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March 10 2010

12:58

March 08 2010

17:32

#IWD: Why do men dominate newspaper letter pages?

It has always fascinated me why male names dominate the readers’ letter pages in newspapers, the original home for crowdsourced comment. What’s more, it’s a trend that plays out online too: men are already significantly noisier on Google Buzz, for example, and dominate online comment in subjects like politics and media.

I was pleased to discover around this time last year that the unequal gender split bothered one @patroclus too (aka writer Fiona Campbell-Howes) who actually set about documenting the trend in 2008 with the blog Guardianletters.blogspot.com/.

She never got any real answers from the newspapers she studied and eventually she let the blog run dry. But the old posts are still there to see, with some revealing graphs, too. The chart below, for example, shows the percentage split between men, women and indiscriminate for April-May 2008 at the Guardian and Observer.

Most recently, the theme was picked up by Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in January 2010.

“Why is the letters page, of whichever newspaper you care to choose, invariably dominated by men?” the programme asked. The Observer has actually called for more women to write in.

Jenni Murray talked to Stephen Pritchard, readers’ editor at the Observer, and Sarah Sands, deputy editor of the London Evening Standard. Pritchard and Sands seemed to agree that time was a crucial factor – maybe women had less of it. Sands also identified a reluctance on the part of women to declare their opinion publicly.

But does the lack of time and innate modesty theory really hold true, when we look at the amount of female time spent, and number of views shared, on MumsNet, or fashion and food blogs and forums?

I’d be interested to see some more research in this area. It’s a theme that journalist Gaby Hinsliff picks up on in her introductory post for today’s International Women’s Day themed LabourList. Of political blogging, she says “there are too many women waiting to be invited to blog, where men just pile in”.

Like Hinsliff, I’m reluctant to see female-only gimmicks used to remedy the situation, but simultaneously intrigued by the louder male voice, a phenomenon that may be key in understanding why men dominate executive boards across so many industries. Yes, we have a lot of female journalists in the newsroom, but only a handful of women make it to the top levels of the media industry – and even fewer become CEO or editor.

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15:58

#IWD: Chie Elliott – ‘Sidelining of TV’s older women could be reflective of society’s warped views’

Blogger and freelance journalist Chie Elliott (@orangeblossomer) has written a wide-ranging piece to mark International Women’s Day and its relevance to the media/publishing industries. The post can be read in full on her own blog at this link.

It wasn’t that long ago that BBC boss Mark Thompson came under fire for replacing a mature female judge in a popular dance show with a pop star 36 years her junior.

The fact that in television, older, grey-haired male presenters carry on commanding respect well into their retirement age, whereas their female counterparts get sidelined as their age starts to show, could be a reflection of a society’s warped views about women, and not exclusive to the industry.

Women’s value and employability should not be conditional to age or appearance, but women in highly visible jobs such as television or film, do not always seem to have a choice. Anna Ford, a journalist worshipped by her male peers as something nearing a sex goddess in her heyday, decided to retire in April 2006, at 62, saying:

“I might have been shovelled off into News 24 to the sort of graveyard shift.”

The BBC’s  drive to recruit older female newsreaders, announced soon after the Strictly Come Dancing judge swap saga, strikes me as laughable. I can visualise a screaming headline: “Older women join ethnic minorities and the disabled under positive discrimination scheme.” Or, more bluntly, as The Independent put it: “Must be Female. Young Need Not Apply”.

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13:47

#IWD: Sarah Booker – ‘Journalism is a profession where anyone can prove themselves’

This post, written by regional journalist Sarah Booker, to mark International Women’s Day, is also posted on her blog: SarahBooker.wordpress.com.

Judge people on merit. That’s a philosophy I’ve always had and how I judge others.

As a teenager I opted to study physics at O-level, rather than biology, purely because it was a “boys subject”. It didn’t matter that I’d come top of the year in biology, I had a point to make. We girls were encouraged to challenge gender stereotypes and consider careers in engineering.

Those of us who didn’t take this road were confident enough to fulfil our ambitions. During my years as a journalist some of the most inspirational people I have worked with have been women.

Part of me feels lucky as I have never felt discriminated against in the newsroom. Any sexism I have experienced has been in jest and not bullying. Jokes about not understanding the off-side rule, or the line “of course I forget you are a girl”, are brushed off with a laugh.

I have worked as the only woman in a news team, and been part of a female dominated newspaper office. Many of the journalists I admire who report on and work in online journalism are women.

However, at meetings with other Johnston Press web editors I’m frequently the only woman. I have always felt welcomed and valued at these meetings, bringing my take on various issues, and suggesting new ideas.

All of us are there on merit, and judged on merit, and that’s all that matters. I’ve always thought journalism is a profession where anyone can prove themselves. Women are in positions of power throughout the industry, which suggests there is no glass ceiling here.

I just hope girls growing up today see their future in terms of what they find interesting and can do, rather than what is expected based on a chromosome.

Does Sarah’s view fit in with your own observations and experiences? Please do leave a comment about your own thoughts on women in journalism, to mark today’s International Women’s Day.

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12:23

#IWD: Gaby Hinsliff – ‘Too many women waiting to be invited to blog, where men just pile in’

Former Observer political editor Gaby Hinsliff, explains why she has taken on the task of guest-editing LabourList for the day, to mark International Women’s Day. She says “there too many women waiting to be invited to blog, where men just pile in”. Guest-editing allowed her the chance to give new writers and fresh perspectives an airing, she writes.

Read her post in full at this link. An extract:

I’m generally suspicious of anything wimmin-only: it smacks of condescension. My first instinct was to commission something about why a female-only blogging day is a rotten idea.

(…)

My only rule was that the writing should stand on its argument, not its author. Ideally you wouldn’t even notice they were all female: after all, did you notice that every single byline here last weekend was male?

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March 05 2010

14:55

Calling journalists to blog on International Women’s Day (Monday 8 March)

On Monday 8 March, it’s International Women’s Day, a global day “celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future,” partnered by Thomson Reuters.

To mark the occasion, Sky News is having a day of female-led broadcasting. The broadcaster announced:
“From sunrise to midnight, the news channel will be presented and produced exclusively by women in support of the globally renowned day, which honours the economic, political and social achievements of women with hundreds of events around the world.”

Reuters will be liveblogging here: http://live.reuters.com/Event/International_Womens_Day_2010_2

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on media owners “to take steps to raise women’s profile in the news, both as professionals and as news topics,” ahead of its survey to be released in Bahrain on Monday.

“The situation is deplorable,” said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary. “Media organisations remain dominated by men the world over. Women must be given equal access to leadership. When that happens it will create a sea change in the news agenda and the way media professionals are treated.”

Here at Journalism.co.uk (where the editorial staff is predominantly female anyway), we thought it might be fun to host some themed comment on our blog. If you (male or female!) have a relevant post you’re burning to write, please let us know and we can publish it here – or link to your site/blog. Please contact judith [at] journalism.co.uk or leave a comment below.

  • Which parts of the industry are particularly male-dominated? Does it matter?
  • Has online technology helped balance the gender-split?
  • What would you like to see change within the industry?
  • What are your observations of male-female divide in the workplace?

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