Women now make up more than four in ten bylines on the website homepages of the biggest newspaper websites in the UK, according to new Press Gazette research.
The Mirror came top for gender diversity, with women crossing over the 50% mark during the period of our research, although it did worse for ethnic minority representation. Mail Online came bottom for both women bylines and stories by ethnic minority journalists.
Inspired by a Women in Journalism (WiJ) survey of 11 newspaper front pages over the course of a week in July 2020, Press Gazette sought to find out to what extent women and ethnic minority journalists are given prominence when it comes to digital news.
That print study by WiJ found that not a single story by a black reporter appeared on the front page of a UK newspaper in the week the research was conducted, while six of 174 bylines went to a journalist from an ethnic minority. One in four front-page bylines went to women.
Our analysis of homepages found that when it comes to online news, there seems to be more diversity of journalists, although outlets varied in how many women and ethnic minority journalists appeared on articles near the top of the homepage.
Given that newspaper websites can carry hundreds of different stories each day, we chose to examine the most prominent stories by using homepages as an indirect comparator to print front pages. We therefore looked at the top 20 articles for five days on the websites of six of the UK’s biggest commercial newsbrands: the Guardian, The Sun, Mail Online, the Telegraph, the Mirror and The Independent.
Since homepages are updated throughout the day and we only took a look at the articles on each site once each day (usually in the morning), the analysis is a snapshot rather than a comprehensive study of all of a newsbrand’s daily content. We included comment pieces and pieces written by guest authors in our sample.
To determine the authors’ genders and whether they were an ethnic minority, we looked at their bylines, photos, what we know about them and their social media presences. Inevitably the research involved some judgement calls on our part, so we also shared our data with the newsrooms in question before publication to give them an opportunity to suggest any corrections if necessary.
Overall, across the six news sites we chose for the survey, we found that 42% of the bylines went to female journalists, commentators or writers. This is higher than WiJ’s findings for print front pages which found that around a quarter of bylines went to women, but still not representative of women’s share of the UK population – 51%.
Only the Mirror website carried a share of female bylines that was equivalent to women’s share of the population - 51%. The share was 46% at the Guardian which was second-highest ranked.
In contrast, at the Telegraph and Mail Online one in three bylines (34% and 33% respectively) went to women.
Ascertaining the ethnic background of journalists was trickier to do without contacting all the journalists individually and not all minorities are visible. In line with this kind of research by other organisations such as the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, we acknowledge that in some instances the journalists may identify differently to how we have categorised them.
The data suggests that overall 11% of bylines went to non-white journalists. The Independent, which last year stepped up its efforts to increase its coverage of race-related issues by appointing Nadine White as its first dedicated race correspondent, was well ahead of the other outlets we looked at. Almost three in ten (28%) of the 122 named authors on the 100 Independent articles we surveyed appeared to be from an ethnic minority background.
Independent acting editor David Marley told Press Gazette: "Diversity and inclusion are core values and guiding principles across the business and across editorial, where we have always elevated and championed marginalised voices through countless campaigns and in our day-to-day reporting.
"Following a close focus on this area in recent years, we are very pleased to have improved the diversity of our newsroom and will continue to give more space to stories on under-represented communities."
This was in contrast to the Mail and the Mirror where 5% and 6% of bylines respectively seemed to be attributed to journalists or writers of minority backgrounds.
An NCTJ study in 2021 suggested that 8% of journalists are non-white compared with 12% of the general UK workforce.
Mirror editor-in-chief Alison Phillips said: "It's disappointing to read this but I always welcome analysis and accountability. We know we've made progress in diversifying our team over the past couple of years, and it's encouraging to see the number of female staff bylines in our list, but we still have much more to do - and are committed to doing it.
"Interestingly this analysis doesn't distinguish between staff writers and bylines on stories bought in from agencies. Our focus is on diversifying our own newsroom and crucially the stories we create for readers, and we're creating our own metrics to measure that."
According to the 2021 census 18% of the population of England and Wales does not identify as white while London - where most of the UK media tends to be concentrated - is more diverse. Some 58% of people in London identified as white British or other white when responding to the latest census.
Phillips is one of a number of female editors at the UK's major newspaper brands, alongside Emma Tucker at The Sunday Times, the Mirror’s Alison Phillips, the FT’s Roula Khalaf, Katharine Viner at The Guardian and The Sun’s Victoria Newton.
Responding to our research, a Guardian News and Media spokesperson told Press Gazette: "The Guardian places a high priority on producing original journalism by a range of voices, with in-depth, thoughtful and well-reported stories from across our UK and international newsrooms for our global audience of readers."
A report commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and published this week found that women of colour are "almost completely locked out" of the UK news industry, and severely underrepresented or missing altogether from certain senior editorial roles. Women in both the UK and US are still disproportionately assigned “soft” beats, despite the fact that more editor-in-chiefs are recruited from the journalists covering "hard" beats, found the report.
Despite some high profile female editors in the UK news industry, the analysis found women remain “far off gender parity”, making up around 40% of editors-in-chief, 20% of political editors (lagging behind representation in Parliament), and less than a third of economics editors or foreign affairs editors.
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