The lack of female journalists in both legacy media outlets and modern curators creates an inevitable absence of the female voice on key issues in national dialogue. And now new research says that male political journalists based in Washington D.C. perpetuate this problem.
Male political journalists reply to other male journalists on Twitter 91.5 percent of the time. In fact, they retweet other men three times more than they retweet women. Men’s domination of online political debates makes it harder for female journalists to both break into journalism and make their voices heard when they do .
The study was based on a month’s worth of Twitter data collected in 2017. It found that, of the 2,292 Twitter accounts belonging to Washington DC-based journalists accredited to cover the US Congress and known as “beltway journalists,” men are far more likely to tweet more, retweet each other and, on average, have twice as many followers. They retweet their male peers three-quarters of the time and, of the 25 beltway journalists who are most followed by other beltway journalists, 21 are men. Meanwhile, there are only slightly more male than female reporters of this kind.
The report also found that male journalists are more likely to tweet their opinions and their reports, which boosts their chances of being picked up. Meanwhile, the report suggests that women may be too busy proving themselves in newsrooms or doing “more emotional labor at home and at work” with far less time to build their Twitter rapport.
Nikki Usher of the University of Illinois helped author the study and said it was a problem because Twitter debates help frame political reporting on other websites. Twitter could thus be inadvertently marginalizing female journalists in “gender silos,” she said.
“The gender imbalances present on beltway journalism Twitter are another case showing women do not receive adequate recognition or attention for their creative labor,” the report read, adding that the importance of Twitter to political journalism means this “may well create an even greater structural disadvantage for female journalists, given how this platform is so critical to success in beltway journalism.”
Already, women receive just 38 percent of bylines and other credits in print, web, television and wire news. They cover just 32 percent of stories on crime and justice; 33 percent on religion; 34 percent on U.S. politics; 37 percent on tech, domestic issues and world politics, 38 percent on culture; 40 percent on business and economics; 44 percent on social issues and 49 percent on science, according to The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017 Report” by the Women’s Media Center (WMC). Even with regards to topics pertaining to women—such as reproductive issues and campus sexual assault—female journalists claim just 37 percent and 31 percent of stories, respectively.
This deficiency is detrimental to the health of our democracy and perpetuates the marginalization of 54 percent of media consumers in the country, and determines not only what we talk about and who talks about it, but also how we talk about it.
And, as one of the biggest sources of news dissemination, Twitter plays a massive role in letting women in or keeping them out. For now, it's perpetuating everyday sexism.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.