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News orgs mark International Women's Day (but there's still a long way to go)

News orgs mark International Women's Day (but there's still a long way to go)

Today is International Women’s Day, but while we are surrounded by examples of inspiring female journalists – Marie Colvin, killed in Syria last month, for one – many news organisations still have a long way to go when it comes to supporting their female members.

A study by VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts compared the number of bylines published in major literary magazines by women and by men and found that the majority are dominated by male voices. Bylines at the London Review of Books were 14% female last year, said VIDA. At the New York Review of Books, just 12.5% of articles in 2011 were written by women. Granta, which was 53% female, was the only exception to the rule.

The Columbia Journalism Review reported earlier this week that the percentage of female bylines at most of the magazines in VIDA’s study isn’t just small; it’s shrinking. Comparing the 2011 VIDA data with that of 2010 showed that the proportion of stories written by female journalists had fallen at The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books and the Boston Review.

These issues aren’t of course confined to literary magazines. Kira Cochrane at the Guardian published an article at the end of last year suggesting that, over the course of a four-week study, 78% of newspaper articles in major British dailies were written by men, 72% of contributors on BBC Question Time were men, and 84% of those who appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Show were men.

What is to be done? Some believe quotas are a solution. In Germany, a group of influential female journalists launched a campaign named ProQuote at the end of last month to demand that a quota be introduced to ensure that at least 30% of executive positions in the German journalism industry are filled by women.

According to ProQuote, currently only 2% of the editors-in-chief at Germany’s roughly 360 daily and weekly newspapers are female. The group’s petition currently has 2,184 signatories, among them influential figures like the TV presenter Anne Will.

In Britain, another petition has been launched to demand that at least 30% of the “experts” used in news reports by the BBC, ITN and Sky are women. The petition has 525 signatures.

The UK National Union of Journalists, itself led by a woman, is organising a meeting as part of the Trade Union Congress Women’s Conference next week to discuss sexism in the media industry. The union has publicized the event under the headline “sisterhood and solidarity on Internation[al] Women’s Day”.

German tabloid BILD has taken a very different tack to mark the 8th March. The popular German daily has given all its female workers the day off, and the paper will be produced entirely by men. The idea is not entirely new: on International Women’s Day in 2006, the paper performed the same experiment the other way around and handed responsibility for the publication exclusively over to women. Kai Diekmann, Bild’s editor-in-chief, has said that the purpose of this year’s initiative is to “sensitise the newsroom to the fact that men and women are more creative and achieve more when they work together”.

As these campaigns and petitions take place, many involved with the news industry have used International Women’s Day as a chance to remind their readers of the impressive achievements of female journalists. The International News Safety Institute has published a book titled 'No Woman's Land: On the Frontlines with Female Reporters', documenting the experiences of women filing stories from warzones. Over 30 female journalists have contributed to the publication, and profits from the book will go towards safety training for women reporters.

WAN-IFRA has published an article by Riham Abu Atyah, describing the inspiring experiences of three young, female, Palestinian journalists who have achieved great success within Arab satellite broadcasting.

Sources: VIDA, CJR, Guardian, ProQuote, WAN-IFRA (1) (2),


Hannah Vinter


2012-03-08 19:03

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