Can improved gender diversity save the news media’s bottom line?
How do we change the status quo to not only increase the number of women’s voices for increased clicks and views, but to represent the lived realities of more diverse people?
Type “media industry turmoil” into your search engine and you will be confronted with a barrage of headlines describing the changing economic and consumer landscape the industry finds itself in. Research shows that diversity, across the entire news ecosystem, has the potential to save the industry’s bottom line.
There is a strong business case to be made for media being more diverse and more reflective. In her research into gender in online media in six countries, including South Africa, titled From Outrage to Opportunity, Luba Kassova shows that a global move to close the 11 to 12 percentage point gap between men and women’s consumption of news could create a revenue opportunity of $43bn between 2023 and 2027 and $83bn between 2023 and 2032.
And even if the gap is closed more realistically, by one percentage point per year over the next five years, new women audiences would generate a combined $11bn in revenue, or $38bn over the next decade.
Women want to consume news. Kassova’s research found that women are more interested than men in 11 of 16 news genres. The missing five genres tell a story: business, politics, international news, sports and science and technology. I’d wager that women’s interest in these important beats is lower because they don’t see themselves reflected in them.
In South Africa, for example, half of economics and business editors are women. That’s a remarkable achievement which outperforms many countries. Why then did women only feature in 7% of online news headlines as the protagonists in economic stories in 2019? When you look at it with a more intersectional lens, the representation gap becomes bigger: women of colour make up 46% of South Africa’s working population but just 21% of business editors.
Beyond newsroom representation and leadership, we need to look at whether those women in newsrooms are being heard, whose voices are coming across the most in the news media, and how women and issues that affect women are being portrayed.
When Kenya’s The Nation launched its gender desk in 2019 and redefined who fell into the category of business and politics protagonists, it had a much larger pool of women sources to work with. The change it made included women who own small and medium-sized businesses.
News organisations may not actively be trying to exclude women’s voices, but they also aren’t measuring just how much it is happening
In South Africa about 21% of SMMEs are owned by women, but many of these women will have a very different business story to tell than the (probably white) male CEO of a large blue-chip company. For South Africans, load-shedding is seen as a universal issue. The CEO of a large blue-chip company is in all likelihood working from an office block with backup generators and solar panels. His day is going to be significantly different to the woman living in a rural area, who runs a business from her home without backup power. In addition to gaps in power, her reality is probably also different in terms of pay and representation. Her reality is ignored and the gaps widen because she doesn’t have a media team behind her, isn’t as easy to reach for comment and does not get invited to speak at high-profile events.
When the Financial Times was looking to grow its audience, it looked specifically at women and studied the kinds of stories they were reading. One takeaway from this was that “women are more likely to read stories featuring women”.
So how do we change the status quo to not only increase the number of women’s voices for increased clicks and views, but to represent the lived realities of more diverse people?
Kassova found that the number of women news experts has grown globally in the past five years from about 19% to 24%. “Interestingly, four in 10 gender initiatives in news have been dedicated to improving women’s visibility as experts. Databases and lists may be making a difference,” she says.
I believe many media houses hold that they are much closer to gender parity than they actually are. News organisations may not actively be trying to exclude women’s voices, but they also aren’t measuring just how much it is happening.
It’s like they’re trying to hit a target with a blindfold on. That 11 to 12 percentage point news consumption gap is a signifier of a lack of respect for and representation of women and issues that affect us. It also represents billions of dollars in potential revenue. Given the social and economic impact that increased diversity in the media would have, there is absolutely no reason newsrooms should not be pursuing it with more vigour.
Jordan Magrobi is a database co-ordinator at Quote this Woman+ which has a database of over 700 women experts, including minority and underrepresented groups.
The big take-out: Given the social and economic impact that increased diversity in the media would have, there is absolutely no reason newsrooms should not be pursuing it with more vigour.
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