Post Neglects Coverage of Women's History Month

By Voss, Kimberly Wilmot | St. Louis Journalism Review, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Post Neglects Coverage of Women's History Month


Voss, Kimberly Wilmot, St. Louis Journalism Review


Sociologist Gaye Tuchman has pointed out that to be in the news is to matter. It leads to discussion, analysis and sometimes changes in politics and society. When the media do not cover an issue or group, the message is that discussion, analysis and potential for change will not occur.

Media researchers annually report that newspapers overlook news about women and women as sources. With that largely documented, I hoped that for at least one month--March--women and their role in history would be covered in newspapers.

My hopes were high as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had done such a strong job of addressing February as Black History Month. (The fact that the history of these two groups is confined to two months is in itself problematic, but that is not my point here.)

After all, there is a distinct parallel between the struggle for civil rights and the struggle for women's rights in this country. Covered correctly, the history month concept would include not just great names but the victories won and the battles still being fought.

Despite my hopes, the Post largely overlooked Women's History Month. In March the regular profiles and the insightful issue stories that were featured in February for Black History Month did not continue and there were only a few calendar items.

An easy measure can be found in an advanced search for stories relating to the historical emphasis of each month. A search of the Post's own archives using the term "women's history" (appearing anywhere) comes back with six matches in the month of March. A search of its own archives using the term "black history" (appearing anywhere) comes back with 73 matches in month of February.

A search of the Post using the academic search engine Lexis-Nexis for the respective months found 49 matches for "black history" in February and one match for "women's history" in March.

It would be easy to simply report that Black History Month mattered significantly more to journalists at the Post--the numbers speak for themselves. As has long been shown, reporters and editors have wide latitude in determining what goes in the paper and where it is placed. It is a matter of determining what is news and, by default, what is not newsworthy.

My criticism is meant to spawn solutions. Let's consider that the Post journalists are following the typical model of news values taught in journalism schools across the country: conflict, human interest, impact, proximity, prominence and timeliness. Coverage of women's history easily could have been included based on the events and issues of March 2006.

In other words, by simply making a connection to current events and Women's History Month, readers would gain a better understanding by seeing the context of the issue. And this could be done by not falling back on the media's stereotypical roles of women as victims, wives or mothers.

For an example of what shouldn't be done, note the March 30 story "Mom has her first business under her belt"--there had to a better angle to the business story than the woman's familial position.

There were some stories that seemed especially well connected to the month that could have added a women's history sidebar or angle. Below are a few examples of where the Post could have used Women's History Month to improve coverage.

Conflict: Late in the month, the Post ran an Associated Press story that begs a historical component: "Senator Apologizes for Sexually Suggestive Remarks." The headline is a bit misleading as the senator was basically forced to make amends and even in his apology there is little remorse over the statement to his younger, female, first-year colleague.

Specifically, he questioned her natural hair color, said that the 46-year-old woman looked 16 or 17 and asked if she would go "on a township road with me later on tonight."

The political climate that is often hostile to and excludes women (there are 14 women in Illinois' 59-member senate) has long historical roots that would have provided context. …

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