On January 18th, Andrew Alexander published a column on the Ombudsman Blog (which addresses readers concerns about the Washington Post) about the domination of male writers among Post letters to the editor.
According to Alexander, the Post published nearly three times more letters written by men than women. But according to Letters and Local Opinions Editor Michael Larabee, who oversees the selection process, this discrepancy reflects the pool of letters submitted, not a gender bias on behalf of the Post. Neither Larabee nor Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt believe that the Post should set a quota for the editorial pages at 50-50, because it wouldn’t be a true reflection of the letters submitted. As to why the submissions are predominantly male, neither Editor ventured a hypothesis.
The post is not alone in this conundrum. A brief glance over the weekly tallies of the Byline survey posted on this blog reveals a stark imbalance across many major news publications. The OpEd Project’s mission, to expand the range of foices we hear from in the world, with an immediate focus on increasing the volume of women thought leaders in the public sphere, is directly targeted at tipping this imbalance.
Interestingly, the Post sees its primary interest in publishing more female writers as a way to draw female readership back. According to Alexander’s column, a 2008 internal report prepared for Post managers by a Female Readership Committee, consisting of about a dozen staffers, said, “the drop in female readership was noted in 1996 and began accelerating in 2003.” Creating a more diverse editorial page may indeed reverse that trend.
In a few weeks, the OpEd Project will be publishing the results of a 3-month long Byline Survey of the opinion pages of major news publications, including the Washington Post. Be sure to stay tuned for those results, and if you have any thoughts on why so few women seem to submit opinion-pieces, please venture to test them here in the comments section!