Press Gazette’s list of Top 50 Political Reporters is not quite as definitive as it might be.
Here are some names that aren’t on it (and no, they’re not all political reporters strictly speaking, but then neither are Andrew Marr, Jeremy Paxman or Nick Robinson – all of whom made the top 10): Ann Treneman (Times), Jackie Ashley (Guardian), Mary Riddell (Telegraph), Emily Maitlis (Newsnight), Polly Toynbee (Guardian), Cathy Newman (Channel 4), Julia Hartley-Brewer (Sunday Express), Laura Kuenssberg (BBC News)â€¦
I could go on, but you get the drift. Of the PG Top 50, precisely four – Jean Eaglesham of the FT (no 16), Rachel Sylvester (Times, no 36), Allegra Stratton (Guardian, no 39) and Alex Forrest (ITV News, no 42) – are women.
I have no idea why in any fair poll – the PG surveyed 1000 members of the public and a “representative sample of specialist journalists working in the field” – so many talented women in political journalism should be so completely overlooked. But it is probably not unrelated to the fact that the industry they work in doesn’t sufficiently recognise or promote them either.
In broadcast media, attitudes to women – particularly at the BBC – are cringemaking: two weeks ago the producer of the Today programme, Ceri Thomas, announced his programme was too tough an environment for female presenters. He was promptly drowned out by the chorus suggesting that the likes Kirsty Wark or Martha Kearney might just be able to hack it.
In the press, political journalism reflects British political life itself: it is still – and for exactly the same reasons – overwhelmingly a male arena, as no one who attends morning conference at any national newspaper can fail to notice. Women political reporters aren’t completely absent – and of course they can and do get to the top. But they are still the exceptions. There isn’t a critical mass of women pushing through, or – worryingly – of young women knocking at the door.
Why aren’t women drawn to political journalism? I recently gave a talk to first-year students on Kingston University’s excellent journalism degree course. They were interested in politics and news, but several of the young women asked me who I thought were the best female reporters: they didn’t know if there were many, and they said they needed more role models.
They won’t find many in the PG Top 50, more’s the pity.
Sue Matthias is co-chair of Women in Journalism.