- Jennifer Peters
There is a huge imbalance in the number of women’s voices in the media compared to men’s voices. Women, who make up 51 percent of the world population, make up only 39 percent of our newsrooms. And worse, women make up an even smaller percentage of the sources quoted in the articles those newsrooms produce. But the Women’s Media Center and the SheSource website are trying to change that.
SheSource is a database of expert sources on every subject under the sun, and all of the sources just happen to be women. They have more than 1,300 experts in their digital Rolodex, which is free for any and all journalists who wish to find some new voices to add to their stories.
The SheSource database is run by Kate McCarthy, the WMC’s director of programs. McCarthy took over the SheSource database in 2011, when there were only a couple hundred experts listed. She’s helped it grow by more than 300 percent, and she’s also made diversity of the database a priority. When she sends out lists of experts who can cover the topics of the day, McCarthy says, “I never send a list that isn’t at least 40 percent women of color.”
Diversity is important because it changes the ideas you hear and the stories you’re told, McCarthy says, and the Women’s Media Center is helping to make sure that those diverse voices get out there.
“We want to make it easier for journalists to do their jobs,” she says. “Unless you ask someone to be a source, they won’t volunteer.” By collecting all these sources in one place, McCarthy and her team are making it easier for journalists who are looking to include diverse sources.
Gloria Steinem, one of the founders of the WMC, has famously said, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” By featuring more women as expert voices, it creates an environment that encourages young women and girls to see themselves in different roles.
Sources aren’t the only places where diversity is lacking, however. According to research conducted by the WMC in 2017, only 34 percent of the stories about U.S. politics were reported by women. Crime and justice stories saw only 32 percent of the stories created by women, while sports bottomed out the list, with only 11 percent of sports reporting done by women. At the wire services, men make up more than 60 percent of the bylines, leaving little room for women’s voices. And even when covering such issues as women’s reproductive health, men took most of the bylines, with women penning a mere 37 percent of the stories at the top 12 news outlets.
“Good journalism reflects the population it’s reporting to,” McCarthy adds. The first step in making change then, she says, is making sure that women’s voices are heard when the stories are about women’s issues. Women journalists and women sources should be tapped first for articles about women’s health issues, for example.
Good journalists and editors need to “do the count,” McCarthy says. Take a close look at just how many women you’re quoting and hiring compared to how many men are getting bylines and quotes, and then work to get those numbers to better reflect the makeup of society. “Change is difficult,” McCarthy says. “People tend to look for people who remind them of themselves. They reach out through their own networks. It takes effort to reach out to women, and especially to women of color.” But, she adds, it’s important to take those steps and add more women’s voices to the media landscape.