Women write just a quarter of accredited stories in our national newspapers

Bithia Large studied the number of women writing for eight different newspapers in 2013 and found some depressing results.

While we wait for Britain’s daily newspaper editors to get back to Harriet Harman about how many female journalists they employ (I wouldn’t hold your breath), the New Statesman has decided to take matters into its own hands regarding the lack of women in journalism. Over the two weeks between the 22 July and the 2 August, I recorded the numbers of articles written by women in eight national newspapers: the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian, and the Sun. Ten days, 80 newspapers, 9,258 articles. The results are in and it’s not looking good for the girls (or the Independent).

The average percentage, across the eight newspapers, of accredited articles written by females was a mere 25.30 per cent. The newspaper in last place was the Independent with female journalists contributing just 15.28 per cent of its accredited articles. The most proportional of the bunch – though not by much – was the Daily Express with 32.94 per cent and the Guardian, the purportedly progressive, upstanding member of the media community, was in third place with just 28.72 per cent.

Info graphic by: Héctor Crespo González

These percentages provide a blunt insight into the glaringly obvious inequalities that exist in the newspaper journalism industry. They call into serious question the supposed balance of our national press, particularly concerning topics of real substance, such as politics or the economy which require a range of perspectives to be articulated. While articles relating to "Westminster Politics" scored in just above the overall average with 23.96 per cent of articles being written by females, the "Foreign Affairs" and "Business and Economy" topics were below average at 15.91 per cent and 19.54 per cent respectively. In fairness, the picture isn’t quite so bleak at the broadsheets; The Times was almost proportional on "Westminster Politics" and the Guardian on the topic of "Business and Economy", totting up 43.68 per cent and 41.91 per cent respectively. However, these stats demonstrate the fact that not only is our government dominated by men, but also the industry which sets out to scrutinise it is too.

The three topics which women were trusted to write about over men were "Property", "Lifestyle" and "Fashion". Our daily newspapers are perpetuating the gender stereotype that a woman’s place is in the home, preferably a well-decorated one and if you’re lucky, she’ll be wearing a size 8 Topshop dress and kitten heels.

Due to the prolific number of articles concerning the Royal Baby, my data is actually skewed in favour of female journalists, as the "Celebrity/Showbiz" topic had a much higher number of female-written articles (42.12 per cent) than the average topic. This suggests the reality could in fact be worse than my figures suggest. An explanation as to why the Daily Express is the most proportional newspaper is simply that just under a third of its articles relate to celebrities. Frankly, quibbling over percentage points is pointless – there was no day or newspaper in which the number of articles written by women came close to the number written by men. It was never even close.

Unsurprisingly, the Sport sections of all newspapers were the most male-dominated: a negligible 3.64 per cent of sports articles were written by women, with the Daily Express not having a single female sports journalist for the entirety of the two weeks. Women were often limited to writing about athletics (occasionally this expanded to include cricket). Moreover, their articles usually related to Jessica Ennis-Hill, rather than Usain Bolt or Mo Farah, for example. Male writers, on the other hand, were allowed the luxury of choice. Perhaps it’s the fact that she’s pretty, recently married and has contracts with the likes of Olay, but the controversy over Ennis-Hill’s current fitness level is about the deepest female sports journalism gets at the moment.

It’s not that women shouldn’t be writing about Ennis-Hill - she’s an inspiring and responsible role-model for young people all over Britain and deserves plenty of coverage. Much as it is annoying, there are currently more male sports stars and more male sports fans (although actually more women are watching football than ever). However, someone’s gender does not inhibit their capacity to report and comment on sport to the extent that during the period surveyed over 96 per cent of sports articles were authored by someone with a Y chromosome.

Moving on to the differing stature of the articles written by men and women, I also recorded the gender of journalists writing the main frontpage story in the newspaper each day. This is the most prestigious slot in a newspaper - the frontpage is a newspaper’s selling point and the main medium for it to make bold statements about the world. Therefore, the fact that only 21.84 per cent of these articles were written by women displays the fundamental inequality that exists in the newspaper business. Once again, the Times compares favourably, with more women than men writing their main frontpage story in the two weeks we recorded. In contrast, at the Telegraph fewer than one in ten main frontpage articles were written by women. I also discovered that there was very little difference in the percentages of women writing differently sized articles: of all the "short" articles women wrote 27.57 per cent, whereas women wrote 24.78 per cent of "large" ones.

Info graphic by: Héctor Crespo González

It's no secret that men dominate British public life. But it doesn't have to be this way. The media industry is, or at least should be, the voice of the nation, and if half of the nation aren’t being heard, that's not good enough. So girls, pick up your pens and get writing, because the days of the brief-case carrying, be-Trilbied swarms of men walking down Fleet Street should be well and truly over.

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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.