This study looks at how community structure affects the portrayal of women as sources and subjects in contemporary newspapers. Women and men have been unequally represented in contemporary newspaper coverage, a pattern that may contribute to differences in public perceptions of males and females. (1) Through their coverage patterns, newspapers help create a social reality that can contribute to gender stereotyping or categorization. These portrayals may differ by the nature of the community in which the newspaper is situated. This study examines gender coverage by looking at the role of community structure on newspaper coverage of men and women.
Tichenor, Donohue and Olien (2) argued that structural pluralism, a measure of the way power is distributed in a community, has an effect on news coverage. They theorized that social systems consist of a number of interdependent control mechanisms, including population, employment, geographic location and education, (3) which can be combined to capture an understanding of the social structure of a community. Many elements of a community, including media, may reflect that structure.
In communities where power is centralized and stable, newspapers are given the role of maintaining order and the status quo through their coverage. In effect, newsgatherers deliver the message of the centralized power structure; they may even be a part of the structure itself. Conversely, a community with a decentralized power structure uses its media as primary information conduits among those different centers of power. These loci of power depend on media channels to keep them apprised of the activities of others, and coverage of structural conflict and tension is not only tolerated but often rewarded. (4)
Hindman, Littlefield, Preston and Neumann recently expanded the pluralism concept by arguing that ethnic diversity should be considered independently of other structural pluralism measures. (5) They contend that ethnicity is a key component in structural pluralism, that institutional power and ethnic power are linked. The expansion is based on the idea that, within American borders, some assimilation of individuals from different nationalities occurs over time, but certain ethnic traditions are carried on from one generation to the next. This characteristic of ethnic groups provides group cohesion for people of the same ethnic heritage.
Hindman et al. found that news editors were more likely to consider ethnic minorities as community social actors if a high percentage of ethnic minorities resided within the community. (6) Communities high in ethnic pluralism may also be more eager to represent women fully in media accounts.
Because of the potential for differences in newspaper coverage, it follows that media accounts may vary their story and source selection. That is, newspaper sources may receive a different level of public status depending upon the community in which the newspaper is situated. Public status refers to the manner in which sources and subjects are portrayed in the media, generally through words, phrases, locations and approaches. This study uses two dimensions of public status in newspaper coverage as its primary dependent variables. The first is attention, which was defined as frequency of mentions with news coverage. The second is emphasis, which refers to the prominence of mentions within the newspaper.
Therefore, the following hypotheses were developed.
Attention to females in news coverage will be greater in newspapers situated in more structurally pluralistic communities.
Emphasis on females in news coverage will be greater in newspapers situated in more structurally pluralistic communities.
Attention to females in news coverage will be greater in newspapers situated in more ethnically pluralistic communities.
Emphasis on females in news coverage will be greater in newspapers situated in more ethnically pluralistic communities.
A content analysis was conducted on stories from 18 American newspapers. First, newspaper circulation areas that contain highly heterogeneous communities and ones representing smaller, more homogeneous communities were purposefully selected. The list included 20 of the highest circulating daily newspapers and 30 of the lowest circulating seven-day daily newspapers within the United States. (7) From that list, 18 papers were chosen to maximize pluralism and were analyzed using a randomly constructed week for each in 1999. The largest community was New York City, (8) while the smallest was Fairbanks, Alaska. (9)
The first page was examined in four sections of the papers--the Front page, Local/Metro, Lifestyle, and Sports. Using a random numbers table, two stories on each of those pages were selected and coded as part of the analysis. The stories must have been produced locally for the paper being analyzed, either by a staff writer, contributor or other local writer. If a wire story was chosen randomly, the random number process was repeated until a local story was chosen. This yielded 895 coded stories.
Community and Ethnic Pluralism:
Following the arguments presented by Tichenor et al., (10) structural pluralism was operationalized in this study as an index of four measures: city population, county population, percent with bachelor's degree and per capita income (standardized Chronbach's Alpha = .79). After factor analysis, an indicator of the percentage of people employed in non-agricultural jobs was discarded because the cities chosen provided little variance for that indicator. (11)
Ethnic pluralism was operationalized by an index of four measures, which were compared though factor analysis. The measures were: percent of black population, percent of Hispanic population, percent of Pacific Island population and percent of non-white population (standardized Chronbach's Alpha = .73). (12)
Attention and emphasis were operationalized as follows: 1) Attention: how frequently a depiction was represented in a story. This study looked at the attention given to males (Krippendorff's Alpha = .95) (13) and females (Krippendorff's Alpha = .80) within stories, and coders counted the frequency of mentions of both males and females; 2) Emphasis: the placement of elements in the newspaper, which reflects the level of importance assigned by the paper. It was coded through mentions of men (Krippendorff's Alpha = .58) and women (Krippendorff's Alpha = .93)--by name or other identifying attributes--in headlines, subheads, leads (generally, the first paragraph of the story), text and photographs.
Strong positive relationships were found between structural pluralism and all four public status variables: female mentions, male mentions, female emphasis and male emphasis (See Table 1). However, because male and female representations both correlated positively with structural pluralism at a statistically significant level, hypotheses one and two were not supported.
Female mentions and ethnic pluralism were strongly correlated. However, the ethnic pluralism index had no significant association with mentions of males. Thus, hypothesis three, which looked at the relationship of attention to women and ethnic pluralism, was supported. Hypothesis four suggested that ethnically pluralistic communities would have greater emphasis on women. Correlations between female and male emphasis and ethnic pluralism found a statistically significant relationship between female emphasis and ethnic pluralism, but not one for male emphasis, which offered support of hypothesis four.
It appears that the more ethnically diverse a community, the more likely women will appear in newspapers. The findings indicate that women are given more attention and emphasis in more ethnically diverse communities. This suggests a community's structure can influence a newspaper's representation of gender. In this case, the more racially diverse a community, the more likely it is to represent women as significant and important newsmakers. Sensitivity to the ethnic structure of a community, in other words, appears to be linked to sensitivity to gender.
While gender research has repeatedly found that males are portrayed differently within newspapers than are females, this research expands that finding into specific dimensions of attention and emphasis. In both dimensions, results illustrated that males were continually dominant in news coverage, while females received varying levels of attention and emphasis. This expansion is important because it isolates specific arenas in which newspapers contribute to the low public status of women.
Two caveats are necessary for this paper. First, reliability for male emphasis was marginal, which means that its standard error is larger than the other dependent variables in this analysis. Second, a small n limits the generalizability of this study. As a result, these results should be treated as exploratory. Further research should more fully explore this relationship.
From a theoretical perspective, this analysis suggests that structurally pluralistic communities differ from ethnically pluralistic communities, at least in terms of media behavior. The ethnic component of structural pluralism has only recently been broken out of the larger concept. (14) This analysis validates that step by suggesting that newspaper behaviors--at least with respect to gender representations--are differentially related to these two structural concepts. Those interested in structural aspects of newsmaking need to continue to explore this conceptual difference.
Table 1 Correlations Between Ethnic and Structural Pluralism with Measures of Attention and Emphasis at the Newspaper Level Variable Ethnic Pluralism (N=18) Correlation Mentions of females .61 ** Mentions of males .42 Emphasis of females in story .53 * Emphasis of males in story .35 Variable Structural Pluralism (N=18) Correlation Mentions of females .73 ** Mentions of males .61 ** Emphasis of females in story .70 ** Emphasis of males in story .69 ** * = p < .05 ** = p < .01
(1.) See Laura Ashley and Beth Olson, "Constructing Reality: Print Media's Framing of the Women's Movement," Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 75, no. 2 (1998): 263-277; Barbara Bate, Communication and the Sexes (New York: Harper & Row, 1987); Lynn Zoch and Judy VanSlyke Turk, "Women Making News: Gender as a Variable in Source Selection and Use," Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 75, no. 4 (1998): 762-775; and Daniel L. Wann and Michael P. Schraeder, "The Inequitable Newspaper Coverage of Men's and Women's Athletics at Small, Medium and Large Universities," Journal of Sport and Social Issues 22, no. 1 (1998): 79-86.
(2.) Phillip J. Tichenor, George. A. Donohue, and Clarice. N. Olien, Community Conflict and the Press (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications Inc., 1980); Clarice N. Olien, George A. Donohue, and Phillip J. Tichenor, "Community Structure and Media Use," Journalism Quarterly 55, no. 3 (1978): 445-455.
(3.) Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien, Community, Conflict and the Press, 90. See also, Robert Griffin and Sharon Dunwoody, "Impacts of Information Subsidies and Community Structure on Local Press Coverage of Environmental Contamination," Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 72, no. 2 (1995): 271-284; David Demers and K. Viswanath, eds., Mass Media, Social Control and Social Change, A Macrosocial Perspective (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1999).
(5.) Douglas Blanks Hindman, Robert Littlefield, Ann Preston, and Dennis Neumann, "Structural Pluralism, Ethnic Pluralism and Community Newspapers," Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 76, no. 2 (1999): 260.
(6.) Ibid., 259.
(7.) Based upon statistics from Editor & Publisher, Editor and Publisher International Yearbook (New York: Editor & Publisher, 1999).
(8.) New York City had an estimated population of 7,322,564, according to the 1990 U.S. Census, while Fairbanks, Alaska, had an estimated population of 30,843.
(9.) The newspapers were: The New York Times; Los Angeles Times; Chicago Tribune; The Philadelphia Inquirer; San Francisco Chronicle; The Washington Post; The Boston Globe; The Dallas Morning News; The (Danbury) News-Times; The Indianapolis Star; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (Pittsfield) Berkshire Eagle; The (Oshkosh) Northwestern; The (Albany) Times-Union; The Miami Herald; The (Hamilton) Journal-News; Killeen Daily Herald; The Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner.
(10.) Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien, Community, Conflict and the Press, 40.
(11.) Structurally pluralistic cities, ranked from highest to lowest, were: New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Dallas; Danbury, Connecticut; Indianapolis; Atlanta, Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Albany, New York; Miami; Hamilton, Ohio; Killeen, Texas; Fairbanks, Alaska.
(12.) Ethnically pluralistic cities, ranked from highest to lowest, are: Los Angeles; New York; San Francisco; Miami; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Killeen, Texas; Atlanta; Dallas; Philadelphia; Danbury, Connecticut; Boston; Fairbanks, Alaska; Indianapolis; Hamilton, Ohio; Albany, New York; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
(13.) Klaus Krippendorff, Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications 1980).
(14.) Hindman, Littlefield, Preston, and Neuman, "Community Newspapers," 260.
Armstrong is a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.…