 77% of comment articles were written by men.

There were, of course, differences between each paper. For example, none of the Mail’s comment articles were written by women compared to 11% in the FT; 33% in The Times; and 51% in The Guardian.

As for news and business reports, the Daily Mail had the largest number of female bylines at 41%, followed by The Guardian (40%), the FT (31%) and The Times, with the lowest at 25%.

The photographic survey figures were also revealing, if somewhat predictable. Half were of men alone; 32% were of women and the rest pictured both men and women.

One surprising fact about the FT where, overall, some 65% of the photos were of men compared to 18% of women. In one issue, which featured five pictures of women, the researchers say that three of them showed scantily-dressed women, “including one of a porn actress”.

Lees and Anson also refer to the studies I mentioned earlier, which show that despite more females than males are now entering the trade of journalism, men appear to have higher-profile roles as their careers progress.

They also point to a 2016 Reuters Institute study of 700 UK journalists, which found that female journalists are “less well remunerated than men and are under-represented in senior positions”. Why should this be?

According to Franks, senior jobs in journalism are usually not done by women with family responsibilities because they are too demanding, most obviously in terms of the expected work-hours.

Her argument is supported by an unnamed experienced female staffer on a national paper who is quoted by Lees and Anson as saying that her male news editor “only employs people that look like him, are prepared to put work first – and it helps to be happy to work till 2am where necessary”.

Anyone who has worked at a senior level in a national paper knows that to be true. Rules that exist in other jobs about limits to hours just do not hold sway.

Indeed, the whole business about Stakhanovite zealotry is some kind of macho obsession in newspapers. Perspiration is too often valued above inspiration. Few women want to take part in this absurd game.

But it doesn’t entirely account for the way in which men still dominate the content of newspapers. The EJO study confirms what WiJ has found previously and it will, I suspect, do so again in its upcoming study, entitled “The Tycoon and the Escort”, which will be presented at the LSE next week.**

If we want to obtain a better insight, I think we need more analysis of the internal dynamics of newsrooms.    

*The EJO research considered news and comment articles, plus photos, in seven editions of the FT, Times, Guardian and Mail, one in May and the rest in August 2017. (Sport was excluded).

 **The report will be unveiled next Tuesday, 19 September, at the LSE. It is free to attend. Details here.

 *The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not IPSO*