In a story for the Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance, the editor at The Atlantic, wrote “I’m not excluding women on purpose, but I can’t say it’s an accident, either. Reporters choose whom to interview. We carefully parcel out our time as we work toward deadlines.” Sixty percent of the stories she wrote in 2015 quoted no women.
After the fact, it may be easier for a journalist to look back at a story and reconsider the lack of women they ended up interviewing. However, according to research, it is often times the last thing to cross a journalist’s mind when writing under a tight deadline.
With that in mind, the Financial Times created a tool to automatically inform journalists if they are disproportionately quoting men in their stories. The news organization recently found that only 21 percent of the people quoted in FT stories are women.
Many journalist themselves welcomed the change.
I’m often found warning about discriminatory algorithms. Now the @FT has developed a bot to warn journalists if their articles quote too many men. Nice development, this. #AI #equality https://t.co/qyV74Nv1ro
— Schona Jolly QC (@WomaninHavana) November 15, 2018
— Kathleen McLaughlin (@kemc) November 15, 2018
Others questioned it
Oh dear! If I quote Aristotle or Plato too much, without referring to women authors too, I’m going to get a warning? My lecture about Ross & Kant & deontological ethics breaks the FT rule but their rule isn’t CI!https://t.co/BdfXOQYZHT
— Jennifer Torgerson (@JennTorgerson) November 15, 2018
Nevertheless, this issue has been studied for quite some time. A 2014 study published by the Women’s Media Center found that men are quoted three times as much as women are in stories. Another study conducted by British researcher over the course of six months, analyzed more than 2.3 million articles published by 950 news outlets. During that period they found that BBC and Forbes referred to men 81 percent of the time. The researches found Fox News was the least balanced of television outlets, featuring men 76.5 percent of the time.
Approximately 23 percent of world leaders are women, according to the United Nations. This is important to consider given that the individuals who are considered most newsworthy are often political leaders, CEO’s and high ranking military officials. All three of these categories are dominated by men.
Many journalists ascribe to the notion that if the leader of a country says something, then it is newsworthy and should make the headlines. However, when gathering sources for stories that don’t feature those high-profile individuals, journalists, like The Atlantic’s LaFrance, will often scramble to get an interview with an expert as fast as possible in order to meet a tight deadline.
Even though the thought of installing a bot to warn journalists if they are quoting too many men may humor some critics of the tool, to journalists writing stories it may be a blessing.
Thank you, bot! https://t.co/UzDXtBHaWn
— Women’s Media Center (@womensmediacntr) November 15, 2018