By Grace Holliday (@GraceHolliday)
On Tuesday 19th September, Women in Journalism launched its latest research project, ‘The Tycoon and the Escort: the business of portraying women in newspapers’, at the London School of Economics.
The research showed that only 33% per cent of key executive roles on national papers are held by women, and only three newsrooms have female editors. Across the daily papers studied, just 25% of front-page bylines in June and July were written by women – a tiny increase of 2% percentage points since WIJ undertook similar research five years ago.
The report revealed a clear trend of women being overlooked for ‘hard news’ stories such as Grenfell and the General Election, and scrutinised the practice of portraying women – from politicians to celebrities – in a negative light; often an inappropriately sexualised one.
Eleanor Mills, WIJ chair and Sunday Times editorial director, and Katie Hind, showbusiness reporter at the Mail on Sunday, presented the research, after which Helena Vieira, managing editor of the LSE Business Review, chaired an in-depth panel discussion with six industry professionals in front of an audience of 250 in the Old Theatre at LSE.
Dr Marina Franchi, an LSE Fellow, Guardian columnist Jane Martinson and the I’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown were joined by Sunday Times’ Executive Editor Ben Preston and Allyson Zimmermann, Executive Director of Catalyst Inc. Eleanor also joined the panel.
The panel answered questions on a wide range of topics, including financial implications, data tracking and the pros and cons of compulsory gender quotas.
The widespread poor treatment of women working within the industry was a hot topic, with Katie noting that “women write about health, show business & TV while the men get the hard news stories to cover. It’s such a boys’ club culture.” Yasmin added, “When they shut the Independent, they dumped the women.” It was striking how many of the panellists had experienced different instances of gender discrimination themselves.
Advice as to fixing the various issues uncovered varied, but all agreed with Helena when she suggested a need for “a blueprint for action on gender equality in newspapers”. As to how this could be achieved, while Ben focused on the idea that “newspapers need to look at how they cast their newsrooms”, Eleanor noted that change would only come with “more enlightened male editors” at the helm. Allyson continued this line of thinking, saying, “we need to engage men, the dominant group. We need to tap into their sense of fair play, not blame and shame them.”
The panellists did not agree on every line of questioning, however. While Yasmin championed the idea of positive discrimination for “any group that is prominently underrepresented,” Ben disagreed, saying, “I don’t think we need quotas, but we do need a steely resolve.”
The changes that the digital era has brought about were also explored; Ben noted that “newspapers are in danger of being beaten up by smaller niche websites” if the equality gap isn’t improved.
Topics including having children, flexible workplace environments and promotions also arose, with Eleanor explaining her policy of “always promoting women when they come back from maternity leave,” adding, “I think it gives them real motivation.” Jane noted how valuable she found flexible working, speaking from her own experience at the Guardian when she said, “workplaces work better if they give staff choice.”
The tone was not exclusively negative, however, with a light shone throughout on the sense of change that is in the air (albeit one that was described by Eleanor as ‘glacial’) Ben suggested “when historians look back, they will say that we were in the middle of a historical revolution.” Eleanor said that she felt the industry was “definitely better” than when she joined it 20 years ago.
“Justice will prevail,” said Jane, “We just need to keep up the pressure. Change will come.”
The research findings have been widely reported across numerous publications: Jane Martinson for the Guardian, Eleanor Mills, Katie Hind and Allyson Zimmerman for the LSE Business Review and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown for our own blog. There are also pieces on The Pool and HuffPo. Eleanor also appeared live on Sky News debating the issue’s with the Mail on Sunday’s Roger Alton and will be on Woman’s Hour on Tuesday 5 October.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has since urged newspapers to act upon the research, as reported by the Guardian, saying it “should set alarm bells ringing for readers as well as reporters and editors across the country”.
Thank you to everyone who worked so hard on this project, particularly Eleanor, Katie and Aine Quinn, our Social Media Intern for 2016/2017 who made a significant contribution to the research and final report, and to our researchers, Megan Baynes, Caitlin Doherty, Jessica Frank-Keyes, Emily Hawkins, Sara Lovejoy and Evie Prichard.
Thank you also to the London School of Economics for hosting the event, and to Catalyst Inc for supporting us.