Women missing from key areas of reporting according to new media report

Women’s voices still missing from key areas of reporting according to new media report


In today’s media, it appears that your gender will influence whether you are quoted in a news article, or what kind of story you write.

Today, the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia (WLIA) released their latest Women for Media report, examining Australian news and breaking down how many women were quoted in stories, as well as how many wrote them.

The significant new report ‘Take the Next Steps’ – is the fifth and most comprehensive report in the series, which began in 2012 and is led by journalist Dr Jenna Price and award-winning academic Dr Blair Williams. 

The 2021 report consolidates qualitative analysis of more than 60,000 articles across the month of May this year, and includes more than 30 pages of extended interviews with prominent media figures including Editor-in-Chief of news.com.au Lisa Muxworthy, Deputy Editor of Daily Mail Australia, Felicity Hetherington, the Editorial Director of The Australian, Claire Harvey and the Managing Editor of The Australian Financial Review, Joanne Gray.

The report divides the collected data into two separate sections.

The first, titled Big Picture, explores a sample of more than 57,000 online news articles published in May this year across outlets including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review to determine the number of women quoted, compared to men. 

The results found that men’s voices continue to dominate — ‘she said’ appeared in 32 percent of the quotes in all the articles, while ‘he said’ made up 68 percent of the quotes.

In the first Women for Media report released in 2012, women accounted for 20 percent of all comments. 

The second section, titled ‘Top Billing’ looked at roughly 4000 articles appearing on either the first page of print publications or on the main section of the publication’s home page to determine the gender of the authors of the articles.

The data shows that men had the first (or only) byline in 65 percent of stories compared to women, who had 35 percent. 

Fifty-three percent of women reported on health stories, and forty-four percent on entertainment, whereas men dominated the spaces of politics and sports, with 65 percent authoring stories on the former, and 87 percent on the latter. 

When it came to opinion pieces, men wrote 65 percent of them. 

The ‘Top Billing’ section of the report also examined the gender of the 1000 people who most frequently appeared in front page news stories. 

The 1000 people were quoted in 2600 of the most prominent stories, with women being quoted in only 43 percent of those stories, compared with 83 percent of men. 

WLIA founding chair, Carol Schwartz AO, said she launched the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia because she was frustrated by the lack of gender equality and representation in Australian politics, business and the media.

“WLIA is an organisation focused on finding the best levers for change to achieve equal voice, equal representation and equal recognition for women in Australia,” she said.

“Equal representation will shape culture, decision making, collaboration, and ultimately reflect community issues in a more fulsome way.” 

“I am certain that female media representation matters for strengthening gender equality. We have to shift the norm in terms of what a leader or expert looks and sounds like, and an important way to address this is rebalancing the voices heard via mainstream media.” 

The 2020 Leading Philanthropist Award winner added that despite the latest findings proving there’s still more improvement to be done, she is “…buoyed by a shift in attitude and commitment from Australian media management.”

“Almost everyone interviewed agreed that diversity and gender equality in our news coverage is important to address – especially when considering the purpose of our media and the role it has in fairly representing and supporting Australian people now, and into the future,” she said.

“Many are now trialling ways to tackle this, and learning from positive progress elsewhere.” 

In 2019, a small sample of page one stories revealed more women were quoted than previously, with 34 percent of stories featuring their voices. 

Lead author Dr Jenna Price, believes that men and women have equal value in society, and that the media ought reflect that. 

“I have worked as a journalist for my whole career, and as an academic I have studied and taught journalism best practice. I have long been a feminist,” she said.

“The older I get the more I want to change conversations about gender balance and equal representation in our media, and support a positive change for women and for the state of news reporting in this country.”

“I’ve taught a lot of young women journalists who want to be Laura Tingle when they grow up, who want to write about sport. What is getting in their way? Why aren’t they interested in economics and business? This report answers some of those questions.”

The 2019 report apparently lacked the participation of numerous prominent news organisations, as they were reluctant to go on the record about the challenges of gender representation both in their newsrooms and in the news.

Three years on, it’s a different story.

“Gender representation in leadership across our society is changing but it’s slow,” the latest report stated.

“Partly, that reflects the management of our big organisations, with male dominated boards and male decision-makers leading across a range of industries.” 

In her interview, Lenore Taylor, the Editor of Guardian Australia, said that gender diversity is incredibly important and something she feels her publication have already secured.

“It’s the cultural and linguistic diversity which is a bigger challenge,” she said.

“We’re in the process of agreeing to targets for cultural and linguistic diversity so that the makeup of our newsroom does represent the makeup of society better.”

“Diversity isn’t lip service. I honestly think that a diverse staff makes us stronger and makes our reporting stronger. It’s not an onerous thing that we do to you know look good. It’s actually something that will make us better.“ 

“We want to achieve 25 percent culturally and linguistically diverse staff, 20 percent non- Indigenous cultural and linguistic diversity, and 5 percent Indigenous. That will be a bit of a stretch but we’re getting there.”

Joanne Gray, Managing Editor of The Australian Financial Review, said, “If you take your focus off for one second, you lose the momentum.”

“About six months ago, we looked around and realised OK, we have not got enough women,” she said.

“There’s a very strong focus on restoring gender balance and that continues. I would say also that we have many women in senior roles and we have done the numbers and that is very balanced.”

“Our journalists are actually great at seeking out women who are the up and comers and knocking on the door to be the next leaders.”

“Media has a role to play in bringing these people to the attention of bosses and making it very clear that they are very competent, good media performers and thought leaders.”

“We should definitely be seeking out diverse voices. Journalism is the search for the truth and its job is to find out what’s really going on.”

Kerri Elstub, Editorial Director at Nine Digital nine.com.au believes an organisation cannot be expected to appeal to its audience if they don’t reflect them.

“We have 60 percent women, and that’s across news, sport, lifestyle and entertainment, and across our news division as well,” she said. 

“If you look at the makeup of my senior team, I have nine editors who report to me and five of those are women. So I’m very aware of the makeup of the team. In recruiting, I certainly look at the gender makeup of the business, I look at the right person for the job, I look at what the company or that department might need. Then my decision is based on all those criteria.” 

Julie Lewis, opinion editor at Sydney Morning Herald wants women to pitch, write and repeat: “We want to hear you roar,” she said. 

In March, Lewis penned an opinion piece herself, explaining her publication’s goal of hiring women to write on issues “…across the spectrum, not just on softer topics.”

“To some extent we are hostage to the under-representation of women in positions of power – if we are seeking opinions of the leaders of organisations and professions, but those groups are not promoting women to the top, that skews the gender balance on the page,” she wrote.

“There does seem to be less enthusiasm as well from women to subject themselves to the potentially unrewarding experience of offering an opinion piece only to have it rejected – as the vast majority are.”

“Yet men are eager to give it a go. Maybe the studies that show women are still doing the majority of chores and child-minding duties is a clue – they just have less time.”

Read the full report here.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox