Op-Ed: All the News Fit for White Men: Why Journalism is Failing America - The Feminist Wire

Op-Ed: All the News Fit for White Men: Why Journalism is Failing America

By David Cuillier

If you want to know what kinds of news Americans consume in their daily lives, just ask a white man. He probably picked it for you.

journalismDespite decades-long efforts by news companies to increase the percentage of women and minorities working in newsrooms and quoted in newspapers, the efforts have largely failed. The reality is the bulk of our information about the world still comes from the perspective of white men.

It’s difficult to argue with the facts:

  • According to the annual newsroom census by the American Society of News Editors, only 12.4 percent of journalists at daily newspapers are minorities, and the percentage has been dropping since 2006. Some research pegs it closer to 8.5 percent, far lower than the overall U.S. population’s 28 percent.
  • About two-thirds of bylined stories in daily newspapers belong to men, according to the Women’s Media Center. Men also dominate in Sunday TV talk shows (86 percent of those interviewed), talk radio, television news, documentary filmmaking, and even in emerging online-only news sites.
  • More important, research shows that journalists rely heavily on official sources, which by far comprise white males. About 80 to 85 percent of sources quoted are white men. Worse, most are part of the establishment. So people are getting their view of the world filtered by the Man. Try it yourself. Grab your local newspaper and tally the number of male and female sources in the first section’s stories. See who is shaping the world for Americans.

This saddens me, because I understand the effects of media framing. The world we live in – and what we perceive it to be – is largely created from the mass media images we see from the moment we become sentient. Heavy media use has been found related to lower body image, mean-world syndrome, exaggerated fear of crime, and political polarization.

This is our world, created and perpetuated by white men. Research in gatekeeping theory is clear: News decisions are subjective and influenced by the demographics and attitudes of the gatekeepers who still influence the flow of news and information today.

This also saddens me as president of the Society of Professional Journalists, and as a former newspaper reporter and editor who no doubt contributed to this white-male world frame. Our trade organizations have tried for years to improve diversity in journalism. It’s extremely frustrating to actually lose ground.

It’s also difficult to watch the anecdotal setbacks, such as the recent ouster of Executive Editor Jill Abramson from the New York Times, that venerable national newspaper of record nicknamed the “Gray Lady.” I don’t think the decision was tied to her gender, at least from what I’ve been told by insiders, but it doesn’t help the cause.

Some industry leaders point to the universities, saying news organizations would hire more women and minorities if they were available. Yet, the statistics don’t bear that out.

About 51,000 journalism and mass communication majors graduate each year in the United States. Of those, 71 percent of them are women and 22 percent are minority, and most get work when they graduate, according to annual surveys by the University of Georgia.

I see that in my own school, the University of Arizona School of Journalism. Three-quarters of our journalism students are women and 32 percent are minority. We recruit heavily and have hosted a summer workshop for minority high school journalism students for nearly 40 years. A majority of our faculty are women, including a longtime female editor we hired from the New York Times. This is pretty typical of college journalism programs today.

Indeed, research indicates that starting journalists are usually evenly split between men and women. Young classes of journalists actually start out quite diverse. Today, we should have a robust mix and diversity of journalists.

So why don’t we?

I believe cultural norms within journalism drive women and minorities away.

Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver of Indiana University have found that upon college graduation, about half of media workers are women. But within five years it dips to 45 percent women, and within 20 years only a third of media workers are women.

The gender pay gap reflects that: in 2012, women earned a median salary of $44,242, about 83 percent of men’s median salary of $53,600.

Research on why women leave journalism is pretty clear. The media industry has not been very supportive of women and families. Graduates find that half their media employers don’t provide maternity leave and only about 20 percent provide assistance for child care.journalism

The hours can be long, erratic, and stressful. Newsrooms have been cut by a third, some in half, during the past 10 years, and job satisfaction has sunk to new lows.

It’s no surprise that women would flee news careers if they wish to start a family. Or even if they don’t want a family, or if their spouse chooses to take the bulk of the child responsibilities, some women leave because they don’t feel included in a male-oriented newsroom culture.

Will this change? I believe it will. Newsrooms have evolved immensely during my career, and momentum is picking up. They are becoming more supportive of women, families, and diverse employees, such as providing more flexibility for observance of religious holidays. Little victories.

As new media models emerge to support news, pressure should ease on stretched-thin news staffs. Women and minorities currently in newsroom leadership roles will be more likely to foster improvements over time.

A changing face of American media will result in more diverse sources in print, video, and online. News decisions will change to reflect those in power in the newsroom, and subtly we should see shifts in what we learn about politics, social issues, and the world around us.


journalismDavid Cuillier, Ph.D., is director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the largest organization of journalists in the United States. Before entering academia in 2006, he was a newspaper reporter and editor in the Pacific Northwest. He can be reached at




  1. Diana L.

    July 14, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Thank you David, for being a white male who “gets it” that that perspective on the world is not the only one.

    Until four years ago when I was laid off in a newspaper closing, I advocated for female and non-white perspectives in the newsrooms where I worked for 25 years.

    I hope you can continue promoting the idea that diverse voices are a benefit to us all.

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  3. EqualityEd

    July 18, 2014 at 1:52 am

    I’m so sick of stories being framed as ‘too many men’ being the problem. Swapping white men for white women of the same class and background does little to bring any real diversity. I’d rather a white man from a poor family than a Ivy League white women raised with a silver spoon or even a minority from means.

    The issues of class/race are continuously minimized by this simplistic and bigoted application of identity politics and this perspective come right out of white feminism’s continued effort to spin the social justice into a system of advantaging white women seeking professional roles instead of a means to address the poor and truly marginalized peoples in our society.

    I am disinterested in continuing to present educated white women of means as some disadvantaged demographic when statistically they clearly are not. The entire approach serves privileged white families while watering down focus on all other groups who can’t possibly compete with white women’s influence nor the vastly disproportionate concern white men have for their welfare. Let’s not pretend white men aren’t interested in putting white families first whenever possible and using white women as a ‘minority class’ is becomes an ideal way to short truly marginal groups vying for attention.

  4. Vicki Campbell

    July 25, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Your response is well over the top in assumptions and projections. And while you’re at it, why not be the epitome of why a lot of people stopped paying attention to feminism quite a while ago, because, amongst other things, of how any topic invariably becomes just one more opportunity to trash women (almost always white). Serious, relevant, genuinely lived intersectional analysis can be breathtakingly incisive and illuminating, but hardly everyone feels its either appropriate for them to take it on, or often that they’re either skilled or experientially informed enough to do so, or for that matter, is simply not what they’re choosing to write about. It’s also hardly appropriate, necessary or even desirable in every analytic instance, and whether or not it could be better applied does not automatically invalidate or otherwise make useless a more specifically focused analysis when its not. The ideologically overwrought stereotyping your response conveys, and that is unfortunately what usually gets substituted for real intersectionality, probably does much more to stifle than encourage it. I also in no way agree that “too many men” would be magically somehow more acceptable if only it was a more diverse group of them.

    I am a white woman, who is not destitute, nor was born with close to a silver spoon in my mouth, and I do not apologize for that. And knowing any of that tells you far less about me than you seem to think it does. What I and almost every other woman I know right now is “so sick of,” as you put it, is the male violence, of absolutely every color and stripe, that is all but consuming the planet at this point – and the abject dead silence coming from the western feminist world about it, because of how much no one is allowed to talk about men and gender anymore, thanks primarily to women of color (since you want to talk frankly about race) and the seeming obsession with making sure no man of color ever get criticized about anything gender-related, at least not by anyone else. The resultant slow-motion reduction of the bulk of feminist dialogue and analysis to so much hyper-academic scorekeeping and naval-gazing and left it for all intents and purposes largely irrelevant to the actual real world, as well as largely unprepared, especially at a time when it probably couldn’t be needed more, to play a thoughtful, useful leadership role in the face of the fairly massive problems facing us.

    There are some issues that are so large that, no matter what else weaves in and out of them, or how important those other issues or factors are, or how much you slice and dice and deconstruct it all – you still wind up at the same fundamental place at the end of the day, however more exhausted or clear-eyed. Male violence is just one of those overarching issues, and women everywhere need to start calling it and calling it out for precisely what it is – and I for one am not going to be silenced about it whenever I’m not inclined to offer up endless politically correct qualifiers in order to do so. Put simply, because it really doesn’t require more, no matter how much more violent or oppressive Israel has been (and it has certainly been the epitome of both), Hamas’ firing of ever more powerful, sophisticated rockets very intentionally onto civilians, whatever their race, gender, class, religion, nationality or ethnicity, is no less of a outrageous war crime simply because Israel is still a lot better at killing civilians than they are.