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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Media can't be unbiased with continuing gender bias

In any intro journalism course, students learn that journalists are "gatekeepers.” They have the responsibility of deciding which information gets out to the public. Unfortunately, they don't learn these gatekeepers happen to be disproportionately male. 

A recent survey of literary publications found that men dominated as the book reviewers as well as authors of books reviewed. Researching other statistics, I found that women make up just over a third of full-time staff at daily newspapers, with women of color only making up about 17 percent. Additionally, women make up only one-third of the top 100 syndicated opinion columnists.

Going more locally, on The Gainesville Sun contact page, the staff reporters are pretty much gender equal. However, only about one-fourth of the editors are female. At the UF College of Journalism and Communications, there is a pretty equal distribution of male and female professors; however, all department chairs are male. Nationally, women make up about 40 percent of teaching staff in journalism, but these usually are at lower ranks than male faculty. 

The realization that men dominated bylines so much especially surprised me as most of my journalism courses at UF have been disproportionately female. I don't expect the field of journalism to be apart from every other field in terms of historical male dominance, but it's troubling as its main objective is to be unbiased. And it's especially troubling that it still continues today with such slow growth. The percentage of women's jobs in newspaper jobs is roughly the same as it was 25 years ago.

Interestingly, this problem also applies to Wikipedia, where male contributors dominate. According to this New York Times article, the dominance reflects its entries. Sadly, only four paragraphs are allotted to the female-oriented friendship bracelets compared with much longer entries on the boy-oriented toy soldiers. 

The article partly attributes this to women's lack of confidence in their ideas. Says one source, “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies." 

I think this explanation definitely lends itself to the power dynamics of the journalism world. In addition to the difficulty of succeeding in the industry, females who do have a voice in the media can face threats of violence, as shown in the recent case of CBS journalist Lara Logan in Egypt. In this instance, gender impacted basic human security as well as reporting ability.  

So where do we go from here? If you notice an unequal number of male bylines in the news, let the publication know and write them. A new helpful site, Lady Journos, sheds light on articles written by women. 

Above all, have a heightened consciousness when reading, watching or listening to the news. For if we don't have a journalism workforce that is diverse and representative of the public, then journalism's main tenets — truth, objectivity and loyalty to its citizens — can't really be followed.

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