New York Times Quotes 3.4 Men for Every Woman
4:15 pm, July 18th | by Grace Rasmus
When the New York Times broke the absolutely shocking news on Sunday that many college-aged women like to have sex, some ladies called for an end to “women’s stories” that do nothing but foster “worry” about women in society. However, before completely dismissing this genre of journalism, we need to realize that these “women’s stories” are some of the only stories where women are actually being quoted and being heard.
In January and February of this year, University of Nevada Las Vegas students Alexi Layton and Rochelle Richards, under the guidance of their professor Alicia Shepard, scoured the 325 front-page stories published in the New York Times and found that the paper quoted male sources 3.4 times more frequently than female ones. Even in areas that are perceived to be more female-dominated — style, arts, education, health, etc. — male sources vastly outnumbered female ones.
Perhaps this phenomenon shouldn’t be surprising since men continue to dominate newsrooms and the Times is no exception. Of the 325 stories published on the front page, 214 were written by men (65.8 percent); their stories mentioned four times as many male sources as female sources. Female reporters perpetuated the bias as well; of the 96 stories written by women, men were quoted twice as frequently as women. So, as Amanda Hess at Slate pointed out, “hiring more female reporters could help lift the Times’ sourcing ratio from terrible to just bad.”
When reached for comment, the Times agreed with Layton and Shepard that the discrepancy was an issue, but they had many explanations for its existence. For one, they said, there (obviously) aren’t as many women in positions of power as men and thus fewer women qualified to give out quotes. Times Washington correspondent Jodi Kantor, whose byline regularly appears on the paper’s front page, told the students that she often has no choice but to quote men in her stories.
“In 2008 I wrote a biographical story about President Obama’s time as a professor at University of Chicago law school,” Kantor said. “There were almost no tenured women on the faculty at that time, so it would have been extremely difficult to quote women professors who knew Mr. Obama during his time there.”
Even if more women were to rise to the top, deadlines will still be tight and old habits die hard; if a reporter has used a male-heavy source Rolodex for years, they’re probably going to refer to those same men over and over again.
“This is not surprising when reporters are on deadline or diving into a story where they don’t have a lot of background, but it’s problematic,” said Associate Managing Editor for Standards Phil Corbett in an email to the students. “Regardless of gender, it can make for too narrow a perspective. And if you start with a pool of sources already weighted toward men, this tendency is going to perpetuate the problem.”
Although the Times acknowledges that this is an issue, they have ruled out the possibility of applying gender quotas. “I can’t imagine how that could work,” Corbett said. “That seems like a blunt instrument that could create as many problems as it solves.”
Gender quotas aren’t the only way to solve this gender gap: there are several resources available to connect media outlets with reputable female sources. The OpEd Project connects female experts in all fields to high-level media outlets; SheSource, powered by Women’s Media Center, is a database founded in 2005 with female experts on diverse topics; and the POWER Sources Project, founded by Pozner in 2001, also helps reporters find knowledgeable, diverse female sources. So do your research, New York Times.