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New study suggests gender inequality still a major issue for UK journalism

By Camilla Turner

Female journalists are falling behind their male counterparts, according to a new academic study.

The Women and Journalism study by Professor Suzanne Franks for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that female journalists are less likely than men to achieve the more senior and well paid positions. And she says that women who do secure jobs at a senior level in journalism are more likely than men to be childless.

“In the early 1990s there were three national newspaper editors who were women,” said Franks. “A top News International figure said in 1994 that, on this basis, ‘there should be ten women editors by the year 2000’. However, there are currently two female national editors, Dawn Neesom of the Daily Star and Lisa Markwell of the Independent on Sunday.

“We need to get over this assumption that it is all improving, that it’s all onwards and upwards. My argument, it’s the same in a lot of other professions, is that unless you hammer away and continue to focus on the issue, nothing changes.”

Collecting examples to give a snapshot of UK journalism in recent years, Franks noted that there has only ever been one female editor of a daily broadsheet in the UK – this was fifteen years ago, when Rosie Boycott was editor of The Independent for three months in 1998. In 90 years there has never been a female director general of the BBC. At the UK Press Awards in 2013, the female to male winner ratio was 4:17, the lowest in five years.

Franks, who is a Professor of Journalism and chairs the undergraduate programme at City University, London, found that more women than men train as journalists and that women also enter the profession in larger numbers. She found that in 2012 there were twice as many female students than males in most of the well-established journalism training programmes.

She said: “I was surprised by this huge imbalance of girls doing journalism training. I didn’t realise it was such a disproportionately women’s subject. There are all these women coming in – but where do they go?”

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Franks looked at the pay gap between male and female journalists, and found that it is not just a British phenomenon, but a global issue. An International Federation of Journalists study in 2012 compared journalists’ salaries in 16 nations across the world, both developed and developing countries. In every case there was a gender pay gap in favour of men.

Franks found that where women have built successful careers in journalism, it tends to be in the lifestyle areas. Meanwhile, politics, news, comment and opinion remain largely the preserve of men. 

“I was surprised by the segregation by genre and subject matter,” Franks said. “All the old stereotypes hold on just as much as they ever did. You think these things are breaking down but this is not the case. It is altogether pretty shocking.”

Women are, however, relatively more prominent in business and finance reporting. Another area where female journalists have found a voice is in war and conflict reporting. 

“The conclusion I reached was that where women have managed to do journalism in a different way to men, and tell a different story, they have broken in well. Nowadays it is not seen as weird, peculiar or odd to have a woman reporting from a battlefield, whereas it was before”, Franks said.

One area that women are thought to have a greater presence in is the local and regional press. In 2012 in the Northcliffe Group roughly one in four of the editors were female. However, Franks showed that these figures can be misleading. While women are prominent on local weekly papers, most of the senior positions on daily regional papers are still dominated by men.

UK national newspaper bylines in 2011

UK national newspaper front-page bylines April to May 2012


Women and Journalism will be published on 6 September by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and will also be published in paperback by I.B.Tauris.

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