In 2012’s fast and flexible media landscape, opinion writing is still overwhelmingly a man’s game. Women authored 33 percent of the op-eds in new media publications and 20 percent of the op-eds in traditional media during a 12-week period last year, according to a study released Tuesday by the Op-Ed Project, an organization focused on increasing diversity in public forums.
While the survey calls those results a “major” improvement, Katherine Lanpher, an instructor with the organization, told TPM that “even with a gain, we are seeing that women aren’t narrating the world, even though they’re half of the world.”
The good news, according to the organization’s founder and CEO Katie Orenstein, is that compared to 2005 the Washington Post has 9 percent more female op-ed contributions, the New York Times has 5 percent more and the Los Angeles Times has 4 percent more. “This is a problem that is imminently solvable and even rapidly solvable,” Orenstein told TPM.
Still, when it comes to the important policy questions of the day, Lanpher said, women “are not present.” The issue, she said, is that women submit fewer opinion articles for publication than men. While some might scoff at the thought of distilling a complex policy issue into a 600-world column, Lanpher said the brevity “makes their work stronger because more people find out about it.”
“There are women and minorities out there with tons of information … you just have to get them to do it,” she said.
In addition to more women submitting opinion columns, Orenstein said editors could be more proactive in seeking out female contributors.
The survey found that the women who write opinion pieces still tend to focus on so-called “pink” topics, such as gender, food, family and style. One of the figures that blew Lanpher away, she said, was that women only wrote 11 percent of the articles on the economy, according to the survey.
“Those numbers, I hope they wake people up,” Lanpher said. “It’s a disservice if you only hear from the same people all the time.”
The survey evaluated more than 7,000 articles in 10 media outlets from September 15, 2011 to December 7, 2011. The “new media” outlets surveyed include The Huffington Post and Salon; the legacy outlets include The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times; and the organization surveyed the college publications of Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale. The college publications published the highest percentage of op-eds written by women at 38 percent.
Find the full study — with graphs — here.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com