NPR Studies NPR’s Gender Balance

NPR ombud Alicia Shepard has posted an article (4/2/10)headlined “Where Are the Women?,”a summary of a study of the gender diversityofhigh-profile NPR programs.

The most important findings:

With the aid of NPR librarian Hannah Sommers, we compiled a list of regular commentators, who are not NPR employees but are paid to appear on air. There are 12 outside commentators who appeared at least 20 times in the last 15 months. The only woman is former NPR staffer, Cokie Roberts (51 times), who is on ME [Morning Edition] most Mondays talking politics.


We also looked at the number of people from outside NPR who were interviewed by NPR news shows, or whose voices appeared in reporters’ stories. For this analysis, we examined 104 shows, using a “constructed week” sampling technique from April 13, 2009 to January 9, 2010.

Those figures are equally discouraging.

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

Shepard pointed out that women are much more prominent as reporters and hosts on NPR–close to 50-50.

The findings about NPR sources reflect only a slight improvement over the gender imbalance documented in previous FAIR studies of NPR programming: A study looking at shows from 1991 (Extra!, 4-5/93; press release, 3/29/93) found only 19 percent female sources, while a study of 2003 sources (Extra!, 5-6/04) turned up 21 percent. In terms of commentators, NPR might have been doing slightly better in 1991, when four of 27 commentators featured more than once were women.

Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep expresses hisproblems with the survey; he calls it “unsatisfying,” though the same could be said for his criticism. He suggests, without offering evidence, that NPR‘s lengthier in-studio interviews are more often with female guests; when public broadcasters have offered similar rationalizations in response to FAIR criticism in the past, such objections haven’t held up (Activism Update, 10/18/06).

The upshot is that NPR says it’s trying hard to make improvements in this area, and they’ll try even harder. But given the fact that 11 of the top 12 commentators on NPR are men, and that the only woman is Cokie Roberts, it looks like they’re not trying hard enough. Kudos to Shepard for doing this work.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.