NPR’s Sex Problem

NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, has done a little sleuthing about the number of the network’s female commentators and sources, and the results aren’t pretty. Well, this is a good-looking chart, but you get what I mean:


“NPR listeners heard 2,502 male sources and 877 female sources on the shows we sampled,” Shepard writes. “In other words, only 26 percent of the 3,379 voices were female, while 74 percent were male.”

The problem is hardly limited to NPR; Mother Jones has posted the scary statistics about the gender disparity in magazines, in the blogosphere, and everywhere else, from golf clubs to Hollywood. I recently did my own scientific study, in which I saw the December Harper’s sitting on a friend’s bathroom floor and counted on my fingers that every one of the six contributors mentioned on the cover was a man. I’ve also conducted a follow-up that involved looking at The Daily Show‘s 2009 guest list on Wikipedia and tallying that it featured only 36 women; only one guest was a woman in each of February and March; in September, none was.

“Many times we hear there are no women, or there are more men to tap into as experts,” said Women’s Media Center president Jehmu Greene in Shepard’s blog post. “I think that’s a mindset that is common in the media. Clearly, it is worth it to do the extra work for the story to get the female perspective which many times can be different, unique and necessary.” That’s why the WMC is devoted to populating the media landscape with more ladies—a cause I’m honored to participate in as a member of its 2010 Progressive Women’s Voices class.

While Shepard laments her organization’s shortfalls on the gender front, she points out that it is still “an industry leader with female correspondents and hosts.” To wit, it has launched an initiative to diversify its on-air voices, and hopefully, this chart will soon be less skewed. Points out Jill Geisler of the Poynter Institute, for the analysis win, “I doubt there is a conscious, systemic aversion to selecting women as sources at NPR. But benign neglect is still neglect and its impact just as harmful to society.”