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Posted 07.25.05

Men Dominate U.S. Newspaper Coverage, MU Researcher Finds

COLUMBIA, MO -- According to census statistics, women account for more than half the U.S. population, but a study from a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism shows that newspaper coverage does not reflect those numbers. María Len-Ríos, assistant advertising professor at MU, found that men appear more frequently than women by a ratio of 4-to-1 in news stories and a ratio of 2-to-1 in photographs.

"If newspapers serve as the record of the day, yet under-represent women, then they unwittingly contribute to public consent of masculine cultural," Len-Ríos said. "Appearing in the newspaper is deemed special and noteworthy, and presence in the news reinforces one's status. If women do not appear as frequently as men in newspapers, then they are excluded from an important cultural symbol of power."

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Len-Ríos studied representations of women in newspaper content in two mid-sized Midwestern newspapers and compared them to the perceptions of newspaper employees and readers. Of the 4,851 individuals mentioned in one newspaper's stories, 79 percent were men, compared to 18 percent women. The other paper had similar numbers, with 75 percent of its news stories mentioning men and 21 percent mentioning women. In photographs, the first paper showed men 67 percent of the time and women 30 percent of the time. In the other newspaper, men appeared in photographs 68 percent of the time, and women appeared 27 percent of the time.

When women did appear in the newspaper, the study found that they were more likely to appear in the entertainment or lifestyle sections of the newspaper, which are stereotypically female sections. Women were less likely to appear on the sports or business pages, but more likely to appear in local or metro sections. Newspaper staffs generally agreed that their paper did a poor job of covering women in all sections except entertainment and travel.

Len-Ríos also found that female news staff members are more likely to notice discrepancies in coverage than male staff members. The study showed that 72 percent of female newspaper workers from one publication agreed that men dominate coverage in news photos, while 60 percent of male employees agreed. Twenty-four percent of male newspaper employees said they strongly disagreed with that assumption, while 4 percent of female employees felt that way.

Although more than half of all news staff reported news photos and stories contained more men than women, Len-Ríos found that staff members (older than 45) thought that newsworthy events should be covered without consideration of diversity 31 percent more than younger staff members (ages 18 to 45).

The researchers also found perceptual differences by age of the newsroom staffs. In general, more male than female readers agreed that stories were as likely to be about men as women. However, readers' perceptions were more consistent with news content than the perceptions of newspaper staffs. For example, while 28 percent of newspaper employees from one publication agreed that their newspaper showed a good cross section of males and females, only 13 percent of readers agreed.

This study was supported by a Ford Foundation Grant to the Missouri School of Journalism and was co-authored by Shelly Rodgers, MU assistant advertising professor; Esther Thorson, MU advertising professor and associate dean of graduate studies; and Doyle Yoon, assistant advertising professor at the University of Oklahoma.

It recently was published in the Journal of Communication.

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