New York Times Bylines Sideline Women
Writing for the New York Times is considered one of the top jobs in journalism, and the paper’s front page is one of the most prestigious places to land a story. A week-long survey of bylines suggests that despite years of effort by women to break into this exclusive realm, it's still largely a man's world.
Women made up nearly 40 percent of all daily reporters in 2003, according to the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) survey released in April. But just 32 percent of the Times' reporters are women, according to Toby Usnik, director of public relations of the New York Times Company.
And few of those women get prominent positions for their stories. From Sunday, May 2, through Saturday, May 8, 2004, there were 51 men's bylines on the paper’s page one and just seven women's bylines--12 percent. On May 4, there were no women’s bylines on the front page.*
On the Metro section's front page, women had just 27 percent of 37 bylines for the week surveyed--and had no bylines at all on that page on Saturday. Women were better represented on the low-profile inside of the Metro section, where they had 47 percent of 81 bylines. On the more prestigious inside pages of section A, women had 26 percent of 178 bylines.
Galleries, not locker rooms
Predictably, the sports section had the lowest number of female writers: just three (out of 31) on the front page all week. On the inside sports pages, women got just 7 percent of the bylines. Also predictably, the arts section had the best representation of women on its front page: 46 percent of the front-page bylines went to women, with May 6 featuring an all-female first arts page.
While two of the three staff book reviewers in the daily paper are women, the Sunday book review section (where most reviewers are freelancers, not staff) is dominated by male reviewers covering books written primarily by men. The May 2 edition contained 12 reviews by men vs. seven by women, and among the authors reviewed, men outnumbered women 16 to six. (Again, some books had more than one author.) The inequity hardly seems offset by the voice of Laura Miller, the regular columnist for the Sunday book review section.
Given that business reporting might traditionally be considered a man's territory, the first business page had a surprisingly large number of women's bylines compared to other sections--32 percent. On Sunday, May 2, women composed all three business front-page stories--and only one of those was about fashion. The inside business pages had just 25 percent women writers.
A large proportion of female supervisors might be expected to raise the profiles of women writers. But the Times says that 40 percent of their newsroom supervisors are women, better than the U.S. newspaper average of 34 percent (ASNE).
Nor do women in high places necessarily translate to more bylines. Gail Collins is editorial page editor of the Times. The editor who oversees the op-ed page and reports to Collins, David Shipley, says in a phone interview that getting women's voices in the paper is something "we think about every day. It's a staff of wonderful editors, looking for new writers of every different background." But he acknowledges there is a still a gap. It's a wide one. During the week of May 2, there were 24 op-eds and columns by men and six by women (20 percent). Maureen Dowd is the only regular female Times columnist.
The glass plateau
The New York Times isn't alone in inequity. The largest newspapers—those with a circulation of more than 500,000—have the lowest proportion of women in all roles in the newsroom (including supervisory positions, reporters, photographers and copy editors) at less than 37 percent, says Bobbi Bowman, ASNE's diversity director. The smaller the circulation of a newspaper, the higher percentage of women who work in the newsroom. At daily papers with fewer than 5,000 circulation, newsrooms employ 45 percent women, and Bowman notes anecdotally that the editors are more likely to be women.
The managerial and professional workforce in the U.S. was nearly 50 percent women in 2000. Even at small papers, women don't reach that level of employment in journalism.
The number of women in newsrooms simply hasn't changed much since 1982, according to Lee B. Becker of the Grady College of Journalism and director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia. Journalism schools train many more women than men to go into the field, however. In Becker's annual survey of journalism and mass communication programs, he found that 64 percent of the students in undergraduate journalism programs are women. Women have made up the majority of journalism programs since 1977=78.
But there's a persistent gap between school enrollment and newsrooms. In 1971, there were 40 percent females in journalism programs, but at that time only 20 percent of newsroom employees were women, according to Becker (Freedom Forum, 12/15/03).
In 2002, Becker found that just 34 percent of women applying for journalism jobs had been offered one, compared with 44 percent of their male counterparts. The disparity implies a hiring bias, but the survey offered no explanation, and in a phone interview Becker would not venture a guess.
Bias or not, the higher number of women applying means that women are entering newsrooms in larger absolute numbers than men. They're just not staying as long. David Weaver, who did research at the University of Indiana for the Journalist Survey conducted every 10 years (Poynter Online, 4/10/03), says that in 2002, for the first time, women made up more than half of all journalists with less than five years of employment.
But while they fill 54 percent of new journalism jobs, the number of women in the profession overall remains low. Weaver's team found that 21 percent of women (along with 16 percent of men) in journalism think they won’t be working in media in another five years. Both men and women cite burnout and low pay among their top reasons for wanting to leave.
The Times does seek seasoned reporters. They'll go to journalism schools for interns, "but that represents a relatively small part of our recruiting effort," says the Times' Usnik in an e-mail. "We attend minority and other journalism conventions to scout for talent and interview prospective candidates, and we use our own staff to point us toward top talent elsewhere in the country. In that sense, most of our recruiting involves direct approaches to reporters, editors and photographers at other newspapers or magazines whom we have identified as solid Times prospects. We also track interns and other young reporters we have encountered as potential Times talent down the line."
Having staff scout for new reporters is a classic method for finding people who look similar to people who already dominate the newsroom. And that would be men. (In fact, it would be primarily white men. The ASNE survey found that the Times employs 17 percent minorities in the newsroom—more than the national average of 13 percent for all dailies, but less than the 19 percent average for papers over 500,000 in circulation. None of these numbers come close to matching the proportion of minorities in the U.S.--32 percent of the population.)
The reasons for the continuing dearth of women in media remain largely unexamined. The Times is arguably the nation's leading newspaper. With its low percentage of women reporters and shortage of women's bylines in prominent places, the paper is arguably also a leader in failing to advance women.
At least high-profile women aren't dying as often as men. Or so it would seem for readers of the Times' staff-written obituaries. The week of the survey, the Times published obituaries for 22 notable men and two women--one an actress, one the wife of a notable man.
Pat Arnow is a writer, editor and photographer in New York who can be virtually found at arnow.org .
* There were 43 front-page stories, many with more than one byline. For this survey in all sections of the newspaper, all boldface bylines under the headlines are included, including “reported by” and "with" credits that appear under the main byline. Also included in the count were “compiled by” credits over regular sections. Bylines on individual briefs and short reviews were not included, nor endnotes with "contributed reporting by."