Female news professionals in local and national broadcast news during the buildup to the Iraq War.

Author:Armstrong, Cory L.
 
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The years of 2004 and 2005 brought major changes to the network television news landscape. Longtime NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw gave way to Brian Williams, ABC's Peter Jennings succumbed to lung cancer, and CBS newsman Dan Rather resigned amid controversy. Although the presence of women is increasing, it still has not ascended into the national anchor's chair (Gibbons, 2002; Sanders, 1992), although Katie Couric is expected to assume CBS's anchor post this fall. She would be the first-ever solo female anchor on network news.

Despite the fact that roughly 65% of bachelor's degrees conferred in journalism were awarded to women in 2003, which has more than doubled from the 30% awarded in 1970 (Becker, Vlad, Huh, & Mace, 2003), little progress has been made in the newsroom. For example, in the early 1990s, only 33% of the journalism workforce was made up of women, and upper management of corporate media was predominantly male (Duckforth, Lodder, Moore, Overton, & Rubin, 1990). In 2003, only 26.5% of local news stations employed a female news director, and women accounted for just 12.5% of television newsroom staff (Papper, 2003). In 2002, 60% of assignment editors and 70% of managing editors in broadcast news were male (Papper, 2002).

Numerous studies have found that diversity has not been reflected in who is producing and reporting news content (see Liebler & Smith, 1997; Rodgers & Thorson, 2003; Zoch & VanSlyke Turk, 1998). It remains a male-dominated newsroom. In a culture in which source sound bites are decreasing and television news reporters are taking up more airtime per story (Grabe, Zhou, & Barnett, 1999), limiting the types of coverage for male and female news professionals (i.e., sports for men, education for women) may impede progress of women in the broadcasting world. Such organizational issues may also influence how male and female news professionals perform their job duties, as suggested in recent work (e.g., Armstrong, 2004; Rodgers & Thorson, 2003).

In studying newspaper production, Armstrong (2004) found a large intraorganizational influence on gender representations within news stories. Specifically, representations of women were found to be dependent on the section in which the story appeared (most often in lifestyle sections) and the placement on the page (women were more often mentioned below the fold). S. Craft and Wanta (2004) found that newspapers with male editors often had more negative content than those with female editors. Similarly, Rodgers and Thorson (2003) found that, although men and women often carry out reporting tasks differently, organizational factors, including the circulation size and the ratio of male-to-female editors, mediated those differences. Given these findings in the print medium, it seems likely that organizational differences may also play a role in gender representations of news professionals in broadcast news. Further, given the mediation role that organizational factors seem to play for newspapers, it seems likely that similar situations may exist in broadcast news. For example, national news audiences are broader demographically than most local news audiences, so the types of stories and news professionals needed to attract those audiences may be different.

In an attempt to extend current research on the role of organizational factors in news production, this study uses the gender model put forth by Rodgers and Thorson (2003) to examine the influence that different types of stories and newscasts have on male and female news professionals' representations. Briefly, the gender model suggests that men and women have different workplace roles and behaviors because they are socialized differently. This work examines how often-suggested factors, like age and type of program, may mediate these gender effects.

Because of the dominance of Iraq in news coverage during 2002 to 2005, the buildup to the war serves as a strong vehicle in which to examine the progress of women in television journalism. All types of stories related to the war in Iraq have been pervasive in the media from the buildup through to the aftermath of the war, including policy decisions, war stories, and "heroic" events. Despite the increase of women serving in the military, war remains a gendered construct (Goldstein, 2001). Therefore, in addition to potential differences in general news coverage between male and female reporters, the focus on the traditionally masculine discourse of war will allow us to examine the relationship between male and female news professionals in a specific topic area. If gender is a factor in key news coverage, it should be evident in war coverage.

Specifically, we wish to examine how male and female broadcast professionals are represented in war and nonwar stories and in shorter and longer stories. In addition, there are two overall research questions: (a) What is the proportion of women in local and national newscasts? and (b) Does perceived age of newscasters vary as a function of gender and newscast (local/national)? Given the emphasis on promoting diversity within the newsroom from groups like the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), determining the progress of women in television news at this point is an issue of keen interest in journalism scholarship (see Schudson, 2003).

Gender Differences in News Coverage

Research indicates that women have historically been both underrepresented and misrepresented in media coverage (see Armstrong, 2004; Hallmark & Armstrong, 1999; Zoch & VanSlyke Turk, 1998). Tuchman, Daniels, and Benet (1978) argued that a "symbolic annihilation" occurs because of the dominance of males on television. Tuchman et al.'s study of gender representations on television from 1954 to 1975 found that at least two men were shown on-screen for each woman. Although symbolic annihilation has traditionally been linked to gender representations in entertainment television, it can logically be extended to television newsrooms. None of the major networks currently have female anchors for their national evening newscasts, although CBS recently announced that Katie Couric will assume its evening news anchor position this fall. However, despite that announcement, women have generally been less likely to appear as news professionals in news coverage. For example, during a February 1992 examination of 60 network news programs, male correspondents appeared more often than females in 59 of the 60 programs (Sanders, 1992).

Although these findings suggest a lack of female representation, the results in television news are mixed, as a 1986 study found no difference between male and female reporters in the lead story of a newscast (Smith, Fredin, & Ferguson, 1988). Similarly, in a content analysis of television news coverage during the first 100 days of the Clinton Administration, Liebler and Smith (1997) found few differences between male and female reporters in their coverage. However, male sources were more likely to appear in stories, regardless of reporter gender or type of story. Liebler and Smith suggested that female reporters have been socialized into using traditional or "male" definitions of newsworthiness. If women were bringing in their own perspectives, then, the news would likely be more diversified. "I think we're still doing a disservice to the American people--still presenting a white male perspective--actually a white, upper middle class, middle-aged perspective," said Carole Simpson, the first African American female network anchor for ABC News (Konner, 2001).

The possibility that men dominate news coverage gains credence when examining how news has changed during the past 15 years. The rise of cable television news has resulted in multiple 24-hour news channels, like CNN and Fox News Channel, providing more overall airtime for news anchors and reporters. Television reporters have become news analysts, spending more time pontificating about everything from politics to Oscar predictions. "Journalists today often treat information from sources as raw materials to be taken apart rather than simply being related to the news audience" (Grabe et al., 1999, pp. 295-296). Given this climate, where reporters are providing and synthesizing information for viewers, it follows that news reporters might seem educated and knowledgeable by viewers. If men are conducting the majority of this interpretation and analyses, women may be stunted in their move toward newsroom equality.

Schudson (2003) suggested that viewers have a relationship with television anchors. In times of crisis, they turn to television newscasts they trust for information. If women are seen on television reporting on soft (or fluff) news segments repeatedly, future journalists and audience members may be socialized to believe that female reporters do not have the qualifications or characteristics to act as pundits or news analysts. Thus, female news professionals may not strive to report on those events or comment on such issues.

This idea may be best recognized through the type of story to which a reporter is assigned. A newscast is often split up into segments. The first 5 to 10 minutes are generally devoted to the day's most important stories, such as politics or crime. If gender equality exists within the newsroom, there should be no significant difference between story type and gender in newscasts. As noted previously, studies have shown differences in the stories on which men and women reported. For example, Smith et al. (1988) found that female television reporters are more likely than men to cover education stories...

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