How well are women represented in digital journalism?

With Janine Gibson’s recent promotion to a senior digital position at the Financial Times and the AOP Digital Publishing Awards coming up in October, Jack Wynn investigates female representation in digital journalism and the current gender diversity climate

It’s difficult to comprehend how women remain underrepresented in the newsroom. Study after study has analysed low female representation in journalism and the results of these studies are behind the inception of organisations including Women in Journalism (WIJ), Digital Women Leaders and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), created to provide resources and support networks.

In 2018, the European Journalism Observatory (EJO) found that just 23% of articles in eleven European countries were written by women compared to 41% of men (the balance was made up of un-bylined / agency articles). The latest Global Media Monitoring Project results echo these findings; the number of female journalists reporting on stories was less than two out of five and predictions for the 2020 results suggest little progress will have been made.

Digital is a prime source of real estate for media brands and the upcoming AOP Digital Publishing Awards in October is an excuse for peers to come together and celebrate the ground-breaking work achieved in the industry. Are women underrepresented here, too? If so, it could well be that a career in the digital landscape generally does not appeal to the majority of female journalists.

On the flip side, historical male dominance in the newsroom is another potential factor. There’s little focus on gender staff equality in the digital space, so what do those at the forefront of digital journalism think?

Janine Gibson, digital editor at the Financial Times (FT): “Look, there are more women than there used to be and that’s great. We have a new female editor-in-chief in Roula Khalef at the FT and that’s wonderful to see.

When I first joined the online team at The Guardian to launch over fifteen years ago, I went to work for Emily Bell who was the editor of the website. The managing editor, culture editor and news editor were also all female. I think digital has long been a place where women have felt able to establish themselves and enable other women into senior jobs that maybe weren’t so accessible in print.

There are now women editors and leaders around every area of the media industry, but in overall volume, there are still way too few female leaders from middle management upwards. That goes as well if not double for men and women of colour, people from working class backgrounds and triple for people who intersect underrepresented groups. Also, the media remains too homogenous.

What makes me optimistic is that a new generation of leaders will not need to be persuaded that a more diverse newsroom leads to more diverse audiences. Therefore, it’s just a question of attention and commitment.”

Zoe Dickens, digital editor at The Gentleman’s Journal: “I’ve been very lucky in my career to have had a series of amazing female managers and editors. Across the board, I think that regardless of publication or industry, women are making great headway at the top levels of digital publishing.

I’m not sure it would yet be right to say it’s female driven; this won’t happen until there are more women learning coding and taking control of the back ends of these websites as well as the front end, but I definitely think there is more gender equality in digital publishing than there is in print.

Digital-first journalists are in a fairly privileged position in that, at many publishing houses, digital teams are growing while print teams are shrinking. This means there are a lot of opportunities. However, in my experience, journalism courses have been slow to introduce their students to the range of jobs available in digital journalism. It wasn’t until I entered the industry that I even heard the job titles SEO editor, community editor or growth manager and this is where much of the expansion is taking place.

It is well documented that women are far less likely than men to apply for jobs they don’t feel fully qualified for. Therefore, at present, many of these roles are going to men and this means they are gaining digital experience, not women.”

Natalie Cornish, acting digital editor of Red: “I’m not sure digital is becoming more female driven; I think there are plenty of opportunities to progress in digital journalism for both male and female journalists. Although, in my experience, women have always been at the forefront of digital developments, especially in newsrooms and the media in general. In terms of the prominence of women in the top jobs, my current boss (the chief digital content editor of Hearst UK) is female, as are my previous four bosses.

Digital was seen as a secondary area to print for a long time (which was usually very male heavy) and for that reason, I think lots of young female journalists (like me) saw plenty of opportunities for growth and ownership in that area so moved from print to digital early on in our careers. Now ten or so years on, those women (and lots of male journalists who did the same) are in senior digital positions.

The future for women in digital journalism is incredibly exciting. We’re working in a fascinating time politically and culturally, where women’s issues are at the cutting edge and female voices from all corners are finally being given platforms to tell their stories. It’s a huge privilege to be at the forefront of that.”

Dr Alexandra Borchardt, senior research associate at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford: “Digital has always been an option for women in journalism.

Unfortunately, for the most part, it’s because many of the low paid, less prestigious jobs have been in digital as opposed to secure, very well paid jobs in TV, radio, print.

Now that everyone wants to be a digital champion, lots of digital talent gets hired at traditional companies. This is a good opportunity for women. However, from what I’ve seen in the industry, compared to men, women tend to have too much training to begin with and they need to be promoted to learn on the job. It is very often assumed that digital is all about tools and tech, but the tech is easy to adopt.

The real challenges are in making changes and people management; this is where many women are really strong, and there are more women in data journalism and investigative journalism than is commonly assumed.”

Richard Reeves, managing director of the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), points to the female representation of judges for this year’s AOP Digital Publishing Awards (of the 33 judges, 17 are women) as well as the Digital Editor of the Year Award being presented to female winners in both 2018 and 2019. He says, “Whenever we host events and discussions, we always strive to have a fair representation of the industry to ensure a balanced perspective, and this approach extends to our judging panels, too.

We encourage feedback at all our events and endeavour to address and meet the concerns and needs of attendees. A big part of this is making sure all voices have an opportunity to be heard. When confirming the judges for the AOP Digital Publishing Awards, it was just as much about selecting voices of authority based on merit as it was about ensuring those voices represented a cross section of the publishing industry.”

Nina Goswami, creative diversity lead at the BBC, discusses the broadcaster’s 50:50 Project which is helping to deliver on their commitment to increase female representation across the board to better reflect the public they serve. She says: “The concept initially came from Ros Atkins, the presenter of BBC News’ Outside Source programme, and from his idea, it has grown to include over 550 teams within the BBC, all tracking and recording female representation in their content. Across news, sport, entertainment, factual, music and more, there are several thousand content-makers all contributing to this huge collective action.

We’re proud to say, it’s been really successful and is now having an impact outside of the BBC, with more than 50 organisations from the world of media and beyond signing up and adopting the project’s methodology. For BBC teams, we record representation for programmes on air, on screen and also online, so it’s certainly had a positive impact on our digital journalism output, changes that are becoming embedded in the way we produce online news content.”

The urgency for media outlets to push their forward-thinking digital strategies and adopt the latest trends to introduce new and innovative ideas has become crucial in the crowded market. But, unlike the countless number of studies analysing the number of women in journalism as a whole, analysis for digital-only is sparse and virtually non-existent.

Furthermore, it’s outdated and disappointing that in 2020, a society that’s forever discussing the need for women to be awarded the same opportunities as their counterparts, the majority of bylines in Europe are attributed to men. However, as the case studies in this article have suggested, there are some promising signs for women looking to develop their careers in the digital landscape and to continue being game changers in a progressive field.

Article originally published here

How can the mainstream media thrive in the digital age?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to digital, and media organisations need to pinpoint what they want to achieve to standout and survive in a crowded market

Almost half of Gen Z news readers (45%; those aged between 18-24) first locate news in the morning via their smartphones. Image credit: Pixabay

The main trend among audiences is the same problem that so many industries are facing: in the age of the internet, people expect journalism to be free; they expect it to be immediate; they expect it to always be right; and they increasingly expect it to not contradict in what they believe to be true.

As technology thrives, it goes without saying that a strong digital presence is vital for any media organisation to survive in such a crowded market, and that can prove a challenge for many outlets like CNN and the BBC which built their reputations in television; as well as newspapers from the Telegraph to the Guardian that have been in circulation for much longer.

Although it’s been found that 46% of readers find print ads easier to understand (digital reached 19%), digital is where most audiences can be found. If you ask people under a certain age where they first discover their news, very few will say television and even fewer will say print. The internet has created a vacuum for much younger outlets such as BuzzFeed to thrive, but existing outlets need to compete with them if they want to survive. 

A strong digital presence is vital for any media organisation to survive in such a crowded market. Image credit: Pixabay

More traditional media brands have recognised the need to ramp up digital presence to compete. Alastair James, broadcast journalist at BBC Wales News, says the organisation understands the importance of a digital offering. “We are very aware that digital is where a large amount of our audience is and where our potential audience will visit first,” says Alastair. “Efforts are being made to reach out to people online and to get them to come back. The challenge with our digital platform will be differentiating our output to that of everyone else.” 

A substantial contributor to a successful digital pathway is the need for all journalists to be confident in their digital skills, embracing the diverse and ever-changing technologies such as the rise in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) storytelling. As Robert Picheta, digital producer at CNN International, explains. “There is no such thing as a journalist who isn’t a digital journalist anymore. As soon as I started working, I realised how absurd that approach was because young journalists are valued almost entirely for their digital skills and if you don’t have them, you simply won’t get a job.” He continued. “There’s a generational gap that needs to be bridged, to ensure that everyone within the company is on board and able to fully adapt to where journalism is moving.”

Daniel Green, multimedia reporter at, agrees that keeping up with digital trends as a journalist is key to providing a competitive digital offering. “Not being able to adapt to the progressive needs of audiences will be turning point to any news organisation’s survival,” says Dan. 

All media organisations should be embracing the diverse and ever-changing technologies such as the rise in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) storytelling. Image credit: Pixabay

Some organisations have performed particularly well in trying to adapt to the shift to digital, in particular, the Washington Post. They have managed to establish a presence on a variety of different platforms such as on smart TVs and TikTok in order to capture audiences wherever they may be. While their work provides a model to follow, news organisations cannot simply use the same content from one platform to another. What works for the 10 o’clock news will not have the same effect for TikTok, for example. To be successful on those different platforms, you need to be able to speak in the language of the target audience, and diversity of newsrooms strongly comes into play. 

Furthermore, a report by The New York Times on their newsroom’s aspirations provides some insightful knowledge for other organisations to follow suit. For example, utilising multimedia techniques instead of relying on the generic 300-word story template; recruiting more journalists that are ‘experts’ in certain areas; and the paywall inclusion has helped by replacing advertising revenue with subscription fees. 

Assessing the way in which younger generations consume news is crucial to further development of digital strategies. Reuters found smartphones to be the main method for those under 35 accessing news (69%) and they also discovered that almost half of Gen Z news readers (45%; those aged between 18-24) first locate news in the morning via their smartphones. Furthermore, 19% first access news via TV and 5% via their computers. Gen Y
users (aged between 25-34) have developed similar trends, with 39% first accessing news via their smartphones; 22% switching on the TV; and 8% on the computer.

As research finds digital outlets to be increasingly changing and publishers rating smaller platforms, like Apple News, to be as important as Facebook, Francesco Zaffarano, senior social media editor at The Telegraph, says it’s important to be aware of how much digital can change. “The bottom line is that relying on platforms’ consistency and stability is a recipe for disaster,” says Francesco. “Platforms keep changing, which is also what makes them an interesting and stimulating place to experiment with new ways of doing your job.” 

The New York Times makes a conscious effort to recruit more journalists that are ‘experts’ in certain areas. Image credit: Pixabay.

Research by Pew Research Center in 2018 heavily corresponds to the importance of social media and a newsroom’s output; it’s the first source of breaking news for 64.5% of US adults via Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Francesco describes how media organisations need to utilise social media for further growth. “If people access news via social media, we have an opportunity to analyse habits and a series of issues to tackle, concerning the way people access news; how reading news on social affects the understanding of news; and how this can shape trust.” 

The shift by audiences to digital shows no signs of diminishing. Mainstream media can further develop due to the constant need for instant news and content that feels accessible. In addition, the need for diversifying revenue streams will be crucial in the years ahead, as advertising revenue dries up due to the switch to digital. Journalists’ continuing to distribute content via social media is also imperative to the mainstream media’s growth; a 2017 study found 75% of journalists sharing content on social media platforms was necessary for content promotion. As Robert from CNN International concludes, “Digital is the future, if not the present. It will continue to dominate how companies think about their output and their audiences, and it will continue to become the first and only way most people access news.”