Gender Bias in Coverage of Political Races

Newswise — The overwhelming majority of news sources cited by capital city newspapers covering the most recent races for open governorships were male, Michigan State University researchers have found.

Female experts appeared far less than their proportion in the population, but female reporters had a greater tendency than their male colleagues to cite female sources. The study examined four states with a female nominee for governor and five states where both major candidates were male. Regardless of the candidates' gender, most sources quoted were male.

MSU journalism professors Eric Freedman and Fred Fico analyzed content of all hard-news stories published between Labor Day and Election Day 2002 about the open governors' races in nine capital dailies, ranging in circulation from 6,748 for the Juneau Empire to 194,870 for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The study noted the gender of experts and reporters to determine how frequently journalists incorporated the views of men and women.

Three quarters of stories citing nonpartisan sources cited only men, while 9 percent cited only women. The rest used at least one man and one woman.

"Even with more women running for public office and more women reporting on the races for newspapers, female sources and experts are not getting a proportionate amount of quotes in print," said Freedman.

Other findings include:

"¢ Male experts were cited nearly five times the average for female experts."¢ No female expert appeared in more than one story, while male experts appeared repeatedly."¢ Female experts who were cited got fewer paragraphs for their assertions than males, a two paragraph average for males and less than half a paragraph for females.

The findings raise significant questions regarding the way newspapers cover political campaigns; in particular, how well reporters go beyond partisanship to inform readers about the meaning and significance of campaign developments and policy questions.

"News organizations need to ask themselves what they're trying to accomplish with sourcing," Fico said. "If they're seeking diversity and balanced coverage, then they have to work harder to bring it about.

"If sources play a major role in shaping information from which people unconsciously form their views on important issues, then selection of sources is a critical choice for journalists."

The nine newspapers in the study are the Juneau Empire " Alaska; Capital " Annapolis, Md.; Statesman Journal " Salem, Ore.; State Journal-Register " Springfield, Ill.; Lansing (Mich.) State Journal; Harrisburg (Penn.) Patriot-News; Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal; Tennessean; and Pioneer Press " St. Paul, Minn.

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