Mar 8, 2018

Does Australia need gender editors in its newsrooms?

The New York Times has introduced a gender initiative, including an editor for gender issues. It says it's been successful, but some in Australia remain sceptical.

Emily Watkins — Media reporter

Emily Watkins

Media reporter

Even before Harvey Weinstein was exposed, before the #metoo movement and before Time's Up, The New York Times was planning a new way to cover gender from its newsroom. As part of a broader push to try to increase diversity in their reporting, The Times appointed Francesca Donner director of its "gender initiative", which included the paper's first gender editor, Jessica Bennett, who started work the same day The Times published its Harvey Weinstein story.

The Times says the role is not to reintroduce "women's pages", but to make sure gender is included or used as a "lens" to cover gender within other stories. Donner has been speaking about the initiative in Australia this week, and has said it's been well-received both internally and externally.

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13 thoughts on “Does Australia need gender editors in its newsrooms?

  1. [email protected]

    This sentence below is in the story. I suggest you read the line 10 times and see if you can understand what it means:
    “The Times says the role is not to reintroduce “women’s pages”, but to make sure gender is included or used as a “lens” to cover gender within other stories. ”
    1. To make sure gender is included? What gender? Which gender is she talking about? 2.To be used as a “lens”. A lens is on object without gender. Does she mean a focal point? 3 To cover gender. Which gender is that? 4. Within other stories. You are only dealing with one story.
    Clear as mud, and that sentence was not queried when put into Crikey.

  2. Brett D. Wright

    Gender editor? Yeah, well, maybe. I suppose Aussie newsrooms will need race editors and class editors too, just to make sure race and class are included or ‘used as a lens to cover’ race and class in other stories. However, my feeling is that if more reporters of any gender were reporting more news stories this would strengthen the diversity in coverage Lumby believes is lacking today. I too worked on the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1980s (under a female chief of staff for much of the time) and, while I can confirm that it was indeed a very blokey place, and unpleasantly so, I don’t recall the paper’s coverage of politics, finance and even the gendered world of elite sport as especially gendered. Even straight, white men – with all their failures of imagination – get the news list right sometimes. Is Lumby saying women don’t read ‘hard news’ as much as men?

  3. zut alors

    Gender editors? I just checked the calendar, April Fool’s Day is more than three weeks off.

    I suggest more urgent priorities for newsrooms are proof-readers & grammarians.

  4. JQ

    Anyone familiar with Price’s law or the Pareto principle? Broadly speaking, the 80-20 rule, or the square root law, which illustrates what appears to be a universal constant that in any given field of creative endeavour, the square root of the participants produce half the output. Anecdotally you’ll know this to be true if you’ve ever worked in any kind of organisation whatsoever. There are a certain amount of highly intelligent and hyper-productive people that do the majority of the work. As the old adage goes, if you want a job done, give it to the busy person.
    Well, when an organisation starts to get shaky (e.g. the entire print media), all of these hyper productive people who have the skills and wherewithal to chase other opportunities leave.

    And so you have, for example, The Age – once a serious publication employing real journalists engaging in hard-hitting investigations and exposes, now resembling a gender studies undergraduate’s blog. Or The New York Times, which “feels” it is important to employ someone to view news through a gendered lens. The bottom 20 per cent left in print journalism holding up the fort.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      Add Fleet Street in the 70s until Murdoch guttered the place. Those journalists departed to write books. Now we (or at least some) are in a lather over what counts as “news” (including fake news) on FB. mmm.. “what goes around ..”

      As to Price’s law the what has been identified above applies ONLY in the case of actual productivity; i.e if (n) people actually produced sqrt(n) produced 50%. In the case of a department in general not all produce an end product. In such circumstances sqrt(n) produce about 60-80 percent of what the department provides. The consequences may be profound for a company if sqrt(n) people that just happen to be the”key” men (women?) resign from the company.

  5. York City

    I would have thought commercial reality would dictate the answer.

  6. Paul

    Gender editors no, competence and politically balanced editors – most definitely.

  7. Matt Hardin

    Despite the fact that I am a cis gendered, straight, middle aged, white guy, I have little in common with the views of Murdoch’s editors. Why would sharing a double X chromosome mean that any given woman would therefore share views with a female editor? Frankly, I would find the suggestion insulting if it were put to me.

  8. kyle Hargraves

    I do wonder as to how much of this article is “old plonk”. Clearly other readers have a simialr assessment. Allowing for the apparent inexperience of Ms Watkins vis a vis the article it doesn’t become Crikey to
    permit its standards to be compromised. However, to the article itself.

    Consider the following :
    ““A lot of people deciding what makes news or what makes a story are male.”

    indeed – but Sky and Murdoch have senior editors who are female and the stories are “the same” – so to write. In other words one cannot determine (by the content) if a male or female editor “approved” the story for broadcast.

    “On one hand I can see why having a gender editor is a great idea”
    Oh – really. examples? Would such not be the case already if the suggestion what that compelling?

    “but on the other hand, the problem is a systemic, cultural struggle”
    May one appeal to the common request : please explain? Both these statements could mean anything to anyone. If they are to be taken seriously they require rather more than an oblique assumption of truth. What, for example, is systemic (by way of a problem) in reporting the news and how would the matter be corrected by (merely) employing a female senior editor?

    “A lot of the problem is historically that our news was gendered”

    what is “gendered”? Perhpas an example of three from the author of the article might assist. For the moment I consider the statement as idiosyncratic of the (so called) Eco Feminism srawlings that abounded during the mid 90s. The general theme was that males and females see/view/interpret signs, cars, coffee-shop discussions “differently”.

    Assuming that the assertion is accepted just HOW could one KNOW if such were the case or otherwise? The alternative view is that it a matter cannot be measured or at least have a realistic ordinal scale attached to it the matter (as A.J. Ayer put it) is meaningless.

    “Women’s Leadership Institute Australia executive director Amy Mullins said that .. snip .. it would be a positive, but likely temporary, step for equality”

    Is it not the case that women have equality now? Are they not on equal pay and equal everything else? It has certainly been my experience, where I have been employed, over the last few decades. Moreover females do get to compete with males for jobs etc. internally and externally.

    “Mullins said other strategies .. snip .. creating a database of women executives who can be used as sources”
    Sensible statement but why not other occupations and for males too.

    “Mullins said there was also commercial interest in ensuring women are included in the news and in decision making around what makes news.”

    I sniff a fallacy here. I’m inclined to suggest that any sub-editor has more than a clue as to what “makes news” (e.g. fires, instances of assault, bad
    personal luck, Harry & Meagan (and perhaps their ‘olds’), pauper to prince stories, sporting achievements etc, [I think I’ve made the point] viz., anything that can be absorbed while munching on a TV dinner (of any description). It is unlikely that a ‘suby” would hold a job for any period of time if she didn’t know what “made news”. The fallacy aside one might ask what is precisely the “commercial interest”. Any organisation ought to ensure that competent staff are included in major decisions (Mgt 100). If such is the case then the statement becomes redundant. Now, what about this year’s vintage in regard to effective management?

    1. JQ

      Well said, Kyle.

      A further problem arises when, having used tremendous social and government-mandated pressure to achieve the gender-based equality of outcome that we’re oh so sure is preferable to how a free society organises itself via equality of opportunity in the free market, what then for the intersections of gender and race? Or gender, race and class? Or gender, race and class and sexuality? Etcetera ad infinitum.
      Eventually we’ll get right down to the level of the individual. So where’s my representation in the news room? And what possible good to we expect to come from playing identity politics?
      I really want to know what Ms Watkins thinks.

      1. JQ

        Has no one heard of Weimar Germany? Or Soviet Russia? Or National Socialism? Or Maoist China? Or Pol Pot’s Cambodia? Or what’s happening right now in South Africa?

    2. Exceptional user friendliness

      Q: “Is it not the case that women have equality now? Are they not on equal pay and equal everything else?”
      A: No, it’s not the case.
      A: Nope.
      A: No. It’s. Not. The. Case.
      A: No, Kyle, no.

      1. kyle Hargraves

        Did not your primary school teacher point out in your social studies classes that negation is not an argument? A sketch in Monty Python made the same point. It becomes you to provide evidence as to the contrary. It is not my experience (over recent decades) or that of anyone else that I am aware of that there is the least discrimination towards females. There is a “trend” in the fringe feminist brigade that peddles this stuff but only to attain a result that Orwell has already explained.

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