This is the second part on a three-part series covering key findings from “From Outrage to Opportunity: How to Include the Missing Perspectives of Women of All Colors in News Leadership and Coverage.” You can find the first article in the series here.
“There are women of color who have been at my news organization a very long time, that are just dismissed. There are women who’ve complained: ‘I brought this story forward because I know what’s happening in the community’ and my white supervisor says, ‘That’s not a story.’”
This is one of many quotes of frustration from the dozens of senior news leaders from the Global North and South interviewed for my report, “From Outrage to Opportunity: How to Include the Missing Perspectives of Women of All Colors in News Leadership and Coverage,” commissioned by the Gates foundation.
Editors’ lived experiences influence their decisions about what to run in the news. These decisions also influence who consumes the news. Men — in the Global North, white men — are over-represented among both editors and news consumers. Their perspective on what constitutes a story has been internalized as the default editorial standard by all journalists regardless of gender, to the detriment of journalism and audiences.
Barriers to inclusive journalism
Women show more interest than men in 11 of 16 news genres, including local news, climate change, crime/personal security, education, and social justice. However, the five genres where men’s interest exceeds women’s are the highest profile news genres, and are substantially edited by male editors. Three of these serve as a resource pool for the most senior editorial positions in news organizations: politics, business/economics, and international news.
Gender blindness, racial blindness, and status quo bias are three key institutional and individual barriers to more inclusive journalism. They lead to gaps in newsgathering and coverage summarized by a senior female news editor in the Global South: “Sometimes we say: ‘This is what is normal.’ So when you need to talk to people on economic issues, you go for well-known economists and they all just tend to be men. And you are not thinking consciously. We need to say: ‘Okay, we know so and so, but let’s find a woman’s voice.'”
The interviewed senior new editors reiterated additional barriers to more gender- and minority-inclusive storytelling: journalism’s short-term outlook and a tendency towards reductive storytelling, compounded by resistance to a forensic analysis of journalism’s own shortcomings.
Jane Barrett, Reuters’ media news strategy global editor, reflected on the multi-layered problem of the homogeneous thinking in news: “Journalism is a very busy, constantly stressful industry. When you’re stuck in operational tasks, you don’t give yourself time to consider: ‘What are some of the structural faults we currently have that might become devastating?’ Diversity has been a crack in the wall for such a long time, but so far we’ve mostly dealt with it by hiring people from different backgrounds,” she said. “That’s a great and important start, but diversity is much bigger than that. Diversity is also: ‘Who are we talking to? Who are we talking about? What stories are we going after?’ It’s a much bigger issue.”
Another senior editor from the Global North also linked the fast-paced news agenda to editors shying away from diverse perspectives. “Making room for people to have diverse points of view is a challenge. We in journalism can be very reductive, we don’t really like complex stories sometimes. We say: ‘This is the story. Here’s the solution, or not the solution and that’s it.’ Bringing diverse viewpoints inherently adds complexity to our conversations and coverage, which is a good thing, but not everyone has that perspective.”
The human interest element
I asked senior editors what stories they thought had been missed previously through a lack of diversity of perspectives. Their suggestions and AKAS’ data research uncovered that micro and human interest stories within the big political, economic or health stories — which appeal to women more — are often missed out. AKAS’ analysis of COVID-19 stories from the first wave of the pandemic in an earlier Missing Perspectives report revealed that a woeful nine percent contained a human interest element. The perspectives of people of color were also identified as being frequently omitted, as evidenced in political news in the U.K. and U.S.
The role of Hispanic voters in the 2016 U.S. election, the unexpected outcome of the Brexit referendum in the U.K., and the initial disproportionate impact of the pandemic on ethnic minority groups, were all cited as examples of stories lacking this element.
Coverage of crime stories, in particular, frequently reveals an extraordinary journalistic racial bias, as identified in the missing white woman syndrome, coined by American newsreader Gwen Ifill. An AKAS GDELT analysis of the U.K. news coverage of the homicide stories of (white) Sarah Everard and (Black) sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman unearthed dramatically different levels of overall coverage, including in the crucial first 10 days of their stories being broken. Everard’s name was mentioned 116 times more frequently than those of Henry and Smallman (11,121 vs 96).
My research and interviews with editors from across the globe uncovered numerous interventions that can unlock more gender- and ethnically-inclusive news coverage. These include raising awareness of existing organizational biases to emphasize macro over micro stories, and the need to amplify female and racial perspectives in key political, economic, foreign affairs, and health stories — not least, by hiring editors from these groups.
Two other innovative interventions that showed promise were appointing newsroom inclusion champions and introducing 360-degree editing. One senior news editor reported how creating a 100-strong team of inclusion champions across their newsroom “just changed the tenor of our coverage, the conversations around coverage.” Another explained how 360-editing facilitates expanding perspectives from grassroots levels, ensuring stories are covered through the lens of different groups.
To accelerate change and attract bigger audiences, news providers must amplify women’s of all colors missing perspectives across all news elements. I can just about hear more editors saying: “What a great story angle. I hadn’t thought of that!” And sense audiences’ relief at recognizing themselves in stories they never thought to see reported in the news.