The painful irony of women’s reproductive rights becoming the focal point of political discourse in the past few weeks is that the majority of political reporters are actually men.
As reported in The Huffington Post earlier this week, male reporters authored 76 percent of GOP primary articles from January 1 to April 15, as well as 72 percent of articles covering the general election from April 16 to August 25, according to a study by The Women’s Media Center.
The demographics of journalists are important in that the lived experience of reporters can often be an indicator of priorities in terms of coverage. It is not to say that one cannot have an analytic insight regarding an issue that doesn’t pertain to them personally, it’s just that it’s unethical to only have men speak for women on issues that affect women so uniquely and intimately. This is exacerbated by the fact that because of patriarchy and sexism, women are all too frequently put into the position of hearing men speak with authority on women’s issues. In other words, it’s not just a coincidence that men are dominating campaign coverage. Based on these patterns of reporting, it’s clear that the demographics of media professionals are often directly related to the stories that reach the public. With the mainstream media (MSM) serving as the gatekeeper for news and information, it is important that newsrooms are diverse for the sake of all peoples being equally represented. Furthermore, since people enter the voting booth with MSM talking points likely reverberating through their subconscious, ensuring diversity in journalism is no small matter.
This also goes for white journalists speaking for persons of color on issues of race and racial inequality. According to an article by The American Society of News Editors last April, the number of minority journalists declined in 2011 by 5.7 percent. As Karen Magnuson, editor and vice president of news for the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group of Rochester, NY, explains, “our industry still falls significantly short of accurately reflecting the population it serves.” The report states that across the United States, persons of color are far underrepresented in newsrooms proportionate to the number of persons of color living in those markets. With the white, male, college-educated voice dominating journalism in conjunction with the bottom-line mentality of corporate owners, it is no wonder that the MSM often appears out of touch with the issues that matter most to a diverse public.
A lack of representation of women and people of color in the MSM not only leads to improperly framing vital issues affecting these already systemically marginalized groups, but also to ignoring these issues entirely. This is also true for workers and the poor. Barbara Ehrenreich is well-known for her emphasis on worker’s rights and poverty in her reporting, most memorably in her landmark 2001 book Nickel and Dimed. In a recent interview with Truthout entitled “Why Are Working People Invisible in the Mainstream Media?”, Ehrenreich encapsulates the two main reasons why the voice of workers is remarkably absent:
“… magazines and newspapers want to please their advertisers. Their advertisers want to think they are reaching wealthy people, people who will buy the products. They don’t want really depressing articles about misery and hardship near their ads… The other reason is that typically the gatekeepers in these media outlets, the top editors and producers, have been from a social class quite far removed from what we are talking about. They have no clue…”
Although pushing for diversity is essential in all workplaces and professions, its importance in journalism cannot be overstated. Every presidential election year provides us with more and more evidence of how media coverage is inextricably linked to the public’s knowledge and understanding of the world around them. If the public is only hearing complex political issues filtered through the limited perspective of white, male, college-educated journalists, it creates a crisis for a pluralistic democracy.
Do you think journalism has a problem with privilege?