Reporters, Who You Gonna Call?

By Nicolas Lopez

When journalists are looking for sources, more than three-quarters of the time they turn to me. Only 24 percent of the people you hear, see, or read about in the news are women, shows the most recent report by the Global Media Monitoring Project.

Every five years since 1995, the Global Media Monitoring Project has analyzed several news outlets to determine the levels of women’s media representation. Although such representation has increased by 7 percent since 1995, overall, there has been no progress over the last five years.

Lucinda Holt

Lucinda Holt is the crime reporter at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Image from Twitter.

Lucinda Holt, a Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reporter and an alumna of the Texas Tech College of Media & Communication, was surprised to learn that women were so underrepresented in news.

Holt is assigned to the crime beat and regularly deals with the Department of Public Safety as well as Lubbock’s police and fire departments.  She said most of the administrative and public information positions at these institutions are held by men.

“When I first got your email, I started thinking about this, and I do typically talk with men,” Holt said. “But within LPD, there’s a lot of female officers. They’re just not in that (public information officer) position.”

Women’s low representation is not limited to traditional media outlets. They also make up only 26 percent of the sources in online news as well, according to the Global Media Monitoring Project.

Worse, the project’s most recent report showed female reporters are only 3 percent more likely to use a woman as a source than male reporters.

Holt said gender doesn’t play a role in finding sources for her articles because she works to find the best source for the situation.

“I don’t look at man or woman, I want the most qualified, the most knowledgeable person,” she said.  “If it’s a woman, that’s awesome; if it’s a man, then good for him. He probably paid his dues to get that position.”

In a study of cable news programs, fair.org found that 28 percent of invited guests were female. Women fared only slightly better on the Sunday morning talk shows, making up 30 percent of the guests, according to a Media Matters report.

20%-4

Audra Coffman, the web content producer at FOX34 Lubbock who is also a CoMC alumna, also said she focusses more on speaking with the most qualified person.

Because the turnaround time for television news stories is extremely short, Coffman said, reporters often do not have the luxury of being highly selective when it comes to sourcing.

“We’re in such a fast-paced business, I don’t have time to think, ‘Am I being diverse in my sources?’” she said. “It’s just who is available to speak to me right now when I need them.”

The fast-paced nature of the news business does not contribute to diversity. Research shows tpeople engage in more spontaneous stereotyping when they are under cognitive load, which is the name of the game for most reporters at work.

The Women’s Media Center’s Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2015 report shows women make up 37.2 percent of the staff in American newspaper newsrooms.

Gender representation in newspaper newsrooms has remained fairly stagnant. From 1999 to 2014 the percentage of women in the newsroom increased by only 0.3 percent, according to the American Society of News Editors’ 2015 Census. 

Members of minority groups, whether male or female, fared worse than women, with representation in newsrooms at 12.8 percent.

Holt said the Avalanche-Journal’s newsroom is fairly unique in that regard.

“Not only do we have a high number of females, but we have a high number of Hispanic females,” Holt said.

As the overall number of female content creators is slowly increasing,  the Women’s Media Center encourages news organizations to staff with intent by hiring reporters, editors and producers who can accurately report while being mindful of gender, class and ethnic diversity.

The center also runs a project called SheSource, which aims to encourage media outlets to diversify their source lists by connecting them with qualified women in positions of power.

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