Women and
"All the News That's Fit to Print"?

Literature review

Thomas Jefferson said if he had to decide "whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter" (Kin, 1955). Like the other founders of this nation who chafed under the elitist, royal rule of England, Jefferson wanted to establish a republic based on pluralism. In politics, pluralism is "the belief that power is widely distributed among various groups in the population" (Kweit & Kweit, 1981, p. 11). The founders looked to newspapers as the conduit for informed participation in politics by these groups, and as a forum for groups to express their political viewpoints. In this role, journalism became the "Fourth Estate" of government, a private sector addition to the public checks and balances of the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Acting as watchdogs of government, journalists often became unelected representatives of people who did not have time to monitor government themselves.

It was in this context that the Commission on the Freedom of the Press issued its 1947 report spawning the "social responsibility" theory of journalism. Commonly known by the name of its chairman, the "Hutchins Commission" challenged the media to return to their roots in pluralism. It called on journalists to provide:

1. "A full, truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day's events in a context which gives them meaning."

2. "A forum for the exchange of comment and criticism."

3. "A representative picture of constituent groups in society" (McQuail, 1994, p. 124).

But since then, the pursuit of pluralism has become corrupted in many quarters. What started as an effort to ensure multiple viewpoints and voices in the media (Fitzgerald, 1994) has often been cast as a battle for equal opportunity, affirmative action, parity employment, reverse discrimination (Shaw, 1991) and political correctness. The end gets lost among the means, with executives focusing on minority quotas (Pease, 1990) and white males usurping the feminist complaint of glass ceilings restricting their advancement (Phillips, 1991).

These reactions to diversity are not limited to newsrooms. They are reflected throughout American society. The extent to which women have been more or less successful at achieving parity with men as news sources will affect the diversity of news content. This study takes a longitudinal approach so that effect can be quantified and controlled for.

The status of women in society overall may also affect how female journalists gather and report the news (Shafer, 1993; Shaw, 1991). The spiral of silence theory hypothesizes that women and other members of non-dominant groups will squelch the differences in their journalism if they feel unaccepted by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly white males (Noelle-Neumann, 1974). Initially at least, many women reporters breaking out of "pink- collar" beats resolved to show their reporting could be just as good as a man's reporting -- and just like it.

More recently, distinctions in the results produced by women and minorities have been encouraged and embraced. That distinction is encompassed in the term "multiculturalism," and is a necessary component of the multiple voices inherent in pluralist theory. Jefferson and Hutchins et al. saw the media as a vehicle for pluralism, but others have noted its tendency toward assimilation (Shafer, 1993). If the assimilationists are correct, women's gains in newsroom employment may never result in the pluralistic news content called for by the Hutchins commission.

The research question this study asks is whether ongoing increases in a newsroom's sexual integration correlate with increased coverage of women in its news content. This question and literature review lead to the following hypotheses:

1. Female writers will refer to women more often than male writers do.

2. Female references in news stories will increase as female bylines increase, especially following the 1978 settlement of the Women's Caucus lawsuit.

3. Female bylines, references, pictures, op-ed pieces, letters to the editor and obituaries all will increase after the 1978 settlement of the lawsuit, and as women's prominence in society increases.

4. As male writers gain female colleagues they will refer to women more often, although still not as often as female writers do.

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