Hello everyone, this is Taryn (quant geek intern). For those of you who were missing the Byline Survey reports, it’s back and it’s bad (in the good way). In this phase of the survey, we’re going to delve a bit deeper into the data on women’s op-ed writing in an attempt to construct a more detailed picture of whose voices are being heard. For this 3 month survey we’ll be documenting op-eds from 3 traditional media outlets, 2 new media outlets and 4 university outlets. Later in the year we’ll be looking into who is being represented among additional demographic groups: race / ethnicity, age, income bracket, and education level.
So, let’s begin with a summary of what women and men have been writing lately.
In the week of September 15th to the 21st, Yale led the pack with a highly respectable 47% of op-eds written by women, while the WSJ trailed in last place with an unimpressive 12%. These proportions are in keeping with previous byline research. But there’s more!
Some very interesting things happen when we break down these basic female-to-male ratios in major news outlets. By dissecting this data, we are able to differentiate staff columnists from unsolicited contributors, and general topics from “Pink” topics – the topical spheres that compose what some media critics refer to as the “pink ghetto” because women have historically been confined within them.
For the purposes of this survey, a Pink topic will be defined as: 1.) anything that falls into what was once known as “the four F’s”: food, family (relationships, children, sex), furniture (home), and fashion, 2.) women-focused subject matter, e.g. woman-specific health or culture, 3.) gender / women’s issues, 4.) a profile of a woman or her work in which her gender is a significant issue of the piece.
As the above table shows, a quick glance at the NYT’s op-ed page would be misleading, because although 22% of op-eds were by women, 32% of non-staff op-eds were from women. However, those women published were far more likely to write about “pink topics” than staff writers were (minus “pink issues” = 16%). The above table also shows that when we remove staff writers from the mix, women accounted for only 4% of op-eds published by the WSJ. Finally, this table indicates that the Huffington Post’s relatively high percentage of op-eds by women, 34%, does not tell the whole story; when controlling for “pink issues” only 27% of women weighed in on general topics.
I must point out that we don’t consider “pink” topics any less important than general topics. We are simply isolating this content in an attempt to gain a better sense of how women are contributing to the general public discourse and to observe the extent to which women have broken out of the “pink ghetto”.
It is also important to note that the “pink topics”, like all other categorizations made in this survey, are subjective and that they often have indistinct boundaries. Despite these limitations, we anticipate that this effort to taxonomize and quantify the data will shed some much needed light on whose ideas are being broadcast on a mass scale.
*Subjects are not tabulated for university news outlets due to the prevalence of campus-related content.
** Many articles have more than one classification
A couple of other interesting finding (illustrated in the above chart) are that in new media women are better represented in a variety of subjects and they are far more likely to cover Pink subjects. This elevated activity reflects research on social media that shows women are online more often than men, and that they use social media and participate in blogging with much greater frequencies than men do.
On Monday I’ll be catching you up on the most recent numbers. We will see in the weeks ahead what else these disaggregated figures have to say – if they change their tunes or are expressions of larger patterns.