A British watchdog group called Women In Journalism has carried out a four-week study of UK newspapers and had these dismayingly sexist findings about who ends up on the front page:
- Male writers
- Photographs of Kate Middleton, Pippa Middleton, or missing child Madeline McCann
Women In Journalism studied the front page of nine newspapers for four whole weeks from Monday to Saturday. During that time, men wrote 78 percent of the total front page stories with variations at each paper — although men’s bylines always dominated. The Financial Times was best about women’s bylines on the front page and the Daily Mirror and Independent were the worst.
Additionally, 84 percent of people mentioned or quoted in front page stories were men and women were most likely to be quoted in a news story if they were celebrities or crime victims. Although Kate Middleton was featured the most as the “lead picture” out of anyone else (19 times), she, Pippa and Madeline McCann were dwarfed in the number of photos of male celebrities, politicians and athletes. The Guardian‘s DataBlog has a really beautiful visual display of the data, which I highly recommend checking out.
This study, small as it may be, gives ample evidence into the ways unchecked sexism slithers its way into media coverage: women are portrayed predominantly as victims that need protection or famous for being beautiful. It’s jarring to me that women are most likely to be quoted in newspapers as celebs or crime victims, instead of politicians or business leaders; that means the tone of the coverage is coming from a predominantly male point of view. It also means that women who are in positions of power — and I mean power beyond the Middletons’ largely ceremonial roles — are being shunted aside. I’m honestly surprised that neither Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared in the top 10 list of most appearances in the lead picture. (No wonder then that a 2009 study of 3,000 UK teens found that one-third just want to be famous when they grow up.)
There seems to be a tipping point right now of how women are represented in the British media. This Women In Journalism’s study came about after rumblings at the BBC over the past few years about sexism and ageism in the hiring of female hosts. (Last year, Miriam O’Reilly, a former host of the BBC show “Countryfile” sued over claims that she was fired due to her age and replaced with a younger host; she won the ageism complaint but not the sexism one. She was one of four women in their 40s and 50s who were dropped from the show.) I look forward to seeing what changes come about, if any, after this newest watchdog bombshell.
Here’s a tip: in the United States, we have various groups that put forward women as experts that journalists can use, including SheSource, FemTech, and Women In Media And News. If the UK doesn’t already have such groups in existence, maybe that’s a good project for feminist activists there!