The Women in the Media project came under fire yesterday in the pages of The Australian. Wendy Bacon and Elise Dalley respond to claims that their report wasn't 'borne out by the facts'.
Originally published at New Matilda.
On Tuesday New Matilda published part three of our Women in the Media project, an ongoing investigation into the participation of women in the Australian print media. We have found significant imbalances when it comes to gender and power in terms of reporting bylines, opinion and commentary and media management.
Yesterday, The Australian hit back with a misleading article on Wendy Bacon and the Women in the Media Project. The article, written by Nick Leys, included claims from the editor in chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, that the position of the Women in the Media project on male domination of the Australian media was not borne out by the facts.
Mitchell accused us of overlooking key information in the course of the research. An examination of how this accusation took shape sheds light on how attack journalism works — even when the claims advanced aren't true.
As we reported yesterday, we coded all articles published in nine mastheads on 4 March, 2013. This included The Australian's report, The Top 50 2013 Media, a list of Australia's "most influential media players". What light could this section throw on our project on women and the media?
For that purpose, we not only coded the reporting in the media section, but also took detailed notes. Within a broad research project dedicated to media power and gender, the Top 50 list was particularly interesting. (There were only six women on the list.)
We took particular note of these words in the editorial accompanying the release of the list:
"The list has been hammered out during recent weeks amid much debate, before it was finally considered by an editorial committee that included The Australian's editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, and its editor, Clive Mathieson."
We wondered who else was on the committee? Did any woman even get a look in? On Monday we emailed Editor-in-Chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, to find out:
"Other than you and Clive Mathieson, [what were] the names of the people who were on the committee who selected the 50 most powerful people in the media on 4 March this year..."
We also asked for a gender breakdown of the staff on the paper which could enable us to further analysis the reasons for the lack of female bylines. If we could obtain this information from all mastheads, we could further analysis the reasons for under representation of women in the media.
Mitchell emailed me back:
"Hi Wendy, I am surprised you name Clive but ignore so many senior women on my staff. Obviously the editor of The Weekend Australian, Michelle Gunn, is a woman. So too are managing editor Helen Trinca, TWAM editor Christine Middap, The Deal editor Glenda Korporaal, Canberra bureau chief Stef Balogh, WA bureau chief Paige Taylor, Victorian editor Patricia Karvelas and production editor Mary-Ellen Hepworth. I have no idea of the gender balance and don't carry staff lists on long weekends, as you might imagine."
Significantly he added:
"Neither Clive nor I was involved in the media Top 50. That was done by John Lehman on contract with help from Media editor Nick Tabakoff. Cheers Chris."
So we had our answer: No woman was involved in the selection of the Top 50. But it also seems that The Australian misled its readers by suggesting on 4 March that Mitchell and editor Mathieson were part of an editorial committee that selected the Top 50. According to Mitchell's response, they had no involvement.
Co-author of this piece Elise Dalley read Mitchell's response — which answered neither of our questions and was not relevant to yesterday's story. Wendy Bacon did not read the email before publication but when she did, agreed that Mitchell did not answer the questions and was not relevant to yesterday's story about bylines. No reporter would have have added an irrelevant list of names to an article.
Late on Tuesday, Wendy Bacon received calls and six questions from The Australian's Media writer Nick Leys about our project, one of which asked why she hadn't published the list of names as well as a few others sent by Managing Editor Helen Trinca. Wendy Bacon responded to The Australian's questions. (The questions and her full responses are published on her blog). Her answers included these words:
"... Today's story was about the breakdown of gender bylines across mastheads and rounds. In relation to Michelle Gunn [the editor of the Weekend Australian], we specifically mentioned her in our first report. We also mentioned other names of strong women reporters at The Australian in today's report. In Part One, we noted the absence of a woman editor across Australian metropolitan and national papers. For those interested in gender equity, this is a cause for concern. So far we have not studied senior editors below the top level. We hope to continue our research and we agree it would be good to get a fuller picture of the journalism labor force. If media companies cooperate, we would be interested to add this. In order to gain a greater understanding of our results, we asked the Editor in Chief for a gender breakdown of women and men at The Australian but he did not supply this."
Wendy Bacon also responded to Chris Mitchell by email. She apologised for not responding earlier. She noted that the Women in the Media Project acknowledged that there were a number of strong female reporters on The Australian and that several had been mentioned by name.
"I agree that there a number of middle editors and we are happy to add those in a further article. We do not have the information at the moment for the rest of the mastheads. We did comment previously in our project that there were women weekend editors … The purpose of the research is to gather information and raise the issue of women in the media for discussion. For that reason, the list of senior women at the Australian is useful."
Wendy Bacon also wrote to Helen Trinca:
"I requested a gender breakdown of staff from Chris [Mitchell] as I thought it could be useful in further analysing the results. He did not give me that but sent me instead a whole list of individuals. It seems likely that there are quite a few women in the middle and other senior positions. We certainly have no desire not to publicise that but we would need to get the data from other publications to do a comparison and overview. Our main aim is to offer new insights into the issue of women in the media and get it onto the agenda for discussion. One of the issues we are raising is whether women are concentrated in more fields of reporting than others. The data you and Chris sent me may raise interesting insights and further questions but does not mean we can move past the other information we have gathered."
The response? The Australian yesterday published an article by Nick Leys headlined: "Wendy Bacon ignored a list of 20 names provided by The Australian". Leys wrote:
"Bacon has ignored a list of 20 names provided by The Australian detailing the women who occupy senior roles on the newspaper. That list includes the editor of The Weekend Australian, Michelle Gunn; managing editor Helen Trinca; editor of The Weekend Australian Magazine Christine Middap; and the editor of The Deal, Glenda Korporaal."
"When asked why the information about senior editors at the newspaper had been ignored, Bacon said she had not checked her email account to see the response from editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, which was sent to her at 5.46pm and 6.07pm last Monday. Her original request for information was sent at 5.31pm."
Chris Mitchell had his say:
"In usual Wendy Bacon fashion, she has managed to portray a position not borne out by the facts. Imagine asking a daily newspaper editor a question on a public holiday, getting a response within 20 minutes in writing and saying nearly 24 hours later that you have not seen the response but you published anyway. Bacon should be sacked. That's a quote."
This is called attack journalism. Leys and Mitchell were both told that the information about senior editors was not relevant to yesterday's piece. Our piece reported the facts about gender bylines. In the process of attacking New Matilda's reports, The Australian distorts the facts.
This is more than you can say for The Australian's description to the public of the way it chose its Top 50 people in the media.