Jing Qu ’13 Examines Gender Inequality in Journalism

Although the 46 female journalists at “Newsweek” saw little immediate, concrete change after filing a class action lawsuit against the magazine for gender discrimination in 1970, they paved the way for equal access for future female writers.

When Lynn Povich finally became the first female Senior Editor at “Newsweek” in 1973 after a second suit, these 46 women had already started the long, unfinished movement towards gender equality in the news, Jing Qu ’13, Brace Center Fellow, concluded in her presentation, “Headlines and Bylines: The Changing Voices of Women in Journalism from the 1970s to the Internet Age.”

The current age of new media, according to Qu, is in the process of creating greater gender equality in journalism. “The average reader has diversified in race, age, gender and socioeconomic class with the accessibility of online articles…I found that the newsroom should reflect its audience, that’s just a good ethical and business decision,” said Qu.

Qu interviewed nine news journalists, both men and women, including Emma Keller, novelist and contributor to “The Guardian U.S.,” a news website linked to a British national newspaper, and wife of Bill Keller, former Executive Editor of “The New York Times”, as well as Ann Friedman, former editor-in-chief of Good Magazine. “The individuals I interviewed represent the old and the young, they include people who are at the top of the field and people who are just starting out in journalism,” Qu said.

Through her interviews, Qu saw a difference between the way women at different levels of the newsroom discussed gender inequality. “The women who were at the top of their field were less inclined to talk about inequality, as if it undermined the work they had done…but the women who were starting out were more open to talk about the problems they faced,” Qu said.

The “Newsweek” lawsuits of the 1970s started a movement of women in journalism demanding equal pay and treatment at other major news outlets such as “The New York Times,” “Time Magazine,” “The Washington Post” and “The Associated Press.” Though none of the news organizations admitted to any wrongdoing, the lawsuits acted as a “wake up call” for management across the profession, according to Qu.

Women in the newsroom in the 1970s were primarily restricted to Arts and Leisure, Home, Childcare and Food sections, Qu said. The female-heavy sections of the time were also the less popular sections of the newspaper, she added.

Currently, women make up 48 percent of all editors and reporters, and since 1987, women and men have had equal pay in the newsroom. Women currently make up 39 percent of the “Newsweek” masthead, and the executive editor of The New York Times,” the highest editorial position, is a woman, Jill Abramson.

Yet, the path to equality is far from finished, Qu says. Women are the subjects of only 24 percent of news stories, and during the 2012 Presidential Election, women accounted for only 16 percent of quotes on the subject in major newspapers. Only 19 percent of all Government and Politics stories in 2010 were about women. As junior-level professionals, men and women are equal, but in top-level management, men make up more than 75 percent of the work force.

Qu first became interested in her topic while working on The Phillipian as a Photography Associate on the board of CXXIII, the Director of Photography on the board of CXXIV and Director of Production on the board of CXXV. While on the board of The Phillipian, Qu looked through the paper archives and found that only nine of the previous 42 Editors in Chief since the merger with Abbot Academy—21 percent—were female.

After learning about the atmosphere in The Phillipian newsroom, Qu became interested in women’s rights in professional news publications. “I started to think about a newsroom. . .and whether a newsroom was a meritocracy, whether you were rewarded or promoted based on your hard work, your time and based on your abilities as a journalist,” Qu said.

Qu’s Brace Fellow Advisor, Sue Greenberg, Instructor in English and advisor to The Phillipian, worked at “Newsweek” for 22 years. “What I learned from Jing’s research was that Lucy Howard [a former colleague] actually played a pretty important role in the fact that I had a job there, and that she was one of the women who had brought this lawsuit against ‘Newsweek,’” Greenberg said.

“I was fascinated by how she took this massive topic and made a really logical, and comprehensive, and at the same time time, accessible train of thought. The ease with which Jing speaks and the confidence with which she speaks is really inspiring,” said Jennifer Elliott, Abbot Cluster Dean and Instructor in History.