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Insights - May 21, 2023

Interview strategies to increase women’s voices in the news

 

by Kathryn Shine

 

I had been a journalist for many years when I first became aware of gender inequality in news coverage. I was shocked to learn that men comprise about 75% of the people quoted, heard and seen in the news. Until that point, I’m embarrassed to admit, I had never thought about the need to seek a gender balance in the people I interviewed for my stories.

Although awareness of this gender imbalance has likely increased among the public of late due to campaigns like the BBC’s 50:50 initiative, the inequality persists.

The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), which has analyzed gender in news coverage globally every five years since 1995, found in its 2020 report that women made up just 26% of the sources used in newspapers, 26% of television news sources, 23% of radio news sources and 28% of online news sources.

The report also revealed that women were more likely to provide personal experience rather than to be quoted as experts. Older women, women of color and women with disabilities were even less likely to be used as sources.

Overall, women were the focus of just six percent of stories in traditional media and nine percent of digital news sites, the report found. Progress is “glacial” and if we continue this way, it will take nearly 70 years to close the gender gap in traditional media.

Going on the record
As a researcher, I wanted to get a better understanding of what factors contribute to this persistent gender imbalance, from the perspectives of existing or potential interviewees.

One theory various journalists put forward to me was that women were less willing to do media interviews than men.

After interviewing 30 female academics and surveying more than 200 male and female media experts and spokespeople as part of a research project in collaboration with the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, we found that this was not the case.

More than 80% of the female participants surveyed said they were willing to give news interviews. There were no significant differences between men and women in this regard.

Similar to their male counterparts, women recognized the benefits of providing media commentary to promote themselves, their research, organization or company. They were also motivated by wanting to engage with the community and encourage other women to speak to the media.

Women were more likely to be nervous about giving an interview, however. Only five percent of women were “very confident” compared to 20% of men.

Barriers preventing women from giving interviews included concerns about their appearance, a lack of understanding about how the news media operates, worries about biased or inaccurate reporting, and fear of being targeted with online abuse.

From this feedback, our research team has outlined some approaches and strategies that journalists, producers and editors can adopt to encourage more women to accept interview requests:

Identifying sources
Think laterally about who to approach. Expand your network of contacts, organizations and companies, identify prospective new female sources and avoid using the same sources again and again, even if they are good media talent.

Use databases such as the Women’s Media Center’s She Source to identify new female experts and spokespeople that you can approach for interviews.

Ask women’s advocacy groups for recommendations. The Women in Economics Network and Chief Executive Women are two such groups, for instance.

When reaching out to media advisers ask to speak with a woman in the organization instead of a male CEO or boss.
If you are an editor, create awareness in your newsroom about the dominance of male voices in the news and what it means for the marginalization of women’s perspectives and experiences.
Set workplace targets to achieve a better balance of male and female sources, monitor your progress and report back to your team.

Be proactive. “Opening oneself up to join a public conversation (and thus risking public scrutiny) isn’t encouraged in my culture or family,” said one female respondent. “If anything, we’re taught to stay quiet unless asked, swim in our own lanes and avoid anything that rocks the boat or draws attention. So, in order to get representation of culturally and linguistically diverse voices in the media, journalists need to proactively seek out and approach talent.”

The approach
Our research found that the way journalists initially approach women for interviews is critical in terms of making a potential source feel comfortable and empowered enough to agree to speak. “When journalists cold call me and it’s clear they know of my work and have a clear purpose for wanting to speak to me, it makes me keen to do what I can to help them out,” said one female respondent. “It’s not an ego thing – it’s more that it gives [me] a sense that the journalist is taking the topic (and you) seriously.”

Here are some of the top ways respondents suggested that journalists approach potential sources:

Be clear about what you are seeking from the source and why you want to speak to them.
Demonstrate that you’ve done your research by referring to the source’s recent work and/or expertise, and explain why this is relevant to your story.

Provide a quick run-through of what to expect. Including an explanation of any technical requirements such as a need for the source to use headphones for audio quality, or that a producer usually calls the source before a live radio interview are easy ways to keep your subject in the loop.

Be courteous and flexible regarding timing.
Provide a few questions beforehand that will give the source a sense of your main line of inquiry. “I’d love it if they sent me the questions beforehand so I can more accurately prepare,” said one female respondent.
The interview experience
When we asked our participants about what makes for a positive interview experience, we found our male and female participants were generally in agreement.

Here are some aspects they identified:

Clear communication and expectations
Mutual respect
Enthusiasm
A relaxed approach that creates a calm environment where the source doesn’t feel rushed or under too much pressure
Genuine interest and open-mindedness from the journalist that can be conveyed through enthusiasm during the interview exchange. Express appreciation for the source’s time, listen and don’t interrupt. “Be authentic. Step into my shoes and not be opinionated. Ask lots of questions and listen. Really listen,” said one male respondent.
Fair and accurate reporting. Follow up or provide feedback in the form of a phone call or email, and give your source some praise and/or constructive criticism about how they can improve their technique for subsequent interviews.

This is particularly helpful for inexperienced media commentators.

Women want their voices to be heard. And we as journalists need to ensure that they are given that opportunity. As leading U.K. researcher Karen Ross says: “Who is invited to speak as commentators on and in the news says crucially important things about who “counts” in society, whose voices have legitimacy and status.”

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