Imbalance in the newsroom: From Breed to Ballinger and Reese

In the 2001 article, “The Roots of a Sociology of News: Remembering Mr. Gates and Social Control in the Newsroom,” Stephen D. Reese and Jane Ballinger stress, “Considering a field’s history shows the power of prevailing paradigms and their boundary-defining assumptions” (p. 654).

Likewise, Gaye Tuchman, in her 1973 article “Making News by Doing Work: Routinizing the Unexpected,” asserts, “The construction of reality through redefinition, reconsideration, and reaccounting is an ongoing process” (p. 129).

Indeed, these quotes are vague, in and of themselves, but in being so, speak to a significant,  and more specific, concept: gender imbalance in the newsroom. In reading these articles chronologically, I began to observe not so much what was being said, but how the authors said it. That “how” varied depending on each author’s positionality — i.e., gender, time, style, and place. These variances, unearthed via these readings, crafted an ostensibly unintentional, yet larger, commentary on the nature of gender, rather than simply social control or routines, in the newsroom (and beyond). Gender, it seems, becomes a routine.

  • Warren Breed (1955): Breed’s article was written/published at a pivotal time: Women, while still confined to domesticity, were on the cusp of creating change, for themselves and thus, in their society. Breed speaks specifically in heterosexual, male-centric terms when discussing social control in the newsroom. He repeatedly uses the terms “his,” “newsmen,” and “men” to refer to the 120 newspeople (p. 328) he interviewed for his text. Without even realizing it (or, at least, acknowledging it),  Breed both dates, and sets the tone for, future newsroom research and practice.
  • Gaye Tuchman (1972-73): Tuchman immediately sets herself apart from Breed in several ways: 1) by her gender; 2) by her time; and 3) by her style. As a female writing in the second-wave era of feminism, and a participant observer in the newsroom, she instantly enacts her own advice, “redefining [and] reconsidering” the male-constructed newsroom reality. Tuchman, too, achieves this via her writing style — a somewhat mocking tone, made visible via her excessive use of quotes (e.g., “facts,” “objectivity” and the like) and observed generalizations (e.g., “The newsmen think most people understand…”). Yet, in simply writing about men and devoting her analyses to them, she, too, contributes to the “prevailing paradigm.”
  • Stephen D. Reese and Jane Ballinger (2001): Reese and Ballinger, however, subconsciously, call attention to this paradigm: “The main focus is on the normal, ‘routine’ functioning, not the crisis, the marginal and the built in tensions between institutions within society” (p. 645). While they talk about this in terms of news selection, it readily applies to the individuals writing the news to be selected. Indeed, in simply coming together to write this article, Reese and Ballinger enact progress; similarly, they do not frame their text in exclusively male terms — at least, in the newsroom (i.e., “newsmen”) itself.

Much progress, however, remains to be made. As Gaye Tuchman said, it is an “ongoing process.” Below are some fairly recent articles that echo and expand upon this sentiment:

“Women Journalists See Progress, But Not Nearly Enough,” Spring 2002

“Women in the Newsroom,” March 12, 2007

“Wanted: More women in the newsroom,” March 8, 2011

“Ending the Boys-Club Media Monopoly through Quotas in the Newsroom,” March 29, 2011

“Gender disparity in global newsrooms: New findings and continued concerns,” April 6, 2011

“In the newsroom: A look at gender breakdowns at the St. Louis Dispatch, St. Louis Beacon,” June 27, 2011

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