You Can't be What You Can't See: Investigating Gender Inequality in News Sourcing

A Research Project by Dr. Kathleen Searles

Despite efforts to increase representation of women throughout the ranks of journalism, women remain less sought-after as expert sources of news. In this research, Dr. Kathleen partners with the Reilly Center to explore the psychological mechanisms underpinning this phenomenon.

 

In conjunction with her research partners Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan of Stony Brook University and in partnership with the Reilly Center, Dr. Searles research seeks understand why women experts are underrepresented in the news. The primary way through which the public learns of expertise is through the news, yet news outlets around the world primarily source men. This gender imbalance not only limits women’s representation, it reduces their influence in the public sphere and diminishes the quality of our public discourse. 

According to recent research, journalists feature women as sources in only 24% of news stories (“Who makes the news” 2013). Moreover, stories that source women rarely make the front page, women are accorded less space within a story, and are rarely recruited for stories of national importance (Shoemaker and Reese 2013; Ross 2007). Many perceive this issue to be attributed to the lack of diversity in newsrooms where men still dominate, particularly in editorial ranks (Ross 2007). To this end, many journalism schools have focused their efforts on recruiting a more diverse student body. However, even as more women have joined the journalism profession in the United States, men and women continue to be less likely to cite a female expert relative to a male expert.

This research aims to identify the psychology behind the inequality in expert sourcing.  Specifically, we seek to understand whether implicit gender biases shape journalists’ decision-making.  We argue these implicit gender biases contribute to the underrepresentation of women as experts by shaping a biased selection process that results in a distribution of sources that systemically varies from the distribution of sources we’d expect as a result of a competitive expert marketplace. We believe this project to be of importance to a call for social inequality because who gets to speak shapes public discourse in consequential ways.  

This research will consist of field experiments conducted on practicing journalists throughout the U.S. to see how these mechanisms operate in the real-world. Watch this page for updates on the progress this research makes in shedding light on this perplexing dilemma. 

Meet Dr. Kathleen Searles

LSU Manship School and Political Science Department

Meet Dr. Searles and her research