Why are Women Dominating the Classroom but not the Newsroom?

By: Riley Sawicki

Journalism is a field that is continuously initiating change in the ways audiences are receiving information, or sometimes, hearing the latest gossip. This is an area where once printing presses were the norm, followed by newspapers being put into production in large factories, and now we are headed towards a strictly digital age. If this field of broadcast, print, digital and photo can grow and manage these generational obstacles, then why are we not following the societal push for equal opportunities for women within the industry?

As a student of the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University, I witness the dynamic difference in numbers between male and female students enrolled in classes involving multimedia and journalism. According to reports from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, women dominate over two-thirds of students graduating with degrees in journalism or an associated field; however, women only make up a third of newsroom employees, with the majority working for online publications (ASNE, 2016).

Does this mean women are coming into journalism programs and deciding to follow a different career path? Or are women being pushed out of this field? In surveys conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, only 38% of women comprise of the newsroom, but 50% are writing for strictly online publications (ASNE, 2016). Statistically, there is evidence that minorities are the least present in journalism, but we do not know the exact reason as to why there is a lack of women in journalism post-graduation. There is simply the automatic assumption that publications are favoring men applicants over females, even though there are more women available. While journalism and communications are an ever growing occupational path for incoming college students, women graduating with degrees from media colleges are often falling into professions unrelated to their studies. In reports from 2018, women graduating with a communications or journalism degree were placed into occupations vastly different than their male counterparts. Women were holding careers in K-12 education, managers, secretaries or not working at all. While men with journalism degrees were working in sales, law, as chief executives, legislatures, managers and K-12 education (Gu, 2018). 

The women that are in these fields must render their thoughts to fit into this standard set for women. A journalist is expected to be persistent, display sound judgment and to always be accessible, but when women fill these shoes, they are targeted by their audience. So often, female journalists have to edit themselves to be less threatening communicators. Does entering a field of work that is risky for women explain why there are few females in newsrooms? Story by story, female journalists are strategically protecting their presence online, so they do not risk threats placed on them through social media channels and email exchanges. Anne Helen Petersen comments in the article The cost of reporting while female, “It’s exhausting to try to experience the reporting world from the same place of safety as a straight white man, but female reporters, especially minorities and those who identify as queer, often forget how many things are making us tired—and making our jobs so much harder,” (Petersen, 2018).

 The idea of gender continues to divide the journalism field and what opportunities journalists can pursue in their careers. Most often, females are assigned beats labeled as “soft news.” Consequently, women are given community-based, small town, human-interest “soft news” stories and features and are often seen in regional news organizations (Oxford Research Encyclopedias, 2017). These beats are only some of the widely gendered patterns in the topics females versus males are able to cover. This gendered coverage is significantly seen in sports and politics that are popularly assigned to men over women. 

 In an early feminist analysis of journalism referring back to 1981, Catherine Covert’s feminist theorizing suggested that the social construct of how females think and know is vastly different than their male counterparts (Oxford Research Encyclopedias, 2017). The gendered experiences and socialization of women have an immense effect on the way women journalists research, source, frame and write stories in the newsroom. The qualities and traits that are opposite to men should not stand as the deciding factor of allowing women to flourish in their careers, journalism or not. This unprecedented stigma of women in the newsroom has to change and is going to, one degree at a time.

2016 Survey. (0AD). Retrieved from https://members.newsleaders.org/content.asp?contentid=447.

Gu, J. (2018, March 15). Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-women-professional-inequality-college/.

Petersen, A. H. (0AD). The cost of reporting while female. Retrieved from https://www.cjr.org/special_report/reporting-female-harassment-journalism.php.

Steiner, L. (2018, July 19). Gender and Journalism. Retrieved from https://oxfordre.com/communication/abstract/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.001.0001/ acrefore-9780190228613-e-91.

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