On any given day, when you visit the New York Times‘s homepage, you’ll likely click on an article, any article, that has two specific qualities: It will mostly quote men, and it will have been written by a man. You might have sensed those facts long ago using a combination of your eyeballs and general situational awareness about the disastrous gender gap in journalism, but now there’s a handy Tumblr to break the problem down day by day. For the last few weeks, Who Writes for the New York Times? has tracked that gender gap in real time, using an algorithm to show just how many dicks are on the main-page dancefloor at the paper of record.
Who Writes for the NYT was created by Andrew Briggs, a recent Northwestern grad with degrees in computer science and English. He’s spent the last couple months building the site, which went live on Tuesday. He recently told media site The First Bound that the idea of a gender gap in journalism hadn’t really occurred to him until seeing a yearly feature done by VIDA, a nonprofit built around supporting women in literature and journalism. The Count, as they call it, charts “the rates of publication between women and men in many of our writing world’s most respected literary outlets.” They are exactly as bad as you might think: at every major publication they looked at, the number of men doing the writing–and in the case of book reviews, the number of male authors being written about–vastly exceed women.
So why single out the New York Times? After all, the Women’s Media Center has called the state of women in journalism a “crisis,” writing that as a whole, it “remains staggeringly limited to a single demographic.” In other words, it ain’t just the Times.
“I picked the NYT because it’s this big monolith in news,” Briggs says via email. “And felt like the obvious choice in terms of scope, readership, and brand.” There’s also the fact that the NYT has written extensively about the gender gap elsewhere–Wikipedia, China, Republicans–while at the same time giving themselves props for starting to transcend it.
The NYT‘s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote last year that “the change has been huge” at the paper, with many more women in editing and leadership roles. She then went on to note that there’s still a huge problem with sexist sourcing at the paper (though she didn’t call it that), with men being quoted three times more often than women. That figure isn’t taken from any internal studies by the NYT, but from a study by two researchers at the University of Nevada that got a huge signal boost from Poynter.
But clearly, more women in leadership roles, relatively speaking, doesn’t always trickle down to the newsroom. Although Who Writes for the NYT has only been at this for a couple weeks, the numbers are stark: yesterday, August 1, the homepage had 29 men and nine women. On July 31, it was 26 and 14, one of the narrowest gaps you’ll see on the site. The worst day so far, July 23, the numbers were 35 and four.
“The algorithm is far from perfect, but it does a pretty good job 90% of the time,” Briggs says. “That other ten percent accounts for miscategorized author names or repeated articles–both of which I have several mechanisms built-in to catch, but some inevitably slide through the cracks. I think I’ve had only two women put in the ‘men’ column, and maybe half a dozen repeated articles since I launched Tuesday morning.”
I reached out to Sullivan, the Times‘s public editor, to hear her response to the site. An assistant, Meg Gourley, responded with the following:
Thank you for writing. The public editor’s usual policy is to let her columns and blog posts speak for themselves. Margaret wrote about the University of Nevada study concerning news sources and gender earlier this month.
She linked to the same column I mentioned a moment ago, which is, of course, about sources, not reporters. I pointed out that she hadn’t answered my question, and did not hear back.
“But what about the Voice?,” people will inevitably ask. At the moment, four of our six staff writers are women, and our contributors are pretty even split between men and women in both news and arts. But the Voice–and alt weeklies in general–have other issues, the main one being that we’re much too white and our leadership positions are, in general, much too male-dominated. The diversity committee at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies did a survey last year, the results of which indicated that while alt-weeklies do well hiring women and LGBT people, they “have a definite problem when it comes to hiring and retaining people of color.”
It’s not that the NYT is alone in their lopsided makeup, in other words. But in order to go about correcting a problem, you first have to admit that it’s there.