IMPACT is an organisation roughly two-thirds of whose membership are women. It interacts, on behalf of that membership, on a more-or-less daily basis with the print media. For this reason, the way in which national media represent (or don’t) women is a key environmental factor for IMPACT and directly affects the work it does.
The following is a brief study of Irish broadsheet newspapers’ front pages. It takes partial inspiration from a paper called “Seen but not Heard: How Women Make Front Page News” by the Women in Journalism research group. Their study was on British national daily papers.
A newspaper’s front page is its ‘shop window’, it is ‘the face it chooses to present to the world’. The front page is ubiquitous – it is given prime real estate in newsagents across the country, it’s analysed by pundits on morning television and has become something of a cultural meme.
Given that the front page is such a fixture of our everyday lives, it is worthwhile asking how much we truly know about it. Do front pages have a particular structure? Does analysis of them reveal any interesting patterns?
We decided to look at the ways in which gender is represented on the front pages of Ireland’s three national daily broadsheet newspapers: The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times.
We analysed a week’s worth (Monday to Saturday) of each newspaper’s front page. We collected Examiner front pages from Monday the 5th of September 2016 until Saturday the 10th. We collected Independent front pages for the following week (12th – 17th Sept.) and Irish Times articles for the week after that (19th – 24th Sept.).
Who Writes the Front Page?
For each front page we recorded the number of male and female journalists whose bylines appeared and whether the lead article was written by a man or woman.
Who gets written about on the front page?
We also made note of every single name mentioned in the contents of the front page articles (as well as photo captions etc.) and divided them according to gender. Separately, we recorded the first name to appear in the front page’s lead article and made a note of the individual’s gender.
Whose voices do we hear through the front page?
We counted all words within quotation marks – direct quotes – and, wherever possible, noted whether the quotes were attributed to men or women.
Who do we see on the front page?
We counted the number of men and women represented in photographs and pictures on the front pages.
Bylines (name of person who wrote article)
How often do female journalists secure a spot on the front page? Our analysis of bylines showed that just 21% of bylines on the front page are those of women (79% are those of men). In total, 21 of the 98 bylines we encountered were female. Each of the three Irish broadsheets performed similarly in our analysis:
The Lead Article – Bylines
How often do female journalists secure the top spot in the entire newspaper – a byline on the lead story on the front page? We found, in our three papers, that women only wrote (or co-wrote) the lead article 8% of the time. 92% of lead articles are written by men. Note that the percentages below should only be taken as indicative of a larger pattern as the sample involved (a week in each case) is so small.
* Co-written with a male journalist.
The Women in Journalism researchers found broadly similar results in the British context. They found that 81% of lead articles were written by men and 19% by women.
Names Mentioned on the Front Page
Over the three weeks and across the three papers, 235 names were mentioned within the contents of the front page articles. Men’s names dominated the contents of front page news. We found that 82% of people mentioned or quoted (192 individuals) were male and that just 18% (43 individuals) were female.
Here is the full list of names mentioned on the front pages. The female names are in red.
Again, the Women In Journalism researchers reached similar findings. They discovered that 84% of names in British lead articles were male and that 16% were female.
The First Name Mentioned in the Lead Article
We also recorded the gender of the first person to be named in the lead article on each front page (18 names in total). Of these names 17 were male (Taoiseach Enda Kenny was the first person named on two occasions) and 1 was female. That’s 94% male and 6% female.
None of the first names in the lead articles of the Examiner or Times was female. The Independent had one example.
While percentages derived from such small numbers are not fully reliable, the pattern is indicative of a wider picture.
These are the 18 people who are mentioned first in each lead article:
Note that the only woman pictured is the late Caitriona Lucas, volunteer coastguard and IMPACT member, who lost her life in tragic circumstances earlier this month.
Whose Voices Do We Hear Through The Front Page?
In order to answer this question, we counted all words on each front page that appeared between quotation marks (“”). Quotes represent the direct channeling of someone else’s voice or exact words through the front page.
Across the 18 front pages we analysed we found 2,880 words of quotation. Of these, 490 were uttered by female sources and 2,390 were taken from male sources. In percentage terms, this means that 83% of front page quotation is from men and 17% is from women.
Who do We See on the Front Page?
In order to examine who is visually represented on the front page, we counted the number of men and women to appear in photographs or graphics across our 18 individual newspapers. It is important to note that these figures are again no more than indicative as we only counted the subjects of photographs (we did not, for example, count every person captured in an image of a large crowd at Croke Park, but did count the players in the foreground).
We found that 71% of photographs and graphics on the front pages were of men (126 individuals). 29%, meanwhile, were of women (51 individuals). Given that women made up just 18% of those mentioned on the front page, the 29% of photographs is a relatively large proportion.
The Women in Journalism researchers made similar findings. They found that 36% of photographs represented women. It was this comparatively large proportion that lead them to state that women are “seen but not heard” on the front page.
Why Do Men Dominate the Front Pages?
The overall picture is a stark one – men dominate virtually every aspect of front page news. It is interesting to consider why this may be the case. Natasha Walter, the feminist writer and activist, suggests it may be because “the masculine establishment reproduces itself”. In other words, men are already in senior positions within news-making and agenda-setting organisations and so it follows that front pages would echo this dynamic. Obviously, there is a well known matrix of reasons that women don’t reach senior positions in organisations: the labour of child rearing, organisational culture and societal influences amongst them.
We are not accusing the media of being consciously sexist – this runs far deeper than any individual or organisation’s prejudice. This underrepresentation of women (or, to frame it another way, overrepresentation of men) is a structural problem – it reflects the manner in which our society is currently ordered.
The Dáil is 22% female. 22% of all national parliamentarians globally are women. Last year, 22% of ‘high-potential startups’ backed by Enterprise Ireland were lead by women. PWC found that 22% of multinationals in Ireland are actively trying to increase their levels of female mobility. 22% of senior business roles in the G7 are held by women. On TV, 22% of protagonists are female.
In most of these instances, 22% representation equates to a marked improvement based on previous years if not an all-time record. Indeed, 22% of IMPACT’s Central Executive is made up of women, a higher proportion than ever, but one that leaves more work to be done.
Compiled by Lughan Deane and Patricia O’Mahony