National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard's Friday report on gender disparity at NPR was more than a harsh wake-up call about stark inequality at one of the nation's most respected news providers. Shepard's report should serve as a lesson: if we want fair and accurate reporting, more media outlets need to take a good long look in the mirror.
"NPR listeners heard 2,502 male sources and 877 female sources on the shows we sampled," Shepard writes. "In other words, only 26 percent of the 3,379 voices were female, while 74 percent were male." The numbers worldwide are even more dire; the Global Media Monitoring Project's latest preliminary report on international media found that just 19% of experts on news programs are women. This absence of female experts and commentators sends a silent but powerful message: women are less qualified than their male peers to provide information on the news. Beyond the inherent disrespect for our country's female experts and the disconcerting example set for young women -- not to mention the fact that women consistently attend college at higher rates than men -- the country is robbed of diverse and comprehensive reporting it needs and deserves for a healthy democracy. The reality of issues cannot be reported accurately when half the population isn't telling it.
I've heard the argument that, in the age of Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and the swath of female hosts on NPR, women have already achieved parity in journalism. But the argument that fair media equals women hosting news shows while 74% of the crucial information used in reporting comes from men is a joke. While celebrating the achievements of our country's greatest female hosts, we must fight for media justice that is richer, truer, and more democratic than counting the skirts on the evening news.
Shepard interviewed me about her findings; as I told her, it's crucial to address the argument that women experts are somehow not available -- or don't exist -- as justification for their absence in the media. Not only is this patently untrue, but organizations like Women's Media Center work tirelessly to ensure that women experts are readily available for media on the issues of the day. Women's Media Center is proud to run SheSource, a searchable database of hundreds of women experts in diverse fields. We send headlines to over 650 journalists three times a week highlighting experts who are particularly useful for top media stories, and make sure we remain available for media requests at all hours. SheSource undercuts the assertion that women experts don't exist, or are difficult to find. They're right here.
Our Progressive Women's Voices media and leadership training program provides women experts in a range of fields with the skills needed to amplify their voices in today's ruthless and lightning-quick media world. Having trained experts from Equality Now Director Taina Bien-Aime to Feministing's Jessica Valenti to Echoing Green Executive Director Cheryl Dorsey (named one of the top 20 leaders in the country by U.S. News & World Report), Progressive Women's Voices provides real and sustainable support to women experts, ensuring that the public gets access to their knowledge and perspectives. (Calling all women who want your voices heard: we are accepting applications for the program this week. For more information on applying to Progressive Women's Voices, click here.)
On the heels of a Newsweek article last month which aired the magazine's own dirty laundry on continued inequality between female and male reporters and writers, Shepard's report drives home what we at the Women's Media Center and other advocacy organizations know to be true: gender inequality in media, even among the most respected news outlets, is very real. But it is not beyond us to correct.
Progressive media is frequently outspoken on issues of gender inequality, but too often but fails to address disparity in their own ranks. As full citizens of a democracy, women are entitled to an equal voice in the issues affecting their nation, their communities, and themselves. NPR and Newsweek have started stepping up to the plate. We're asking: who's got the courage to go next?