Why are only 29% of NYTimes.com front page authors women?

In December I picked a moment to audit the gender composition of authors at the New York Times and Washington Post websites. Not many were women. Here’s a follow-up with more data.

For some context, according to the American Community Survey (IPUMS data extraction tool), there were about 55,000 “News Analysts, Reporters and Correspondents” working full-time, year-round in 2012. Of those, 41% were women. This pool of news writers is small compared with the number FTYR workers who report their college major was in journalism: about 315,000, of whom 53% are women. Lots of journalism majors work in other careers; lots of news writers weren’t journalism majors.

So, how will the premier newspaper in the country compare?

Methods

I stuck with NYTimes.com, and checked the gender composition of the bylines that appeared on the front page of the website just about every day between January 8 (the first day of their website redesign) and February 9, for 26 observations over 32 days. I checked whenever I thought of it, aiming for once a day and never more than once per calendar day. I excluded those in the “most-emailed” or “recommended for you” lists. I included Op-Eds and Opinion columnists if they were named (e.g., “Friedman: Israel’s Big Question”) but not if they weren’t (e.g., “Op-Ed Contributor: Czar Vladimir’s Illusions”). On average there were 16 bylines on the front page.

Someone — looking at you, Neal Caren — could scrape the site for all bylines, but in the absence of that I figured a simple rule was best. To check the gender of authors, I used my personal knowledge of common names, and when I wasn’t sure Googled the author’s photo and eyeballed it (all the authors I checked had a photo easily accessible). Overall, I counted 421 named authors (including duplicates, as when the same story was on the front page twice or the same author wrote again on a different day).

Results

Twenty-nine percent of the named authors were women (124 / 421). Women outnumbered men once (8-to-6), on February 8 at 2:35 AM. At the most extreme, men outnumbered women 18-to-1, at 8:12 AM on January 14.

Here are the details:

nytimes percent female authors.xlsx

Discussion

The New York Times is just one newspaper, and one employer, but it matters a lot, and the gender composition of the writers featured there is important. According to Alexa, NYTimes.com is the 34th most popular website in the U.S., and the 119th most popular in the world — and the most popular website of a printed newspaper in the U.S. In the JSTOR database of academic scholarship, “New York Times” appeared in 117,683 items in January 2014, 3.7-times more frequently than the next most-common newspaper, the Washington Post.

I don’t know the overall composition of New York Times writers, or their pool of applicants, or the process by which articles are selected for the website front page, so I can’t comment on how they end up with a lower female composition on the website than the national average for this occupation.

However, it is interesting to hold this up to the organizational research on how organization size and visibility affect gender inequality. Analyzing data from almost 300,000 workplaces over three decades, Matt Huffman, Jessica Pearlman and I found strong evidence that larger establishments are less gender segregated. To explain that, we wrote (with references removed for brevity):

Institutional research on organizational legitimacy implies that size promotes gender integration within establishments, because size increases both visibility to the public and government regulatory agencies and pressure to conform to societal expectations. Size is positively correlated with the formalization of personnel policies and other practices, and formalization is thought to reduce gender-based ascription by limiting managers’ discretion and subjectivity and holding decision makers accountable for their decisions.

The New York Times certainly is a high-visibility corporation, and the effects of its staffing practices are splashed all over its products through bylines and the masthead. In fact, maybe that visibility is to thank for the integration it has accomplished already. Of course it’s complicated; we also found that the gender of managers, firm growth, and other factors affect gender integration. Maybe to help figure this out someone should repeat this count over a longer time period to see how it’s changed, and how those changes correspond with other characteristics of the company and its social context.

7 Comments

Filed under In the news, Me @ work

7 responses to “Why are only 29% of NYTimes.com front page authors women?

  1. The Times Article Search API would be your friend in scaling this up. I used the Times API as part of a workshop in New Haven last week, so there’s at least 20 sociologist there who could help you out.

  2. vijay

    Not clear why should it break 50-50?

  3. vijay

    Since I got no answer, let me rephrase. What percentage breakup would be considered acceptable? Why talk only about women? I propose the following breakup of authors..

    33% white men; 33% white women; 7.5% lation men; 7.5% latino women; 6.3% black men; 6.3% black women; 5% Asians of wither race; 1.4% native americans and Alaskans,

  4. anon

    Vijay: If 41% of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents are women, all else being equal, we’d expect 41% of news analysts, reporters, and correspondents at the NYT to be women. In fact, 41% should be a lower bound expectation, give the study that Phil cited that shows that, on average, the larger the organization, the greater the representation of women.

    29% < 41%.

    You're perfectly welcome to (1) look on the Census site to find the proportion of news reporters in the US who are members of different racial or ethnic groups or race*gender groups, (2) image search all 421 respondents in Phil's "sample", (3) come up with a defensible way of categorizing their race from their pictures (good luck with that), and (4) write your own blog post.

    • vijay

      I am just glad that Phil does not put out blogs for my industry; “0.13% of Oil Gas plant constructors are women” or “1.17% of nuclear plant builders are women”.

  5. Perhaps you could find out what percent of the NYT female journalists write news articles, and what percent of the NYT female journalists write editorials. The front page stories are usually 100% news articles, and a big paper will probably be better at keeping it only news on the front page. Smaller community papers might not have such a strict standard of keeping editorials off the front page. I hope this helps you solve your mystery.

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