Standard masculine viewpoints dominate the agenda and public understanding

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
18 September 2017

Four years ago, a student from a reputable university asked if we could meet for coffee. She really, really, really wanted to become a newspaper or online journalist and wanted me to tell her all about it. We met. Naomi (not her real name) was smart, informed and enthusiastic. She knew more about the machinations of party politics than I did. Her dream was to become a political correspondent. Naomi passed with a first class degree and got onto a newspaper training scheme. Treated ‘with insolence and fatuous chauvinism’ Within eighteen months, she was totally demoralized. Her editors never let her near politics. Her immediate boss, a lecherous, middle aged chap. described her as a ‘sexy bird’ and pushed her into doing showbiz and fashion stories. She walked out. In the 21st century, when we have a female PM, women in journalism are still treated with insolence and fatuous chauvinism. The best of are still paid far less than their male peers by the BBC. And most of us are viciously abused and degraded online. And women presenters still have to look ageless and gorgeous while men such as Andrew Neil and Piers Morgan face no such pressures. (No offence gentlemen.)

The BBC’s shameful gender pay gap is as clear as day, in spite of years of denial by the organisation

Standard masculine viewpoints dominate the agenda and public understanding. Diverse minds and diverse perspectives are kept down and out. It really is a man’s world in newsrooms. Remember ‘Blair’s Babes’ and Cameron’s ‘Downing St Catwalk’? Skilled and successful female politicians were reduced to frocks, legs, bosoms and shoes. The British media mirror is unreliable and distorted. It needs to be smashed. The figures on female front-page bylines I am on the committee of Women in Journalism (WIJ) , an organisation which strongly believes that society, politics, relationships and events cannot be properly communicated solely through ‘the prism of a predominantly old, white male gaze’. We carried out some research to see how many front page stories were written by women.  So what did we find? Five years ago, on average 77% of all front pages bylines were male. Today the figure is 75% (OMG an improvement of 2 percentage points! And we harridans still moan?)

Incidentally, the I newspaper is not on the list because its front pages are almost totally visual. We need a new normal One reason why females journalists don’t get the prestigious, conspicuous slots is that the usual splashes are political and hardly any of them get to be political correspondents. The Sunday papers are even more abysmally male-centred. By now, this column will have massively irritated those who think this is either special pleading or male bashing. These are usually people who sincerely believe everything should stay as it has always been, or interpret the news is ‘normal’. It may be normal but too often incomplete. Take Grenfell. When I talked to locals after the fire, they said most of the white male reporters were only interested in numbers and bare facts: ‘Emotional retards. Effing robots. Didn’t get the story’. They do, in fact get the story. But they can only tell it in formulaic ways. And they still hang on to power and the myth of excellence. Not good. And what happened to Naomi? She got a scholarship for a Bar Professional Training Course. She will make her mark. Our loss, their gain.