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Europe’s Newsroom Gender Gap

European women journalists are discussing how their increased participation in editorial decision making processes might affect the way the news is covered.

Only 23 percent of Europe’s news stories are authored by women, according to a recent study conducted by the European Journalism Observatory. The study was based on a content analysis of the news, comment, and business sections of two print and two digital-born news outlets in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

Speaking at the Prague Media Point conference held in the Czech capital in November, former editor with the German daily Taz, Ines Kappert, noted that stories about gender and women’s rights tend to be covered almost exclusively by women. Women’s underrepresentation in the bylines of news stories, according to Kappert, means, at a minimum, that issues of gender equality and coverage of topics that affect women’s lives are getting short shrift.

Women’s bylines are sorely lacking in economics and political coverage, according to the study, and while Kappert is cautious about essentialist arguments that women have a particular perspective to convey in news coverage, she insisted that when the diversity of those sitting at the editors’ desks doesn’t reflect that of the audience, the media is failing the public.

“We have to untangle the ties between authority and masculinity,” said Kappert, explaining that in her experience women don’t often rise to positions of power in the newsroom and are punished more harshly than men for their mistakes. Over time, this erodes their confidence and the tenacity required for good journalism and career success.

Kappert added that beyond the gender disparity, the lack of diversity generally in Europe’s news organizations, which she describes as mostly white, male, and middle to upper middle class, has troubling implications for how the news is covered. She pointed to German media’s treatment of refugees and other socially excluded groups, which she described as having a “top down” approach, pushing either a sentimental or sensationalized narrative.

Fed up with waiting to see how Europe’s news agenda would change if women were in charge of it, last October a group of journalists based in Poland launched Newsmavens, a website publishing English translations of stories selected by women journalists working for publications across Europe.

With funding from Google’s Digital News Initiative Fund (DNI), Newsmavens is managed by the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. The site curates European news and feature stories produced in newsrooms by women contributors that they believe are the most relevant.

The project aims to find out how a news agenda created entirely by women would differ from the standard mass media narrative, whether or not gender has an impact on news, and if gender imbalance in newsroom management affects how the story of modern Europe is being told today.

“As long as we don’t know the answers to these questions, what motivation does the news industry have to tackle its gender balance problem?” NewsMavens’ founder and Editor in Chief Zuzanna Ziomecka told the International Journalists’ Network. “We need to start by building a solid justification for change.”

--Emily Thompson