Do women need to lead the change of interview topics from children and nappies, to teams and strategies?

The news media’s main aim is to inform, educate, entertain and inspire.

In New Zealand’s democratic society, the media serves to shape the narrative in society.

But too often, that narrative is being read from one perspective – the middle-aged white male.

All newsrooms, whether they are aware of it or not, are sending a subtle message to readers.

The message is simply telling us whose voices are worth listening to.

Sadly, these voices are often the voices of middle-aged white men – the gender lens is unfocused, inaccurate and quite frankly, boring if you’re not a middle-aged white male!

I’ve worked in newsrooms for 14 years. I’ve held five solid newsroom roles – working with colleagues (reporters, editors and photographers) of all genders.

But let’s talk about the males, for now.

The obvious female angle

I once worked in a newsroom where a male (middle-aged) was covering the appointment of a female judge. Before leaving the newsroom, he informed the editor that the angle of the story was that she was the first female to hold the role.

When I challenged him, politely, about how he knew what the angle was going to be before even interviewing her, he told me it was an “obvious angle”.

I pushed back and suggested that perhaps something this professional woman might say in the interview – perhaps her upbringing or her experience in district courts – might become more interesting that the fact that she was female.

The male eyes of the newsroom rolled. “Feminist!”

Preempting the angle of a story and taking an easy, “obvious angle” does your readers, your subject and your career a disservice.

Inappropriate questions

“So, Mr CEO, how do you manage the work-life balance when you have four kids?”

“Mr General Manager. Congratulations on your new acquisition of that major company. So, who made your suit?”

“But Mr Prime Minister, we hear your wife is pregnant. How will you balance being a father with your role as PM?”

You’d never hear these questions being asked of a man. So, why should we find them acceptable for women?

Is it because women are often portrayed as caregivers first, and businesswomen or professionals after that.

Less female voices

An AUT study of the NZ 2014 election coverage found that 71 per cent of media sources were male.

And let’s zoom in on regional media, specifically The Northern Advocate.

I carried out an unscientific survey of the popular, daily NZME, Northland newspaper (Monday to Saturday) between 5 and 10,  and the 12 and 17 March 2018.

I calculated the use of male, female and both genders as experts and lead sources in news stories where sources are attributable. This did not include reviews, shared feature pages, court stories or briefs.

  • 1 local paper
  • 381 stories
  • 12 newspapers
  • 2 weeks

The findings were disappointing but not surprising.

Overall, the Advocate showed it could do better, with 60 per cent of interview sources and lead experts being male, and just 31 per cent female.

 

Front pages are likely to be dominated by male experts, as were the business pages.

 

 

But the biggest offender, you’ll not be surprised to learn, was sports, where a whopping 76 per cent of stories were men talking about men.

 

Having worked at the Northern Advocate for almost five years, and still being a contracted journalist with the award-winning newspaper, I know that they are a great bunch of people with absolutely no prejudice towards women.

The above results are, in my opinion, an unconscious bias that we all practice.

As a business journalist, I can put my hand up and admit that I too tend to veer towards the usual suspects when interviewing for stories – many of my lead experts and sources are male.

But how do we change this?

Two ways.

Firstly, journalists need to expand their contact books.

Secondly, women need to be proactive in reaching out to media as experts and lead sources, and not just for stories about children, education or health.

Women need to get up and stand forward for interviews.