Is investigative reporting dominated by men?

The question was posed to me earlier this week by Philip Chamberlain, a journalism lecturer in the UK. His students, he said, seem to have this perception. His own informal survey showed that only about a third of the staff members of investigative outfits in his country are female.  And yet, in his classroom, as in classrooms of journalism schools elsewhere in the world, including my own, women outnumber men (in the Columbia Journalism School, the student body is two-thirds women).

For sure, journalism has come a long way since 1970, when the women on the Newsweek staff sued the magazine for discrimination. Newsweek at that time employed women as fact-checkers and researchers but not as writers or reporters, which were positions reserved for men. That’s thankfully no longer the case and women have since taken on high-profile media jobs. Still, in 2012, women made up just 37 percent of the staff of newspapers and account for only about a third of supervisory jobs, the Women’s Media Center reported last month. While a woman is now chief editor of The New York Times, the ratio of women in leadership positions in U.S. newsrooms has remained unchanged at about 30 percent since 1999.

So where have all the women journalism students gone? In recent years, more of them got jobs than men, said the Women’s Media Center report, which cited figures from the Cox Center at the University of Georgia. But women are more likely to end up in public relations and online news sites. Male graduates are more likely to pursue jobs at weekly and daily newspapers, wire services, television, radio and cable.

Source: Women's Media Center, The Status of Women in U.S. Media in 2013

Source: Women’s Media Center, The Status of Women in U.S. Media in 2013

Are the numbers rosier in investigative reporting? Alas no. What data is available indicates that the composition of investigative staffs reflects the overall media picture. For sure, we’ve seen the proliferation of independent, nonprofit watchdogs, some of them founded by women. But even there, men – especially white men – dominate. The world of watchdogs is hardly reflective of the diversity of the real world.

The Women’s Media Center monitored the bylines in six online news sites in the second half of 2012. It found that women’s bylines outnumbered men’s in California Watch and Pro Publica. But in four of the others, as you’ll see in the graph, the ratio is reversed. The top executives of all four of the investigative nonprofits included in the study are male.

The same is true of the vast majority of members of the Investigative News Network, which is composed of nonprofit news organizations focused on accountability and public-interest reporting. For sure, INN’s membership is diverse as it counts both big and small newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada doing local, state, national and even international reporting. But only 25, about a third, of the 73 member organizations listed on the INN website have founders, executive directors or chief editors who are women. These nonprofits have been the sites of innovation and entrepreneurship. But they are far from being poster children for diversity.

[CORRECTION: A recount of members listed on INN’s website shows 28 out of 73  INN-affiliated organizations led by women; that is, their names are at the top of the masthead.  I missed three. Kevin Davis, CEO of INN, says that as of March 12, INN will have 78 members, of which 33 or 42% are, by my definition, led by women. Kevin, however, says a more accurate count should include groups where women are managing directors or in other very senior positions. In this case, the number would be 37 of 78, about 47%.]  

A quick look at the 100 or so nonprofit investigative reporting centers, funds and associations worldwide shows that the face of watchdog journalism is male. It’s true that more and more women are entering journalism now than ever before. And in places like Thailand, Indonesia or Hong Kong, I’ve seen more female than male reporters in press conferences and other news events. In many countries, the journalism profession is being “feminized.” But women in top editorial positions are still a minority. And certainly, while there are a number of high-profile women investigative reporters, their numbers do not overwhelm.

The Philippines, where I come from, is an exceptional case. When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and closed down all the media, reopening them only under severe restrictions, those who remained behind were forced to conform. In the 1970s, women journalists in the Philippines, like elsewhere, were largely confined to the lifestyle or feature sections or Sunday magazines. But in the 1980s, these same women used those sections to defy the regime’s restrictions; later they set up new publications that were in open opposition to Marcos. So when Marcos fell, they were in a position to lead because they had credibility – after all, they fought and did not compromise. They also made it easier for a generation of young women who came into journalism from the 1980s onward to do groundbreaking reporting. Today a number of newspaper editors and TV executives are women. In addition, women dominate the field of investigative reporting. Marcos, the quintessential macho, never intended for this to happen. The women journalists he had belittled and harassed had the last word.

The Women’s Media Center says that at the current pace, it would take decades for women in the U.S. to reach parity with men in terms of leadership roles not just in the media but in government, business and nonprofits. That seems too long to wait.

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4 Comments on “Is investigative reporting dominated by men?”

  1. […] Coronel recently wrote a post about the lack of female investigative reporters. She’s the Director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University […]

  2. […] hay más mujeres que hombres en las escuelas de periodismo, Vanasco cita a la periodista filipina Sheila S. Coronel, directora del Centro Stabile para Periodismo de Investigación de la Universidad de Columbia, […]

  3. […] hay más mujeres que hombres en las escuelas de periodismo, Vanasco cita a la periodista filipina Sheila S. Coronel, directora del Centro Stabile para Periodismo de Investigación de la Universidad de Columbia, […]

  4. […] SHEILA CORONEL, founding director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and currently director of the Tony Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting in Columbia University, struck a sensitive chord online in the proverbial battle of the sexes with a March 10 blog post entitled: “Is investigative reporting dominated by men?” […]


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