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. …