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All Men, All the Time in News Business


I love men, don't get me wrong. I'm just really sick and tired of panels about the news business that are stacked with white men. It's 2007, for heaven's sake.

What's wrong with the people who organize these journalism events? Don't they know that half the population is female? Don't they know that people of color will soon be the majority? Don't they know there is a slew of smart, articulate female and minority reporters, editors, managing editors, publishers, owners, commentators and college professors out there?

I know there is because with 25 years in the news business I've worked with them and/or written about them as a media critic.

Does PBS, that purported liberal bastion of fairness, not know this?

The third installment in the "Frontline" four-part series "News War" aired last Tuesday, and no matter how rich the material de tailing the negative repercussions of the shrinking news industry, the endless stream of one white male face after another on camera severely diminished the show's quality and effectiveness (though maybe not to the males involved who failed to notice). If you want to see what I mean, go here). As the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Who could possibly have posted the gallery of nearly all white male faces on PBS' Web site and not instantly noticed that out of the show's 80 interviews, only a handful are women or minorities?

Clearly the people producing the $2.5 million "News War" decided to ignore the guidelines of "Frontline" itself that state while producers are free from editorial constraints, they are encouraged "to consider diversity in race, eth nicity and gender as a positive value in choosing whom to present." Missed that one big-time.

What is worse is that the highly informative series was directed and co-produced by Raney Aronson, a capable woman with a long list of impressive documentary credits. And to top that, it was done in association with the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

In journalism schools across the country, women have been in the majority for 30 years, according to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. Here are a few statistics that might have given correspondent and co-writer Lowell Bergman and Aronson some pause about leaving out anyone who wasn't white male when they started the 4 1/2-hour series:

38 percent of the staff in daily newsrooms are women.

40 percent of the television news workforce are women.

25 percent of TV news directors are women.

In 2005, female graduates from journalism and mass communications programs were more likely to find full-time jobs than their male classmates.

But, actually, most of the news for women in the news is bad, so maybe Bergman and company were right to continue to reinforce the stereotype that the news business -- whether it's newspapers, TV, Sunday talk shows or magazines -- is dominated and run by men. More statistics:

64.5 percent of newspaper supervisors and 60.3 percent of newspaper reporters are men, said the American Society of Newspaper Editors last year.

Male TV correspondents reported 75 percent of the news stories at the three major networks in 2005, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

86 percent of guests on Sunday morning public-affairs shows are, you guessed it, men, according to the White House Project, which studied cable and network show guests from November 2004 to July 2005.

A 2005-2006 study of the male- female byline ratio at The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Times magazine, Harpers and the Atlantic showed men dominated 3 to 1.

I've heard these figures for years and shrugged. But something snapped when I got an e-mail inviting me to a kick-off for Part One of News War at the National Press Club in early February. It listed the invited panelists. Four white males. Lovely men, but still all middle- aged white men. It didn't look like "Frontline" was even trying.

I flipped. Since an associate producer had interviewed me for background on Bob Woodward (who appears in "News War"), I sent an e-mail begging her to do something. "We can't keep having this," I wrote. "You and I both know there are a lot of smart, talented, capable, well-informed, high-ranking women in the news business. I really hope you'll appeal to Lowell."

A few days later, I heard from Frontline. "Just a little background, we did initially invite a (my emphasis added) minority editor and another female journalist to join the discussion, they both declined," wrote Sandy St. Louis by e-mail. "The difficulty 'Frontline' is facing with assembling our panel, is that we wanted to include participants in the discussion who would actually appear in part of our News War series."

St. Louis didn't even see the crack in her argument. If "Frontline" wanted a wider range of women to choose among from the documentary for its panel -- rather than 'a' minority or 'a' female -- then the producers needed to include more women and people of color when they were shooting it in the first place.

What about Jill Abramson -- managing editor of the New York Times?

What about Barbara Cochran -- a longtime network correspondent and now president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association?

What about Geneva Overholser, former editor of the Des Moines Register and former Washington Post ombudsman?

What about Judy Woodruff or Gwen Ifill, both with PBS' NewsHour? Or Cokie Roberts? Or NPR's Nina Totenberg? Or CBS' Leslie Stahl? Or Katie Couric?

I'm not even listing all the talented African-American, Asian or Hispanic journalists that also did not make it into "News War."

The problem for "News War" wasn't a lack of sources, it was an unwillingness to venture outside a well-padded comfort zone.

Alicia C. Shepard teaches journalism at American University and is the author of "Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate."