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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle