Nov
01
2008

Huffington Post Mutes Women's Voices

New media, same gender imbalance

Women's voices have long been lacking in corporate media. As Internet outlets compete more and more with traditional media as a source for news and opinion, will women's voices be heard there more frequently than in print publications? If the Huffington Post, one of the most prominent and successful blogs today, is an accurate barometer, the answer is no.

The Huffington Post is a left-leaning site that features opinion pieces by the site's founder and editor-in-chief, Arianna Huffington, as well as by a wide assortment of guest bloggers. According to the blog-tracking website Technorati, it is the single most-linked-to blog as of September 2008; Nielsen Online ranks it the 28th most popular news site in the U.S. (Editor & Publisher, 9/16/08). By at least one measurement (Alexa.com), it has surpassed in popularity some of its big corporate competitors, like Time.com and Newsweek.com.

The site highlights 13 "featured blog posts" on the home page at a time, and that selection is updated regularly. Extra! recorded those featured bylines twice every weekday for nine weeks and coded them by gender.* During the study period (7/7/08-9/5/08), only 255 of 1,125 bylines—23 percent—belonged to women.

The Post does seem to be making a conscious effort to include women's voices; despite the low percentages, the study found at least one female byline on the home page at all times. But if there is indeed such an effort, it stops far short of parity. Of the 89 times bylines were checked during the study, not once did the number of women's bylines equal those belonging to men. Only eight times did women account for more than a third of all bylines. And Arianna Huffington, appearing 57 times, accounted for more than a fifth of all women's bylines; 45 of those occupied the most visible top post. Only once, in fact, did a woman other than Arianna Huffington get her byline in the most visible top slot—Post editor-at-large Nora Ephron (8/26/08).

While the Huffington Post provides an outlet for certain voices that seldom make it into the corporate media, it falls perfectly in line with elite print media's abysmal gender numbers. In Extra!'s 2005 op-ed study (5-6/05) of major newspapers and magazines, U.S. News & World Report led magazines with a still-dismal 28 percent of op-eds penned by women, followed by Newsweek at 23 percent and Time at 13 percent. Newspapers fared even worse: Women's bylines appeared on 20 percent of op-eds in the Los Angeles Times, 17 percent in the New York Times and 10 percent in the Washington Post. For syndicated columnists, the numbers were likewise low, with women writing 24 percent of columns at the eight major syndicates (Editor & Publisher, 3/15/05)—which still beats the Huffington Post.

Catherine Orenstein is the founder of the Op-Ed Project, which trains women to write and pitch op-eds. "I don't see it as women needing help—I see it as public debate needing women," she told Extra!. "Half of the smartest minds in our nation are female."

And that need for parity includes online media, she said: "Just as it matters in old media, it matters in new media, too." She added, "What's interesting is the Huffington Post is Arianna—a prominent woman, a political and economic powerhouse."

Orenstein sees many reasons for the imbalance both online and on the printed page, both of which favor "white older men," she says: "The ways people get the most attention are still stacked." She proposes a "supply-side" solution, urging more women to submit op-eds and blog posts in prominent places. "Women are actually the majority of bloggers if you look at all subject matter, but if you look at top blogs that are picked up and guiding policy, they're in the minority."

But addressing submissions is only one part of the editorial process, says Jennifer L. Pozner, founder of the advocacy group Women In Media & News (and FAIR's former Women's Desk director). "Encouraging women to submit more often, while important, is only part of the solution," says Pozner.

For example, where Huffington Post is concerned, women's posts—plentiful in various sections of the site—rarely make it past the editorial gatekeepers who decide which posts get "featured," steering readers primarily to male bloggers. We need to hold media outlets accountable for gender and racial imbalances in the editorial process that governs which submissions get published and rejected—and for actively soliciting material far more often from white men than women and people of color.

When the Huffington Post was asked for a reaction to the study's figures, spokesperson Mario Ruiz offered this statement: "The Huffington Post provides a powerful platform for a diverse group of individuals and opinions. At any given moment we feature the best available content, regardless of gender."

* Bylines were recorded weekdays at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST. Data was unavailable for the afternoon of 9/15/08.

Jessica Wakeman is a former associate blog editor at the Huffington Post. She has covered women's issues for Bitch, Salon's Broadsheet blog, the New York Daily News and TangoMag.com. She is a former FAIR intern.

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Extra!'s Gender Balance

In the July/August 2004 issue of Extra!, we surveyed the number of New York Times front-page bylines given to women—12 percent—and accompanied the piece with a look at our own record. In 2002-03, 28 percent of our bylines (and CounterSpin transcript guests) went to women, and we pledged to improve that number. Since that piece was published, 228 more bylines have appeared in Extra!; of those, 77 belonged to women—34 percent. It's an improvement, but it's still not good enough, so we're redoubling our efforts to bring you more women's voices—and to keep watchdogging ourselves.

Extra! editors