October 22, 2012
Where do all the female journalists go?

I was surprised when I heard the news that 78% of front page news stories are written by men.  Well, my first reaction was surprise and then I thought about it for two tenths of a millisecond and then I realised that no, that probably seems about right.  I think we all know that there are more men in the newspaper industry than women but wouldn’t you agree that even that percentage seems a bit steep.  It does however reflect findings that were made last year which showed that, again, 78% of bylines in the national newspapers were attributed to men. 

This got me thinking as to whether journalism is just one of those jobs that men are more attracted to than women or whether it’s something that both the sexes are interested in but, for some reason, women can’t seem to get into.  To try and discover what was going on I decided to research the numbers and percentages of men and women who write for university newspapers.

There are limitations to my research.  Just as someone acting in a university production doesn’t necessarily want to become an actor once they graduate, someone who’s working on a student newspaper won’t necessarily want to have a career as a journalist.  However, it does show the figures of those who have an active interest in journalism.

As there are so many student newspapers and I couldn’t possibly look at them all, I decided to look at those that had been nominated for a Guardian Student Media award in the ‘Student Publication of the Year’ category.  These awards are well regarded in student journalism circles and therefore the newspapers nominated should be of a high quality.  I decided that if I couldn’t find at least 4 newspapers nominated for the 2012 award whose back catalogues were available online I would look at the previous year’s nominees as well.  In the end I surveyed six newspapers across the 2012 and 2011 awards: The Courier (Newcastle), Felix (Imperial College), Leeds Student (Leeds), Nouse (York), River (Kingston) and York Vision (York).

For my sample I used the first four editions I could access from the beginning of the year (2012).  I chose this time frame so that the newspaper was working at full capacity and any freshers who wanted to join the newspaper would hopefully have done so.  As the newspapers are published to different timescales (weekly/fortnightly/monthly) some of the newspapers are reporting for the period from January–February and others from January–May.

I looked only at articles which I considered to be in the main part of the paper, so if a newspaper had a pullout section or parts that they deemed secondary, these articles were discounted.  This was because these sections did not always appear in the paper or were not available online and I wanted to keep the sampling as consistent as possible and the number of pages sampled to a reasonable amount for me to analyse. 

First, I looked at the number of men and women who had written for each edition of the newspaper.  On average 55% of the people writing for a single edition of a student newspaper are male and 45% are female (there were fewer than five student journalists in the whole sample whose gender could not be determined).  The figures for each individual paper are more varied though.  For three newspapers an average edition will have more men than women writing for it: Leeds Student (70% male), Nouse (66% male) and Felix (65% male).  Two of the newspapers, on average, had equal numbers of men and women writing for each edition (The Courier and York Vision) and one newspaper (River) had fewer men than women writing for each edition (31% male).

I also looked at the number of articles written by men and women in each of these newspapers.  On average 56% of the articles in a given newspaper were written by men and 44% by women which shows that individual men aren’t getting many more articles published than individual women. 

This pattern of the percentage of articles written by males/females in an edition reflecting the percentage of male/female writers writing for an edition largely continued for the individual newspapers (Leeds Student 71% male, 29% female; Felix 70% male, 30% female; Nouse 65% male, 35% female; The Courier: 51.5% male, 48.5% female; York Vision 52% male, 48% female and River 28% male, 72% female)

All this research shows that most of the student newspapers have a larger percentage of articles written by women than the national daily newspapers do.  It also shows that although some student newspapers only have 30% of their articles written by women there are two newspapers where the results are relatively even and one where articles by women make up almost three quarters of the newspaper.

It’s clear that although the numbers are slightly more in favour of male student journalists, there isn’t a great big gap like there is on the national newspapers so there is a great big question that needs to be asked: where do all the female journalists go?

Not every print journalist wrote on their university newspaper when they were younger and, as mentioned before, writing for a student newspaper doesn’t immediately mean that you want to be a journalist but surely that’s just as likely to be the case for a man as it is for a woman.  There’s no reason why for every girl on an English Literature degree who writes for her student newspaper and decides that she actually fancies working for RBS there shouldn’t also be a boy in the same position.  However it doesn’t look like that’s the case.  The fact that just under half (44%) of student newspaper articles are written by women and half that number (22%) of national newspapers article are written by women is actually quite staggering.

Another reason that someone working on their student newspaper might decide not to work for a national one is that perhaps they fancy working in a different section of the media such as magazines, television, radio or online.  Again though, there’s no particular reason why a woman should change focus and a man shouldn’t.

Is it instead that fewer women want to be professional journalists?  It would be interesting to, instead of looking at the figures of those involved with student journalism, look at the figures of those who have undertaken a print journalism qualification.  Surely undertaking this qualification would be an indication that these people intend to work in print journalism in the future (something which can not be gauged from student newspaper analysis).  I looked for these figures but could not find them, however I did find a 2011 blog from Roy Greenslade who says “at City University, where I teach post-grads. In my seven or so years at the university I have noted the that [sic] females generally outnumber male students. Yet the jobs, apparently, still go to the boys. Why is that?”

Why is that indeed?  If there are equal or higher numbers of women training to be print journalists (which there aren’t necessarily) where do they disappear to?  Do they suddenly decide, the day after their graduation, that they no longer fancy being a print journalist?  Or is it really a lot more difficult for women to get jobs in print?

Greenslade also quotes that 30% of newspaper journalists are women.  Looking at the six student newspapers, 45% of the 470 identified student journalists who wrote in at least one of the editions surveyed are women.  Again, there seems to be a bigger difference between the number of women writing for national newspapers and student newspapers than you might expect to see. 


It would be interesting to look at the ages of the staff on national newspapers.  It could perhaps be that equal numbers of men and women are currently coming in and the higher number of male journalists is down to these men having been in the profession for longer, or it could be that more men are coming through each year.

However, looking at the data in front of us the question still seems to be ‘where do all the women go?’  All the women who are interested in journalism enough that they write for their university newspaper and all the women who apparently take journalism courses, what happens to them?  If not many women are interested in journalism then perhaps steps should be taken to encourage them so that a wider range of opinions are heard in newspapers but if fairly equal numbers of women and men are actively trying to break into journalism and for some reason the women aren’t succeeding, then this needs to be looked at more closely.

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