Does the newsroom have a glass ceiling?

The number of 2011 New Yorker articles written by men and women. Image: VIDA

My friend from college is an up-and-coming D.C. print journalist. We’re always checking in and comparing notes about our work. But her latest memo detailed a strange sort of sexism she’s encountered in the journalistic world: “You are a girl,” she told me. “So you’re expected to write about girl things.”

Girl things is short for women’s issues: contraceptives, abortion, parenting, and, yes, the “war on women.” But my friend wants to write about public policy and campaign finance. She has no interesting in writing about the pill. None at all.

According to a 2011 count conducted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, that’s precisely what female writers are expected to do.

“When it comes to a career in journalism, chicks should stick to writing about chicks,” VIDA co-founder and poet Erin Belieu lamented to Mother Jones.

Belieu and her colleagues counted the number of articles written by women in publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harpers. Their conclusion: that between 65 and 75 percent of the material was written by men.

And then there’s the issue of who writes which stories. Do men get all the serious bylines, while women write about women’s issues–or worse, fluff? Here’s Belieu:

“A friend of mine defines this kind of intellectual segregation as the “tits and nether bits” ghetto, a place in which women only speak to other women. Meantime, men are allowed and encouraged to speak to whomever they want. We also want to give women writers the confidence to say, “Hey, I can write about whatever I want. I have authority. I have expertise. I have a unique perspective as a person, first and foremost.”

I like covering and reading about women’s issues because I care about them. But I shudder to imagine a journalism career in which writing about women’s issues proved its own glass ceiling.

What do you think? Should women be the people covering women’s issues? And is journalism still a man’s game?

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32 Responses to “Does the newsroom have a glass ceiling?”

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  1. JDM says:

    “According to a 2011 count conducted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts”

    I think it’s like finding that ice cream sales go up in the summer.

    All it’s measuring is interest. What? Do expect an equal number of guys to report on parenting? feminine issues?

    I suppose you could force guys to do it. It probably wouldn’t sound as convincing.

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  2. Peter Hahn says:

    There are many more female sports writers than there used to be. That’s a start.

    But whenever I read an article where in passing, they describe what someone was wearing it is always written by a female.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  3. Kathy says:

    This perceived problem of “intellectual segregation” is parallel to Juan William’s recent statement, Black America needs to get out of the rut of replaying racial injustices of the past.

    Men don’t get all the serious bylines. There’s some amazing women journalists out there.

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  4. PNElba says:

    There seemingly was a glass ceiling in Veterinary colleges a few decades ago. Well over 95% men in the field. The field is now being dominated by women. It takes awhile for things to change…..sometimes a long while.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  5. JDM says:

    Maybe it’s time to take off the gender-color glasses.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  6. Will Doolittle says:

    Well, a couple of comments here reinforce the hypothesis of a glass ceiling. Hey JDM, men are parents, too. In fact, there are just about as many male parents as female parents. “Feminine” issues? What is that, fainting when you see a mouse? Maybe the problem is the all the dinosaurs among the readers.

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  7. oa says:

    Good point, Kathy, though Juan Williams is often quite wrong, as here:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/04/why-dont-black-people-protest-black-on-black-violence/255329/

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    I guess if “men” were to write just about “men” things, then all they could write about would be beer, trucks and guns.
    I would say there is very little difference between men and women issues.
    But forget the issue stuff all together. It is so yesterday.
    Nothing bugs me more than this never ending attempt to lump individual people into groups.
    In point of fact, I view identifying yourself with a group is extremely childish.

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  9. BRFVolpe says:

    This old white guy listens to NPR. Maybe NPR is ahead of the other news media – in my book – because the glass ceiling has been broken. Who’s better than Nina Totenberg when it comes to reporting on the complex issues before the Supreme Court, Sylvia Poggioli in the Balkans and Mediterranean, or Anne Garrel’s in war zones?

    Case in point: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/03/04/how-npr-became-a-hotbed-for-female-journalists.html

    Too bad your friend doesn’t work where you do, Brian.

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  10. BRFVolpe says:

    Oops, sorry Sarah.

    Is there a Molly Ivins replacement? Or Anna Quindlen?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  11. tootightmike says:

    The data might reflect that there are simply more blowhards among the male population. Far more of the men I know love the sound of their own voice. This is particularly true among right wingers…

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  12. Walker says:

    BRFVolpe, you took the words right out of my mouth– NPR is a great counter example!

    Bret writes: “But forget the issue stuff all together. It is so yesterday.”

    Bret, you might not feel that way if you were a young, female reporter who was constantly being sent to cover soft news, while your male colleagues were being sent to cover the good stuff.

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  13. Massena Town Supervisor says:

    It’s the unfortunate circumstance of “old school” media. And evidence of why there are becoming obsolete.
    Why does network TV insist on sending black reporters to cover the Florida shooting case? Isn’t a non-African/American reporter as capable of covering this story.
    And I used to be newspaper reporter/editor, but isn’t “up and coming print journalist” an oxymoron?

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  14. Walker says:

    Oops, Pete, sorry about the misidentification!

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  15. Pete Klein says:

    Walker, my point was and is my objection to the very idea of issues of interest to only to a particular “group,” be they male or female or any other so called group.
    If any news organization only sends women to cover “women issues,” it deserves to go out of business.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  16. Chris LaRose says:

    i could care less the gender of the journalist, but it sure would be nice to hear both sides of a story, ie, on abortion and birth control issues. Unfortunately Joe Public believes whatever the liberal media tells them is the whole truth!

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  17. Walker says:

    Ah, the great Liberal Media. Tell me, Chris, what is the truth on birth control being suppressed by the Liberal Media?

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  18. Walker says:

    “If any news organization only sends women to cover “women issues,” it deserves to go out of business.”

    Well, OK, but that doesn’t do the young reporter much good, does it?

    It’s really not about “only sending women to cover ‘women issues,’” it’s about only sending men to cover the ‘real news.’ And if virtually all news organizations are doing the latter, they won’t be going out of business any time soon, but the public will be missing the perspective of half of the young reporters out there.

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  19. JDM says:

    Walker: “Tell me, Chris, what is the truth on birth control being suppressed by the Liberal Media?”

    The “truth” that is being overlooked is that this is not about birth control. It’s about government control. i.e. should the Federal Government tell a private enterprise what it must do? That is the real issue.

    As far as sending women to cover anything. A good newspaper should send the “best” person to cover a story, regardless of race or gender. It’s only the libs who look at gender and race as a higher qualification than “skill” or “content of character”.

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  20. JDM says:

    It’s only the libs who look at gender and race as a higher qualification than “skill” or “content of character”.

    And I’ll go one step further. It’s racial and gender division that makes the liberal or progressive movement relevant. That’s why V.I.D.A. or whoever puts out a “count” of something that is otherwise irrelevant.

    If we had a country where the “best” person was chosen to fill a job regardless of gender or race, a lot of liberal organizations, and media, would be irrelevant. So, they have to stir to the pot to stay in business.

    Most of us don’t really care what gender a reporter is. We just read the content of their work and judge it on what it says. If it is a “good” article, it will stand on its own merit.

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  21. td says:

    to Jdm,

    Like it or not, only a real man would take off the gender colored glasses and I don’t know too many who could or would. A sad truth.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  22. Walker says:

    JDM: “The “truth” that is being overlooked is that this is not about birth control. It’s about government control. i.e. should the Federal Government tell a private enterprise what it must do?”

    It’s not about birth control at all? Really? How come you cons don’t get all excited about laws telling a private enterprise that it must pay its workers a fair wage, must not engage in deceptive advertising, must pay its taxes, must pay its workers overtime after 40 hours a week, must not employ small children, must not have unsafe working conditions, etc., etc., etc. The Federal Government tells private enterprise what it must and must not do in hundreds of areas, and has done so for decades. Granted, it’s clear that you cons want to roll all of these rules back to the dark ages, but there seems to be a special fervor regarding birth control. [Good luck dealing with the backlash from the 51.5% of the population that is female.]

    Meanwhile, what is wrong with these mainstream media stories?
    CNN
    CBS
    Huffington Post
    Seems to me they tell the story. What do you find lacking?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  23. Walker says:

    JDM: “If we had a country where the “best” person was chosen to fill a job regardless of gender or race, a lot of liberal organizations, and media, would be irrelevant.”

    I couldn’t possibly agree more. When we get there, let me know. Wouldn’t it be nice if you cons helped get us there.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  24. JDM says:

    Walker and td: “I couldn’t possibly agree more. When we get there, let me know. ”

    Therein lies the evolutionists paradox. I would simply say, “it’s a condition of fallen man. We will never resolve all human conflict by 100%”

    What would an evolutionist think? We evolved into a people where race and gender matter?

    If so, how can we resolve it? Are we going to have to go against evolution to solve a condition of evolution?

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  25. FrankJoseph says:

    EEgads! Who first considers the gender of a reporter as being relevent when watching or reading the news? I could care less. I’m more concerned about the political leanings of some of these so-called “Journalists” such as Judith Miller AND Sean Hannity AND Ann Coulter, etc., in America who carried and delivered the Bush Administration’s lies leading up to the immoral, unjust and illegal war on Iraq. Gender is no guarantee of journalistic integrity.

    Kathy tells us that Juan Williams believes that racist attitudes towards black folks no longer exists but are based upon racial injustices of the past that black people tote around with them. Is that because racial injustices of the past has nothing to do with racial injustice today? Read Michelle Alexander’s NY Times bestselling book: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and it will become quite clear that racial injustice is not a thing of the past!

    JDM, after resisting the urge to go all Biblical on us finally submits to his inner religious fanatic to tell us that the real truth behind why it appears that female journalists are sometimes assigned “women’s issues” is because of mankind being “fallen.” And evolution is both the reason and the fault.

    Finally, Chris Larose (aka chnchris) with a banal and untrue strawman argument about the “liberal media” not telling the whole story about abortion and birth control. This is what the Catholic Crusader of Victimhood and Persecution, Bill Donahue and his publication “Catalyst” may rail on about issue after issue, the so-called “liberal media” just as Rush and FOX have gone on now for about a quarter century. With almost all print, radio and TV media now under the ownership and control of just 5 major corporations in America (and corporations are not Liberal leaning), it is almost like believing in the Easter Bunny to claim that liberal media is controlling anything let alone keeping the “true” story of birthcontrol and abortion under wraps.

    Give it a rest, Chris. Your, tired, same-old liberal media smears don’t work anymore. Oh, wait, that’s right, I heard Rush re-use that tired old nonsense just last week. Ann Coulter last month. And Bill Donahue in the March issue of the Catalyst. So it must be true.

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  26. FrankJoseph says:

    JDM says: “It’s only the CONs who look at gender and race as a higher qualification than “skill” or “content of character”.
    And I’ll go one step further. It’s racial and gender division that makes the CONservative or regressive movement relevant.”

    Oh wait, you didn’t quite say that did you JDM? A wiser man, one who understands how race plays in racism would have never taken your first step let alone going “one step further” with a really silly claim.

    So, I give you an opportunity to take a step back and see how your comment reads when CON is substituted for LIB..

    What you describe above is the Southern Strategy first practiced by Ronald Reagan. The Willy Horton ads of G.W.H. Bush. What you describe above is the flight of White Southerners in droves to the Republican Party because the Democratic Party forced through integration, human rights, civil rights, voting rights, and an idea (yet to be fulfilled) of equal justice under the law.
    What you describe above is how Gingrich, Santorum and Romney have consistently been appealing to the very base “Base” with their use of racial code and misogynistic language. What you describe is “The Turner Diary” and the White Power Patriot militias that have bloomed like a plague across America since Obama became President. And that is because Obama suffers from a lack of character content and not because he is black?

    We’d love to read more of your facts. BTW, many men are involved in writing about women’s issues, fashions, parenting, shopping etc..especially well represented are men in the Gay community.

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  27. Peter Hahn says:

    If we truly had a system where the best people were given the jobs we wouldn’t be talking about gender and race issues.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Pete Klein says:

    Let’s be honest. Who would ever want to live in a world where everyone agreed about everything?
    Variety of ideas is the spice of life. Disagreements are what push us to find solutions to problems.
    The trick is to keep the violence at a minimum.
    Think about it. If only the best people were given the jobs, most of us would be out of work and the “best people” wouldn’t git anything done because there would be no one around to help them.

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  29. FrankJoseph says:

    Some of this historical bias against women being journalist’s may be because ,en have long dominated American journalism. There was the good ol’ boys syndrome in newsrooms since the days of Ben Franklin, which made it very, very difficult for a woman to first, be hired and second, be assigned “hard” news stories. Cronyism and nepotism also played their roles.

    Those days are almost gone. From the Washington Post: “In 1978, the U.S. District Court for Southern New York ruled that women should have equal access to the locker rooms after Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Ludtke was not allowed into the Yankees’ clubhouse. It was not until 1985 that the NFL changed its policy.”

    Since those days of yore, women have come on strong reporting not just on male sporting events, but also wars and disaster around the globe. In many cases where female reporters cover war zones or warring males of our species, they exhibit great bravery and courage.

    Women are making inroads into journalism but just not fast enough at this point in our history.

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  30. hermit thrush says:

    i think a lot of commenters (with jdm leading the charge) are missing the point. sexism is still a big problem in society. sarah’s friend in dc is encountering obstacles in her career, owing to nothing but her sex, that shouldn’t be there. everyone should be outraged by stuff like this. thank goodness there are organizations like vida to raise awareness.

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  31. SirLeland says:

    I’m sorry, but there is more than one conservative poster on here that I personally recognize as having had their opinions and editorials published by the local “Liberal Media”, one more than one occasion, even when their content has been completely devoid of fact, with little more than a personal opinion to espouse. You’ve had your shot at “Joe Public”.

    So, give me a break.

    There’s a difference between “covering” the news, and “promoting” the news. Our die-hard conservative friends seem to prefer the latter.

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  32. SirLeland says:

    BTW, Rest in Peace, Mike Wallace. One of the best, male or female, we’ve ever produced.

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