Journalism is one of many industries that has historically excluded women, but gender diversity in newsrooms across the country is on the rise. With increased diversity in newsrooms comes increased diversity in stories, and a healthier news media overall.
Newsrooms are the most gender-diverse they’ve ever been. Neiman Lab reported that in 1971, women made up only 22% of daily newspaper journalists, and 11% of television journalists. But as of 2019, according to the News Leaders Association’s diversity survey, 41.8% of all newsroom workers are women.
However, non-white women continue to be underrepresented in newsrooms. In a study conducted by the American Society of News Editors across 661 newsrooms, under 3% of their journalists were Black women. Hispanic women and Asian women both made up about 2%, and Native American and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women combined accounted for less than 1%. Although white women are a minority compared to the men who dominate the industry, they are better represented than women of color.
While there has been an increase in female journalists, there has not been an increase in respect. In a 2022 study from UNESCO, 73% of female journalists reported receiving online harassment, and 25% received threats of physical violence. Journalists who were women of color, or LGBT identifying, experienced the highest rates and most severe of online threats.
The lack of respect for female journalists is so deeply imbued into our culture that it has infiltrated popular media, which refuses to take women in journalism seriously.
The clearest image some of our generation might have of what it means to be a female journalist comes from the poor caricatures that plague Hollywood. Romantic comedies like “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days” (2003) and “Trainwreck” (2015) paint female journalists as fluffy writers with little else to do than pursue a man — who often ends up being their article’s subject. As said in the Atlantic, sleeping with sources is a tired trope that has been hashed and rehashed ten times over. This is especially egregious when real life journalists are falsely portrayed this way, as the late journalist Kathy Scruggs was in Clint Eastwood’s 2019 film “Richard Jewell.”
It’s not that fluffy stories are inherently bad, but they’re not all that female journalists are capable of writing. Women have a long history of making strides in journalism, one that deserves a reputation beyond Hollywood tropes.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist in the late 19th century who covered and spoke out about the horrible lynchings Black Americans faced from their white counterparts. Wells, who was born into slavery, was one of the first journalists to push back against white supremacy in the press, which led to threats against her life. She was a trailblazer, not only for women but for her entire field, and was finally honored by a Pulitzer prize posthumously in 2020.
In 2017, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times wrote a story that changed womens’ lives for the better. The piece, which detailed the experiences of several women who were sexually harassed by (formally successful) Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, sparked the #MeToo movement.
Last year, Politico recapped tangible changes the #MeToo movement made for women and other vulnerable groups and other vulnerable groups. They reported that, “Between 2017 and 2021, states introduced 2,324 #MeToo-related bills and passed 286,” including bills championing anti-harassment practices and pay equity.
Increasing female representation in journalism means that women, who make up about half of the world’s population, can tell their stories on their own terms. Journalists cover stories that will eventually be referred to in history books, and they should reflect the nuanced identities of the cultures they represent.
Although women still face challenges in journalism, trailblazers like Wells, Kantor, Twohey, and so many others have set the precedent that female journalists can do great things. As a primarily female-led publication, the Foghorn will continue to uphold the values of great female journalists before us and continue to pave the way for this change to occur.