BBC creates video database of female experts

The BBC is helping its reporters connect with smart, well-spoken women by assembling a database of female experts. According to The Telegraph, the database includes specialists from a variety of fields who have completed a free media training day organized by the BBC.

The ‘expert women database’ contains the details of the 60 women who have so far received free training via these days, as well as the contacts of a further 120 women who “showed promise” in their applications to the BBC Academy. More than 2,000 women applied for the first BBC Academy female expert training day but there were only 30 spaces.

The BBC is one of several British news organizations responding to criticisms about gender imbalances in journalism.

As the Telegraph reports, this isn’t the first database of its kind. My own quick Google search uncovered this directory of female scientists in Eastern Europe. Are there any similar databases in the U.S.? Should someone start one?

TIME’s list of top Twitter users is basically a boys’ club

On Twitter, science and politics are topics best left to men. At least that’s the message TIME is sending with its list of “140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013.” The annual roundup of top tweeters is overwhelmingly male, with women dominating just four of the 14 categories.

Female Twitter users are especially scarce in areas of the list devoted to science and politics, but they outnumber men when it comes to traditionally “pink” topics like fashion and food. The genders were evenly represented in a category devoted to activists. In all, the list included 71 men and 46 women, plus a couple dozen institutional accounts.* Here’s a full breakdown:


Does all this really matter? Probably not, but inclusion on a list like this creates buzz and a certain amount of pop-culture legitimacy. The fact that vast swaths of TIME’s selection are so male heavy is weird, especially when you consider that 60 percent of Twitter users are female.

TIME editors admit the list is “not comprehensive” and invite Twitter users to weigh in with their own favorites using the hashtag #Twitter140. But I can’t help wondering if they could have pushed a little harder to highlight women who meet the criteria of standing “out for their humor, knowledge and personality.”

There’s no dearth of smart women offering pithy political tweets. This crew, for instance, or any of the fine journalists suggested by Carrie Dann of NBC News:

As for science, I’ll bet this spunky social media user has some ideas.

(*A note on my methodology: I broke TIME’s list into three categories: male, female and other. The first two groups are self explanatory. I applied the “other” label to non-gendered accounts, most of which represented institutions. Careful readers will notice that 141 accounts appear on the graphs. That’s because one of TIME’s picks included two names, one male and one female.)

Who else is counting?

I launched this blog to help find meaning in the scads of information I’m gathering for my thesis, which is focused on the role of women in emerging online news organizations. My methodology is still in the works, but I’m lucky to have some fantastic research to build upon. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to create a literature review — a document that describes “the critical points of current knowledge” on a topic.

But it won’t be your typical lit review. There will be video, photos, maybe even an interactive graphic, all designed to help understand what data is available, who’s collecting it and — perhaps most importantly — why. I’ve written already about some of the sources I’ll cite, including this list of blogs and books, a public Zotero bibliography and a post about The Gender Report, a byline surveillance project that’s found an underpresentation of women in online news.

I’m also talking to the Columbia Journalism Review in hopes of gleaning some useful information from its fantastic Guide to Online News Startups. There’s also some interesting research happening at MIT and in conjunction with the Boston Globe’s innovation lab. One or both of those projects could make for interesting video.

Who else should I include?

The ‘Lady who…’ genre of journalism

Too often, stories about female newsmakers are focused more on gender than news. This, according to journalist Christie Aschwanden, is especially true in science writing:

Campaigns to recognize outstanding female scientists have led to a recognizable genre of media coverage. Let’s call it “A lady who…” genre. You’ve seen these profiles, of course you have, because they’re everywhere. The hallmark of “A lady who…” profile is that it treats its subject’s sex as her most defining detail. She’s not just a great scientist, she’s awoman! And if she’s also a wife and a mother, those roles get emphasized too. …

We don’t write “Redheads in Science” articles, so why do we keep writing about scientists in the context of their gonads? Sexism exists, and we should call it out when we see it. But treating female scientists as special cases only perpetuates the idea that there’s something extraordinary about a woman doing science.

There is, however, hope. Aschwanden provides several examples of stories that emphasize the science, not the fact that the scientist is a woman. You’ll find links to those pieces in her excellent story.

The “lady who…” phenomenon isn’t limited to science. It happens in politics, sports and business, too. Miss Representation, an organization working to eliminate sexism in government, describes a good litmus test in this article about gender-bias in political coverage:

(It’s called) the reversibility test.  In short, if you wouldn’t normally see a certain story frame for a male politician in the publication you are reading, then it shouldn’t be used for a female politician. Simple as that.

Do you have any examples of “lady who…” journalism? Share them in the comments below.

Will tech narrow the gender gap in music journalism?

This great story about women in music journalism makes a strong case for why technology has the potential to help close the media gender gap.

As author Joe Rivers explains, music writers have historically been mostly men, but the web is giving aspiring journalists of both genders new ways to build their reputations: 

If you wanted to be a music writer forty years ago, what would have been your route to success? Most likely it would have involved attempting to live the rock n’ roll lifestyle, developing contacts and a personal connection with the movers and shakers of the music industry, and the gumption to doss down in London wherever the story was. That’s not to mention having a Y chromosome, which was practically a pre-requisite. Nowadays, it’s how you utilise the internet to fit what you want to do, and your genetic makeup is going to have far less of an impact on whether you succeed.

Let’s hope that’s true.

Mind the Gap: A video about gender, journalism … and coffee

Talk to me.

I mean it. The issues addressed on this blog — gender roles, media stereotypes, the influence of technology on journalism– are big and complex. Making sense of them will require an open, diverse conversation. To get us started, I put together a  video that ponders one of the bigger questions on my mind lately: If most journalism students are female, why are women chronically underrepresented in newsrooms?

For more on the statistics referenced, read this post from earlier this year.

Thank you to the students who sat for interviews… and to the campus Dunks for handing over an extra plastic cup without any questions.

‘Can I be your Clark Kent?’ and other stupid comments made to female journalists

The real Clark Kent would never be such a jerk to his female colleagues. Photo Credit: Wikimedia
The real Clark Kent would never be so rude to his female colleagues. Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I’ve written a lot on this blog about the persistant underrepresentation of women in all kinds of journalism. There are myriad reasons why, but a new Tumblr called “Said to Lady Journos” illustrates one part of the problem: Women who ask tough questions tend to bring out some people’s inner jerk.

A sampling of comments on the Tumblr:

“Can I be your Clark Kent?” — said to female reporter at a Republican victory party.

“Well, what about being a publicist? Have you thought about that?” — male reporter giving career advice to a female intern. (This guy may explain statistics like these.)

Here’s one that’s misogynistic and racist:

“Cute little thing, but shouldn’t you be running a 7-11 or something.” — said to a female reporter of Indian descent.

Thanks to Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore for pointing out the Tumblr. Her must-read piece includes a fantastic Storify of reactions from Twitter users.

(For the record, most of the people I’ve dealt with as a reporter have been utterly professional, but there have been exceptions — like the cop who once told me I looked like “a kindergarten teacher with a notebook.”)

Giving the “women’s page” (some) credit

When I still worked for a newspaper, one of my favorite things was digging through the morgue. Each overstuffed filing cabinet held decades of old news, including stories from the paper’s long defunct women’s section.

I often dismissed such stories as misogynistic, old-fashioned fluff — something I’m rethinking after reading this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review. As it turns out, women’s pages have an important — if complicated — place in feminist history.

reserving a separate space for “women’s issues” meant that things like parenting, fashion, and the beginnings of the feminist movement got column inches, the separation also demarcated the women’s page as the site of less newsy content, a “pink ghetto” that still persists.

Women’s sections debuted in American newspapers in the late 1800s, and were often the only place willing to hire female journalists. Although these sections were often devoted to lighter matters like housekeeping, society happenings and fashion, they slowly became an arena for serious topics like birth control and workplace equality.

Most newspapers have turned the women’s pages into style sections, but not, alas,  because the front pages are giving equal space to female voices — even in stories focused on women’s issues.


Part of the society page from the Grand Rapids Herald. The woman pictured, Betty Bloomer, is better known a former first lady Betty Ford. Source: WikiMedia Commons
Part of the society page from the Grand Rapids Herald. The woman pictured, Betty Bloomer, is better known a former first lady Betty Ford. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Women are still in the minority at the NYT

Journalist John Surico attended a talk yesterday by New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. While she spoke, he tapped out a few tweets. One, about the gender breakdown in the newsroom, caught my eye:

(The Times has, however, increased the number of op-ad pieces written by women in recent years.)

Here’s more on the difference between the number of women in the classroom and in the newsroom.

Pastor banned from using the word “feminist” in her blog

A blogging contract between a minister and the spiritual website BeliefnetBeliefnet fell apart recently because the minister wanted to use the word “feminist” in her blog, according to

Kristine Holmgren, a Presbyterian minister, suggested two titiles for her blog: “Feminist Pulpit Notes” and “Sweet Truth – Thoughts of a Faithful Feminist.” But Beliefnet had a problem with that, Romenesko reports:

The pastor/writer says she asked (a Beliefnet employee) over the phone why she had a problem with ‘feminist.’ The Beliefnet marketer said she didn’t, but that ‘we know our readers are offended by the word.’

In case you’re wondering, Merriam Webster defines “feminist” as the adjective or noun version of the word “feminism.” Here’s what that word means:

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

What’s so offensive about that?