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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Murder by numbers: the legacy of the Grenfell Tower fire

It is difficult to refute the reality of suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned.

How do we measure human malice? Sometimes it’s all too easy. This summer, British cities are struggling through the aftermath of successive terrorist attacks and hate crimes. The Manchester bombing. The Westminster Bridge murders. The London Bridge atrocity. The attack on people outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and on other mosques. The unidentified young men who are still at large in the capital after spraying acid in the faces of passers-by, mutilating them.

In Britain, we are commendably resilient about these things. Returning to London after some time away, I found my spirits lifted by an issue of the London Evening Standard magazine that celebrated the ordinary people who stepped in to help after these atrocities. The paramedics who worked through the night. The Romanian chef who offered shelter in his bakery. The football fan who took on the London Bridge terrorists, screaming, “Fuck you, I’m Millwall!” The student housing co-ordinator who rushed to organise board for the victims of the inferno at the Grenfell Tower and their families.

Wait. Hold on a second. One of these things is not like the others. The Grenfell Tower disaster, in which at least 80 people died, was not a terrorist or malicious attack. It was the result of years of callous council decisions and underinvestment in social housing. On 14 June, entire families burned alive in their homes partly because, it is alleged, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea would not pay the extra £5,000 or so for fire-resistant cladding. Nor could it find the cash, despite a budget surplus, to instal proper sprinkler systems on the rotting interior of the building.

Kensington and Chelsea is a Tory borough that, in cash terms, cares very little for poorer citizens who are unlikely to vote the right way. In 2014, while the Grenfell Tower residents were refused basic maintenance, the council handed out £100 rebates to its top-rate taxpayers, boasting of its record of “consistently delivering greater efficiencies while improving services”. Some of those efficiencies had names, and parents, and children.

This is a different sort of depravity altogether. It’s depravity with plausible deniability, right up until the point at which deniability goes up in flames. Borrowing from Friedrich Engels, John McDonnell described the Grenfell Tower disaster as “social murder”. The shadow chancellor and sometime Jack Russell of the parliamentary left has never been known for his delicate phrasing.

Naturally, the Tory press queued up to condemn McDonnell – not because he was wrong but because he was indiscreet. “There’s a long history in this country of the concept of social murder,” he said, “where decisions are made with no regard to the consequences… and as a result of that people have suffered.”

It is difficult to refute the reality of that suffering when the death toll is still being reckoned from the towering tombstone that now blights the west London skyline.” As the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Market austerity is no less brutal for being bloodless, calculating, an ideology of measuring human worth in pennies and making cuts that only indirectly slice into skin and bone. Redistributing large sums of money from the poor to the rich is not simply an abstract moral infraction: it kills. It shortens lives and blights millions more. Usually, it does so in a monstrously phlegmatic manner: the pensioners who die early of preventable diseases, the teenagers who drop out of education, the disabled people left to suffer the symptoms of physical and mental illness with nobody to care for them, the thousands who have died on the waiting lists for state benefits that they are perfectly entitled to, the parents whose pride disintegrates as they watch their children go to school hungry.

We are not encouraged to measure the human cost of austerity in this way, even though there are many people in back offices making exactly these sorts of calculations. This year, when researchers from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine claimed that “relentless cuts” to the health service could explain as many as 30,000 “excess deaths” in England and Wales in 2015, the government denounced this as “a triumph of personal bias over research”, which, however you slice it, is a callous prep school debater’s response to the reality of 30,000 fresh graves.

There is a species of evil in which an individual allows the dark and yammering corners of his mind to direct him to put a blade in a bystander’s belly, or a bomb in a bustling crowd of teenage girls. That sort of monstrosity is as easy to identify as it is mercifully rare, though frighteningly less rare than it was in less febrile times. But there is another sort of evil that seldom makes the headlines. This comes about when someone sits down with a calculator and works out how much it will cost to protect and nurture human life, deducts that from the cost of a tax rebate for local landowners or a nice night at the opera, then comes up with a figure. It’s an ordinary sort of evil, and it has become routine and automated in the austerity years. It is a sort of evil, in the words of Terry Pratchett, that “begins when you begin to treat people as things”. 

The Grenfell Tower disaster was the hellish evidence of the consequences of fiscal ruthlessness that nobody could look away from. Claims that it could not have been predicted were shot down by the victims. The residents’ association wrote on its campaign website after years of begging the council to improve living conditions: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.”

That catastrophic event has happened, and the ordinary British response to tragedy – brave, mannered dignity – is inappropriate. When the Grenfell inquiry launches next month, it is incumbent on every citizen to call for answers and to call this kind of travesty by its name: murder by numbers.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder