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Some progress made in media coverage of women and the economy, but economic news still a male bastion

12.02.99

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NEW YORK — Economic coverage on the three main network newscasts — ABC, CBS and NBC — features more women speaking as "experts" than it did 10 years ago, according to the 11th annual Women Men and Media Study, conducted by the Media Studies Center and ADT Research. But women are still seen and quoted far less often than men in business and economic coverage in both television and print media.

"While it is encouraging to hear news of progress, the coverage of women's contributions to the economy is still far from adequate," said Robert H. Giles, executive director of the Media Studies Center. "The key to continued progress is assigning more women to cover the story of the economy, and encouraging journalists to seek more women sources for their business stories."

The percentage of women used as experts in soundbites in business/economic stories on the network newscasts increased from 12% between September 1988 and August 1989 to 18% over the same period in 1998-99. Two newscasts — "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw" and "ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" — were entirely responsible for those gains.

  • NBC's use of women as experts in business and economic coverage increased from 16% in 1988-89 to 26% in 1998-99.
  • ABC's use of women as experts increased from 10% to 18%.
  • CBS's use of women as experts was unchanged at 11%.

At the same time, the proportion of business/economic stories filed by female correspondents on the network newscasts has doubled since 1988-89. Ten years ago, 15% of all economic stories on the newscasts (64 of 438) were filed by women. Between September 1998 and August 1999, 31% of economic stories (141 of 451) were filed by women. Much of this increase was due to the presence of Betsy Stark as ABC's lead economic correspondent. (The lead correspondents on NBC and CBS were Mike Jensen and Anthony Mason, respectively.)

On the print side, the study examined a sample of business and economic coverage in three publications — Business Week, Time and Newsweek — over the period of September 1998 through August 1999. The most encouraging finding to emerge was the relative male-female balance achieved by Business Week in its writing staff, as evidenced by article bylines.

Nearly two of every five bylined authors in Business Week (38%) were women. In contrast, 22% of bylined authors associated with business and economic stories in Newsweek were women, while just one in 9 such bylined authors in Time (11%) were women.

But despite having the most bylined female authors, Business Week used women as sources less frequently than the other publications. Sources used by all three publications (Business Week, Time and Newsweek) skewed strongly male, lagging significantly behind the networks' use of female sources.

  • In Business Week, male sources outnumbered female by about 7.5 to 1.
  • In Newsweek's economic coverage, male sources outnumbered female by almost 7 to 1.
  • In Time's economic coverage, male sources outnumbered female by about 5 to 1.
  • On the network newscasts, male soundbites in business/economic stories outnumbered female by about 3 to 1. (This includes all soundbites, not just those of experts.) Overall, the percentage of female soundbites in business/economic stories on the network newscasts increased from 20% 10 years ago to 24% currently.

Further, when women appeared as sources (either in print or on television), they tended to be of lower socio-economic status than male sources. This is reflective of the fact that women were relatively more likely to appear in stories dealing with the bottom rungs of the economic ladder than in stories dealing with powerful sectors of the economy, a fact which is also largely reflective of social reality (see accompanying fact sheet).

In the analysis of the network newscasts, economic stories were divided into nine categories-financial markets, banking, fiscal policy, trade, business dealings, macro-economic issues, labor, family finance and poverty. Women were more likely to appear as sources in stories dealing with the latter three aspects of the economy — labor, family finance and (especially) poverty.

  • In poverty stories, for example, the number of soundbites from "ordinary" women (as contrasted to "experts") actually outnumbered soundbites from "ordinary" men.

On the other hand, women were less likely to appear in stories dealing with financial markets, banking, fiscal policy, trade, business dealings and macro-economic issues.

  • Stories about the financial markets, for example (which accounted for fully one-third of all economic coverage on the network newscasts between September 1998 and August 1999), featured seven male expert soundbites for every female expert soundbite.

"Sooner or later the irrational exuberance of Wall Street will fade and the male-dominated coverage of the financial markets will shrink," said Andrew Tyndall, president of ADT Research. "In due time, when coverage of the market returns to less hyperbolic levels, other stories where women appear more frequently will take its place."

The Women, Men and Media study examines print and broadcast news coverage of women in business. The study is part of a project monitoring news coverage of women in major national print and broadcast media. For the past two years, the Women, Men and Media study has been part of The Freedom Forum's Free Press/Fair Press project. Launched in 1998, the project is a multi-year effort that documents and analyzes public concerns about the way journalists do their jobs, while also seeking a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of a free and fair press.

More findings:
Across all three publications (Business Week, Time and Newsweek), about one in five articles focused on people. The subjects of those articles were almost always men.
  • Of 822 Business Week articles analyzed, 154 (19%) focused on people; in those articles, 8 percent of the subjects were women.
  • Of 52 Time articles analyzed, 10 (19%) focused on people; in those articles, 10% of the subjects were women.
  • Newsweek was twice as likely as the other publications to include articles focused on people — of 56 Newsweek articles analyzed, 21 (38%) focused on people. In those articles, Newsweek was nearly three times as likely as the other publications to feature women as story subjects (27%).

In general, business/economic articles about women in all three publications:

  • Were more likely to be briefs or sidebars than feature stories.
  • Usually did not include the use of any sources (due to article brevity).
  • Often featured women in groups rather than women as individuals.
  • Often included men as co-subjects.
  • Rarely mentioned their profession or socio-economic status.

Across all three publications, the ratio of male to female images (in photos or drawings) associated with business/economic stories ranged from about 4 to 1 (Newsweek and Time) to about 7.5 to 1 (Business Week). In addition:

  • Women were relatively less likely than men to appear on the covers of these publications.
  • Women were more likely to be depicted engaging in activities not related to contributing to the economy.
  • Women were more likely to be of low or unknown socio-economic or professional status.
About the study:
The Media Studies Center analyzed the content of randomly selected issues of four print publications across the period September 1998 through August 1999, as follows:
  • Business Week (12 issues cover to cover)
  • Time (12 issues; "Business" section only)
  • Newsweek (12 issues; "Business" section only)
  • Wall Street Journal (30 issues; front page only) — findings forthcoming

ADT Research, under the direction of Andrew Tyndall, analyzed the content of all economic news coverage on the three network newscasts — ABC, CBS and NBC — across two different time periods: September 1988 through August 1989 and September 1998 through August 1999.

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