Today we published Part 4 of our New Matilda ‘Where are the women in the media?’ series. On Tuesday, we published Part 3 of our investigation which was a gender breakdown of by lines on a particular day. We called it a ‘snapshot’ and suggested more research is needed.
The Australian didn’t rate well in the by line breakdown which annoyed them.
While working on the series on Monday, I emailed (copying my co-author Elise Dalley) two questions to Editor in Chief Chris Mitchell. One of these requested a gender breakdown of staff at The Australian and the other was relevant to another piece. He emailed us back but did not answer our question about the gender breakdown. Instead he supplied a list of section and state bureau female editors.As these were not relevant to Part 3, Elise Dalley, my co-author,read his response and correctly assessed it was not relevant. I did not read my email as I was very busy. Once I did read Mitchell’s characteristically dismissive response, I agreed with Dalley. We had already acknowledged the work of some women reporters at The Australian.
Our failure to include the irrelevant information led to an piece attacking me in The Australian news pages yesterday – yes, I know they should have more important stories to cover but attacks on the reputation of women educators who dare to criticise News Ltd is nothing new. Julie Possetti and Margaret Simons and myself have all copped it before.
Elise Dalley and myself repond to The Australia in New Matilda today.
I was first aware of The Australian’s anger that we hadn’t published their list of women section editors late on Tuesday when Nicholas Leys wanted to interview me about the project. Despite the inconvenience of the time and extremely short notice, I responded in writing to six questions which are relevant to our research. When I first received his questions, I was inititally concerned that we might have missed something relevant. Once I checked with my co-author and also read the reply, I knew this was not the case.
So here are the questions and my answers:
1. Why have you not included the list of women editors supplied to you by The Australian in the research? Yesterday, I sent two questions to Chris Mitchell. I did not request the list he sent me of middle ranking editors, although I welcome it. I did not receive it before publishing this article. In any case, today’s story was about the breakdown of gender by lines 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 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.
2. Would you agree or disagree that this list does in fact indicate The Australian employs a significant number of women in very senior roles? I agree that this list shows there are a numer of women in senior roles at The Australian. This is heartening. However, this was not the issue at stake in today’s report which is part of a project with at least five parts.
3. Why did you choose to conduct a byline search on just one day?
This part of our study is somewhat similar to the Global Media Monitoring Project which has been done in many countries. at regular intervals. That project also uses the technique a snapshot on a single day. We have acknowledged limitations that flow from this sample in our report and specifically indicated the need for further research. However some of the patterns indicated are nevertheless quite stark and deserve more public attention from the media and community discussion. We did a week for Part 2 which was focussed on opinion pieces so was easier to do. Even one day involved detailed coding of hundreds of stories as you will see in Part Four on sources.
4. Does this meet normal and accepted standards of academic research as opposed to counting bylines over one week, for example? We have not claimed that our study has the rigor of a larger peer reviewed study however it is a useful example of how journalists can combine social science techniques with journalism to provide fresh insights and stimulate community research. In the changing world of journalism and universities,you could call it data journalism or practice based research. As you can read in our article, our findings are confirmed by other academic research. We specifically drew attention to that.You can also find more information about other research studies on the ACIJ investigate.org site.
5. Why did you choose a Monday (March 4) to count the bylines, a day when any newspaper is not working with a full roster of staff? We did not choose Monday because there were less staff. In any case, it was clear from a reading of the publications that many articles were not prepared on a Sunday. Take the media section of The Australian for instance. I imagine that much of that would be prepared in advance. A broader study would reveal whether there is a distinct variation across the days of the week. Our only aim in this study is to gain an understanding of women in the media.
6. What does your research show, other than a higher ratio of male to female reporters on the day in questions? I suggest that you read Parts One and two. We summarised these briefly in today article. Also today’s report showed a variation across mastheads and rounds which is worthy of greater study. The overwhelming male nature of sports reporting and the gendered nature of other rounds including the male dominance of politics and business and feminised nature of some others is an indication of lack of gender equity which most would agree is not desirable. I would be surprised if the women editors at The Australian and many male journalists do not agree with this. The causes for the inequity and how to change it needs much more discussion by journalists and others.
Having received these replies, Nicholas Leys decided that he had a story, not just for the media section but the front news section. He ignored those parts of my answer that he did not consider relevant to his story and accused me of suppressing the list of women editors. Fair enough. That’s how reporting works over at The Australian.
Yesterday, I wrote Leys this letter:
The article about me published by you this morning is unfair, defamatory and misleading. It falsely accuses New Matilda of misrepresenting facts and me of suppressing relevant material. In fact, our report was an accurate and factual one.
The material sent to us by Chris Mitchell and Helen Trinca was not relevant to yesterday’s piece. Chris Mitchell did not answer my question about gender balance. If he had, my co-author Elise Dalley who read his response would have informed me. Once I had also read it, I completely agree with Elise Dalley that it was not relevant to yesterday’s article.
It is unprofessional of you to suggest that we should publish irrelevant material. As I explained in my responses yesterday, if the information becomes relevant for future articles, we will mention it.
The question about the Top 50 was asked with regard to a future article. As I made clear in my email, we are writing a series of articles on gender and the Australian media. As I said in my email to Chris Mitchell, we are doing a series.
This sort of attack journalism demeans you, your paper and our profession,
To which Leys replied:
“Wendy, with all due respect counting bylines on one particular day – a Sunday no less – and condemning this newspaper and the fine journalists who work on it (men and women) as a result was flawed and insulting”.
Perhaps the ‘fine’ men and women over at The Australian could take a look at the results and the other academic studies on this subject and consider whether the issue of the under representation of women might yet be worthy of their attention. Could the under representation of women have anything to do with the deep misogynist streak in our culture which led to the menu which provided a joke for people involved in LNP fundraising and occupied some much of the nation’s attention yesterday. If in fact, women are playing a strong middle level editing role at The Australian why isn’t it reflected in the results for Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our study? As many feminists have pointed out, it takes more than a few women climbing up the ladder for deeper change to occur in gender inequality.
Compared to some many other stories, this interchange is a very minor matter. It only further goes to show that The Australian, rather than dealing with critiques of its reporting, whether it be climate change, international relations or gender representation attacks the critic rather than dealing with the issue.