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


This study is a small but systematic step toward determining whether newsroom diversity enhances pluralism. Its results regarding The New York Times are important per s, because the Times remains America's paper of record and most prestigious publication, in the minds of many. It is not yet known whether these results are generalizable to other newspapers, but if the Times deserves its reputation as the "Grey Lady" of the industry, most other newspapers are likely to be farther along in converting their newsroom diversity to diverse news content.

This study has focused on women because they remain the most underrepresented group in the news. Women compose 53.2% of the population of New York City, yet they garnered just 18.2% of the name references in The New York Times as recently as 1994.

A potential weakness of the current methodology is that it is based on the discrete variable of sex, rather than the continuous variable of gender (Dowd, 1993). Further study is needed to determine whether men who are more sensitized to women's lives write about women more often -- or whether anti- feminist women write about women less often. This study provided some evidence in this area, by showing that male writers significantly increased their references to women as they worked alongside more women in the newsroom, although not to the degree female writers increased their references to women.

Counting name references is a blunt indicator of the amount of gender diversity in a newspaper story. Although it is quite objective and reliable, it may be lacking in validity. Also, it focuses on news inputs. Ultimately, what counts is how much the audience perceives, and is affected by, whatever diversity is in the news content. Now that a floor of news content diversity has been uncovered, future studies could involve audience members rating the amount and quality of diversity in news content.

Then the question becomes whether diversity in news content equates with pluralism. Does merely multiplying the cultural voices in the media help distribute political power to various groups? For diversity is just one of three types of plurality, a concept which can also be conceived in terms of separateness and distinctness (Vernon, 1986). The media's challenge is to encourage diversity and distinctness without separateness, walking the fine line between atomization and assimilation.

In the 28 years covered by this study, America became much less of a male-dominated society. That was reflected by a doubling of women's bylines and references to women in The New York Times. Even so, as recently as 1994 men still outnumbered women 4-to-1 on bylines and references in The New York Times. That pace of plurality portends poorly for a republic built on the belief that newspapers are more essential than government.

Back to Times women index page.