The Media Gender Gap: Gender and Racial Inequality Persist in the Newsroom


Gender inequality in America’s newsrooms continues across all media platforms: Men overall receive 65 percent of news bylines and credits, while women receive 34 percent.

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Freelance photojournalist Mariana Vincenti. (Courtesy of IWMF)

People are often shocked when I tell them I probably got my first job in television because of a U.S. government incentive—the closest the U.S. has ever come to a quota system that tracked the numbers of women and minorities (at that time) who were hired by media companies operating with public licenses, such as local television and radio stations. 

This was 1972 and part of the Equal Opportunity Act programs to improve representation in what was, somewhat ironically, called “mass media” then. Nothing nearly so massive (or dangerous) as today’s truly mass media companies. As a result of the government incentive, nearly every local TV station hired at least one woman and one person of color.

I was among those first women who got the opportunity—and the challenge—to prove better representation meant better news, more inclusive programming and more viewers. We are still trying to prove that responsible media must include diverse voices and perspectives—stories and experiences from every community; analysis and opinions from every perspective.

The numbers of both women and people of color have improved of course, but a recent report from the Women’s Media Center (WMC)—a nonprofit founded by Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan and Jane Fonda to monitor representation—found that, regrettably, gender and racial equity in media is going in the wrong direction. With a few exceptions, gender inequality in America’s newsrooms continues across all media platforms as men overall receive 65 percent of news bylines and credits, while women receive only 34 percent.

Some of the key findings: Prime time weekday evening news broadcasts are the most equitable, while print newspapers and wires are the least.

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WMC researchers analyzed 62,002 pieces of content from January 1 through March 31, 2021 for 30 news outlets across four platforms: print newspaper, online news, broadcast network and cable TV news and wire services in the U.S. (Divided 2021: The Media Gender Gap)

“The Women’s Media Center found that, during this moment of newsroom reckoning, men still dominate when reporting the news. Women are more than half of the population, yet it’s men who are telling most of the stories. As a result, the news media is missing out on major stories, readers and viewers and important perspectives. The gender gap is real. We hope the industry will take heed and implement meaningful change.”

Julie Burton, president and CEO of the Women’s Media Center


The Good News: Broadcast News Reaches Parity

On average, men and women report equally on prime time weekday evening news broadcasts on seven major broadcast and cable networks. MSNBC, PBS and CBS all featured more than 60 percent women; ABC had the fewest women at only 28 percent.

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News broadcasts anchored or hosted by women tend to have more reporting by women than broadcasts anchored or hosted by men.

  • MSNBC’s The ReidOut, with host Joy Reid: 70 percent women, 30 percent men.
  • PBS NewsHour, where Judy Woodruff is anchor and managing editor: 66 percent women, 34 percent men.
  • CBS Evening News, where Norah O’Donnell is the anchor and managing editor: 61 percent women, 39 percent men.
  • CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront: 53 percent women, 47 percent men.
  • The exception is Fox News’ The Story, with host Martha MacCallum: 39 percent women; 61percent men.
  • Of the seven news broadcasts, ABC’s World News Tonight, anchored by David Muir, had the fewest women at 28 percent.

The Bad News: Print Still Lags Behind

The WMC commissioned the first Divided Media Report back in 2014. That study analyzed a different mix of print publications, but the findings for the category (63 percent men, 37 percent women) were better than this year’s findings (69 percent men, 31 percent women).

Digging into the numbers, we can see some newspapers have improved over the years, though maybe not as quickly as we might hope. The New York Times, for instance, was the most “divided” publication back in 2014 with 70 percent men, 30 percent women. In 2021, it rose to the top of the stack with a 59 percent men, 41 percent women breakdown. Still not parity, but measurable improvement nonetheless. 

Meanwhile, newspapers that were doing better than others in the 2014 report, such as the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times have fallen in representation, with the WSJ going from 43 percent of stories written by women to only 33 percent this year. The LA Times went from 35 percent of bylines being crafted by women to 19 percent in 2021.

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News broadcasts anchored or hosted by women tend to have more reporting by women than broadcasts anchored or hosted by men. (Donald Tong / Pexels)

Unpacking the Numbers

Why aren’t we making much progress? Many of the barriers to advancement women in newsrooms are facing today are the same ones that have existed for decades—the pandemic has only amplified them. Newsrooms have always had a 24/7 culture which rewards those who can work long hours and can adjust their schedules on the fly when news breaks. Primary caregivers, who are mostly women, are forced to choose between child care responsibilities and career advancement.

I faced this impossible choice many times as a single mother working in media companies at a time when we quite literally “hid” photos of our children and suppressed the struggle. The struggle persists today and many women decide to leave the profession due to burnout.

Newsrooms have always had a 24/7 culture which rewards those who can work long hours and can adjust their schedules on the fly when news breaks. Primary caregivers—mostly women—are forced to choose between child care responsibilities and career advancement.

The question of whether media leads or mirrors cultural, economic, political trends is still a subject for debate; i.e., the media’s impact on the current polarization, an increase in violence and even the rise in mental health challenges, to name just a few of our current societal challenges. But one aspect of media that is seldom doubted or up for debate: its power.

The media has the power to misrepresent or underrepresent and the power to inform or misinform. This power is still primarily being directed by one gender and one race—from the top levels of ownership of media (and technology companies, which are certainly today’s “mass” media as they control our newsfeeds) throughout the ranks of journalists and news management executives. This mirrors, regrettably, the underrepresentation of women and people of color at COP 26, where the news of what is happening is of essential importance to every human being on the planet.

It’s no surprise that when dictators seize power or coups attempt to overthrow democracies, media is a frontline player. For example, the Taliban’s attempts to control the internet and media to complete their takeover in Afghanistan or the role of social media in the attempt to take over the U.S. Capitol building last January. The power of all media must be acknowledged and in my opinion, better regulated as the original “mass” media of TV and radio (and what used to be called “cable”) once were—and to some extent, still are.

As consumers of media and citizens of a democracy, we must always be mindful of who owns the media; who reports and produces what we consume; and whose voices, perspectives and opinions are heard, viewed and shared, because it matters.

The power to hold media accountable is, quite literally, in our hands.

This article originally appeared on Pat Mitchell Media.

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