Large-Scale Analysis of Newspapers Probes Female-Male Coverage Disparity

Media Report to Women, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Large-Scale Analysis of Newspapers Probes Female-Male Coverage Disparity


In the early 21st century, women continue to receive substantially less media coverage than men, despite women's much increased participation in public life. Media scholars argue that actors in news organizations skew news coverage in favor of men and male-related topics. Scholars argue that the differential media coverage of women and men is not merely a reflection of existing gender inequities in economic participation, but rather that media practices exacerbate and artificially magnify these inequalities. Differential media visibility may reinforce long-standing gender status beliefs and serve as manifestation of these beliefs.

Researchers led by Eran Shor of McGill University set out to address this challenge: Shor says no previous study has systematically examined whether media bias exists beyond gender ratio imbalances in coverage that mirror societal-level structural and occupational gender inequalities.

Using novel longitudinal data, the team empirically isolated media level factors and examined their effects on women's coverage rates in hundreds of newspapers. Employing a text analysis tool called Lydia, they were able to analyze extensive amounts of data on the historical coverage rates of millions of female and male names in 13 daily U.S. newspapers between 1983 and 2008, and in approximately 2,000 English-language newspapers and online news websites between 2004 and 2009. The samples included bigger and smaller newspapers and papers appearing in most U.S. states.

Not surprisingly, they found that the disparity in male-female mentions persists. Male names have historically received at least four times as much exposure as female names and this ratio was still nearly 3:1 by the end of the observation period. When looking at the larger and more representative set of newspapers in this database, for which only recent digital data is available, the ratio is nearly 5:1. …

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