A recent survey by the Women’s Media Center found that about 75% of newspapers’ election coverage this year had been written by men.
The report on the data was headlined, “Men are telling the stories of Election 2012.”
But that’s not in the case in the Los Angeles Times.
The survey counted bylines in 35 “influential” newspapers, including The Times. It broke the results into two periods: From Jan. 1-April 14, 76% of the total election articles were written by men; and from April 15-Aug. 25, the figure was 73%.
A quick, and admittedly less scientific, examination of Times bylines alone yields a much different result. In The Times, about 60% of election stories this year have been written by women.
The Women’s Media Center survey excluded blogs and opinion columns, so for the Times study, I counted only news articles that appeared in the print newspaper. I also extended the search period through the end of the Democratic National Convention, whereas the Women’s Media Center survey ended before the Republican convention began.
From Jan. 1-Sept. 7, there were 756 campaign-related articles published in The Times; 446 of these carried women’s bylines, and 310 carried men’s.
When I came across the 75%-male statistic, I suspected The Times’ ratio would be much closer to 50-50. Times staff writers Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta have been on the road all year with Republican candidates, and Christi Parsons and Kathleen Hennessey cover the White House. For the conventions, a total of 17 reporters were assigned to the RNC, the DNC or both; nine of those were women.
Campaign editor Cathleen Decker said The Times has been successful at grooming new generations of political reporters – both women and men.
“When we assemble a presidential reporting team, we go after the best political types available,” Decker said. “This year, many of our top-line reporters are women. Many are men. We didn’t go after X number of women and Y number of men. We didn’t have to, because the pool we chose from was varied.”
National editor Roger Smith added, “We don’t consider the gender mix of reporters in making assignments. I think that flows from the exceedingly good balance we enjoy.”
The Women’s Media Center survey included a quote from its president, Julie Burton, who said the numbers showed that “when it comes to presidential elections it’s still a ‘boys on the bus’ world.”
But Times reporters said that hasn’t been their experience. Reston said that on the campaign trail, “there are often more female reporters than men.”
“I remember in 2008, the print row on the plane (Politico, NYT, WSJ, LAT, Wash Post and Bloomberg) was all women. This year has been similar,” Reston emailed from Iowa, where she was covering Mitt Romney’s visit.
Robin Abcarian, who covered both conventions, agreed. “I have been struck this year by the prevalence of young women and not-so-young women on the campaign trail,” she said. “At one point, virtually the entire [Newt] Gingrich press corps was women – with the exception of Trip Gabriel of the NYT, their former Style editor.”
Mehta said she thinks family responsibilities are what keep more women from the trail. “Once women start having children, there is a noticeable drop-off,” she said. “There are lots of guys on the plane calling home as we take off to say goodnight to their babies. There are far fewer women with young children on the trail.”
The Women’s Media Center survey tallied bylines, but that alone is misleading. Bylines are easy to count, but they can’t differentiate between a 5-inch dispatch and a 40-inch news analysis. “If you’re on the trail and doing a lot of shorter stories, you can have a higher count than if you delve deep, spend a few weeks and do one story,” Decker said. “We have men and women doing both things.”
The exclusion of blogs from the survey also leaves out a sizable chunk of news organizations’ political coverage. At The Times, many more articles appear online, especially on the Politics Now blog, than make it into print.
Decker said that what’s important is “a reporting staff that comes from a lot of different places – that way, you get a lot of different ideas and stories in the mix.”
Abcarian said that diversity was gratifying. “At the LAT, we have a great mixed group – entirely collegial and supportive,” she said, “men and women alike.”
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