Photo by Jessie Reed
A study from Curtin University argues that female academic experts are missing out on opportunities afforded to their male counterparts when it comes to appearing as expert news sources.
Researcher Dr Kathryn Shine found while almost all the female experts she spoke to were willing to be interviewed, they tended to approach media interviews with caution and a lack of confidence.
In 2020 the Global Media Monitoring Project reported that women make up only 25% of the people heard, read, or seen in newspaper, television, and radio news.
The need to address gender balance in news reporting was underlined by the authors of the GMMP who stressed the importance of “the symbolic power of the media– their ability to shape what is perceived as normal, and which social divisions are accepted or taken for granted.”
Dr Shine interviewed 30 female academic experts from a range of disciplines at Curtin University and her study was published in the international journal Journalism.
She said a cautious approach was often due to worrying about negative responses on social media, or inaccuracies in the reporting, and while most universities provided their staff with media training, little support had been offered to help academics cope with online hate and trolling.
“It does need to be explicitly addressed. It is an area we are lagging behind in,” she said.
Inclusion in the news media is often sought, or agreed to, by academics for its perceived promotional value and to further career progression.
In her paper Dr Shine wrote: “Women experts are arguably missing out on opportunities to further their career and attract grants and funding because journalists are more likely to quote a male expert than a female.”
How can gender balance be improved?
The study found journalists could help address the gender imbalance by actively seeking out and supporting women as expert sources.
Dr Shine said her respondents had suggested their initial reluctance could be overcome by journalists explaining the nature of the interview and offering sample questions or a brief practice session, showing previous stories, demonstrating a solid understanding of the research, and where possible giving advance notice.
In addition, she called on media organisations to follow the ABC’s lead of trying to improve the gender balance in expert sources.
“It needs to be the news bosses who are directing their staff to be more inclusive in the way that they report,” she said.
“People who do have those powerful positions in media need to understand and be actively including more diversity in terms of gender and lots of other areas of diversity”.
While databases of female expert sources are available to journalists, Dr Shine said it was too early to tell whether their influence was significant.
Journalists looking to include more female experts in their stories can find contacts via these lists: