How to Get More Women Above the Fold: Elect Them
By Barbara Lee, Founder and President
**This story originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
While browsing the airport newsstand last year, I noticed something remarkable: In some of the country’s top papers, stories by and about women were prominently placed above the fold. Even just a few years ago, it would have been rare to see a story about women in animation as a lead story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Or a story about the effect war has on women taking up prime real estate in the top right-hand column of the New York Times‘ front page. This is a welcome development in a media landscape dominated by men.
Women are a minority in media, even though they are more than half the population and account for more than 50 percent of media consumption. Men have long been the faces and voices of media, and according to the Women’s Media Center’s latest report, they still are. In a study of top media outlets in 2015, women generated 37 percent of news compared to men’s 62 percent, only a slight improvement from the previous year.
Women’s voices in every facet of media are important because they change the conversation by making it more inclusive. Much like their presence in politics, women’s presence in news — as reporters, sources and story subjects — isn’t nearly representative of their presence in our country.
Solving the quandary of women in media is no small feat (Smart and hard-working organizations like the Women’s Media Center and Catalyst have been making strides by studying these challenges for years.) Do we start with the writers, or is it the content that’s the challenge? If there are more women writers, will they seek out stories and sources with an eye to gender, or do we need more women newsmakers to drive the change?
My solution to this complex chicken-and-egg scenario? Elect more women.
I’ve been working for nearly two decades to increase the number of women in politics, because I have always believed that more women “above the fold” would impact the number of women running for office, and vice versa.
The faces and voices we see and hear in front-page stories are most often the people leading our cities, our states and our country. The stories we read on the front page are about the most pressing or provocative topics of the day. The newsmakers tend to be elected leaders, business leaders, thought leaders and movement leaders. (Unsurprisingly, men are more likely than women to report on these “hard news” areas, such as politics, criminal justice, science, sports and technology, whereas women writers are often relegated to “soft” topics like lifestyle and culture).
Politicians and voters are beginning to recognize that so-called “women’s issues” resonate far and wide, because the truth is that issues affecting women are often economic issues that affect everyone. It’s heartening to see that fact breaking through in news, too. Stories by and about women deserve to be above the fold, because women’s experiences are newsworthy: They reflect reality, they are relevant and they have broad appeal.
Women in public office and women in the news are part of a symbiotic cycle. The more we have women at the center of political and policy conversations, the more we will see them in news. When we do, the results look something like this: An A1 story in the Washington Post about women fundraisers for a woman presidential candidate, written by a woman political reporter.
For me, it doesn’t get much better than that.