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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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era