Commission on the
Status of Women Division
WOMEN in Southeast TV Newscasts
Sonya Forte Duhe', Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Kenneth Campbell, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Ernest Wiggins, Assistant Professor
Katherine Zorn, Graduate Student
College of Journalism and Mass Communications
The University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
This paper is being submitted to the Commission on the Status of Women
division, AEJMC National Convention, Washington, D.C.. Summer 1995.
WOMEN in Southeast TV Newscasts
When one reflects on the television coverage of the 1994 Winter Olympics,
for many, the two faces that most often come to mind are Nancy
Tonya Harding. Never before had Americans learned more about U.S.A.'s ice
skaters -- and two females -- until the dramatic assault (Friedan and
CNN's Executive Vice President, Ed Turner:
It's a magnificent piece of American drama....It has greed, ambition,
avarice, talent. You have the beauty attack, the kid from the wrong
of the tracks but with a feisty spirit, the rotten husband, trailer trash
versus the junior league. All the things that make up a daily soap
menu, only this is for real.
Atlanta Constitution, February 23, 1994
(Friedan and Woodhull, 1994)
It was also the first time top female athletes received so much media
attention -- attention though not about these women's extraordinary
skills, but rather on an
extraordinarily sad story (Friedan and Woodhull, 1994).
During that drama, America watched through the eyes of television. That's
important when one considers that television news plays a role in setting
the nation's agenda.
More people claim they get their news from television than from any other
source (Robinson and Levy, 1987). "In order for citizens to make
informed decision in a democracy, it is imperative that this forum
the maximum possible amount of diversity" (Croteau and Hoynes, 1990,
95). Researchers have also suggested that lessons learned from news go
beyond the information contained in the stories (Gans, 1979; Tuchman,
1978). Gray posits that the presentation of news stories in multiracial
societies "orients the public to racial groups, their social status,
structural location and
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-2
the level of their participation in the general society" (Gray, 1987).
News is a "window on the world and through the news frame, Americans
of themselves and others of their own institutions, leaders and life
styles..."(Tuchman, 1978, p. 1). Television news provided us with a
"window through which we observe, transmit and reflect our valuation of
society to each other" (Singer, 1972, p. 251). Furthermore, sources
play a large part in building the television news agenda, and
in shaping information from which people unconsciously build their
of the world (Berkowitz, 1986).
In addition, the Kerner Commission in its report on the causes of civil
disorders suggested that the news media should condition the viewer's
expectations of what is "ordinary and normal" in society. The Commission
found African Americans appeared primarily in the context of disorder
argued such a portrayal added to the "black-white schism in this
(The Kerner Report, 1988, p. 363). Some 20 years later, Gans (1979)
Gray (1987) concur with the findings of the report. According to
news media reflect a white male social order and "is a supporter of the
public, business and professional, upper middle-class sectors of
(Gans, 1979, p. 61). News coverage needs to be diverse for healthy
in society (Croteau and Hoynes, 1990).
TV news can give status and importance to those individuals and events
which make the news (Lazerfeld and Merton, 1957). Likewise, the
picture or lack of coverage of individuals sends a message as well.
women are under represented in
television news (Friedan and Woodhull, 1994; Media Watch, 1995; Stephen,
1992; Ziegler and White, 1990; Berkowitz, 1986; U.S. Commission on
Rights, 1977), this
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-3
can be particularly problematic for them.
Since females make up almost 52 percent of the population in the United
States, (U.S. Census, 1990) one could expect parallel coverage in TV
if a true reflection of society were to occur (Simpson, 1993). (U.S.
figures representing females are
consistent with states used for this study.) However, that's not
The purpose of this study was to explore the frequency women appeared in
television newscasts in Southeastern states and determine how those
On network news, while some studies reveal women's presence has increased
over the past few years, others do not. And still, even when women
appeared more often in the news, it is not even near the reflection of
percentage of women in the United States.
/ As correspondents, a 1994 study titled, "Women, Men and Media," (WMM)
revealed the 1994 average for females reporting the news on ABC, CBS
NBC was 21 percent, up from 14 percent in 1992 and 1993. This was
primarily due to CBS' effort to feature women correspondents more (32%)
(Friedan and Woodhull, 1994).
As sources, that same study reveals an increase in women's presence on
network news as well. Although female interviewees have more than
since 1989, 1994's figure shows a drop of one percentage point over the
year before (25%). Of the 1,428
people interviewed for the network nightly news showed during the study
period, only 347 or 24 percent were female. It is interesting to note
CBS carried the highest number of interviews with females (28 percent) in
1994 since that network had made an Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-4
effort to hire women. Although, no cause and effect relationship has been
determined. Twenty-eight percent of CBS' sources in 1993 were also
compared to 24 percent in 1992 (Friedan and Woodhull, 1994; Sanders,
In other studies, too, women continue to be under represented. In a 1995
of evening newscasts from 50 television stations in 29 U.S. cities, as
appeared in only 18 percent of the stories compared to males 82 percent
(Media Watch: A Day in the Life of Local TV News in America, 1995).
Research from The Image of Women in Television and Newspapers: April 1974
revisited April 1991, shows women actually lost ground. In straight news
stories, women's presence dropped from 10 percent to 3 percent. In
news, women also were shown less, from 16 percent to 15 percent (Stephen,
Another study conducted using 1987 and 1989 data, too revealed an alarming
trend. In 1987, 11.8 percent of the newsmakers during the period studied
were female. Two years later, in 1989, only 10.9 percent of the
were women (Ziegler and White, 1990).
An even earlier study (1977), conducted by the United States Commission on
Civil Rights, concluded that women were so under represented they could be
considered insignificant and unimportant to the media. In a sample of 230
news stories, only three
were pertinent to women and women's issues. Of 141 newsmakers, only 11.8
percent were women.
In "Television News Sources and News Channels: A Study in Agenda
research revealed women in the 1986 study made up only 5.6 percent of
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-5
sources examined and 11.3 percent of local news sources (Berkowitz, 1986).
More importantly, however, may be the change in how women appeared in the
news. When women did appear in the news, they appeared negatively, meaning
a victim, criminal, wrong doer/accused, sex object, in about half the
stories (47 percent) females
were discussed or referred to. Also, positive news about women, defined as
winner, authority, talent/entertainer, heroic, leader, was more often
reported in the middle or latter part of the newscasts. For example,
Nancy Kerrigan won the silver medal, NBC ran the story midway through
newscast. The story led the news when Kerrigan was portrayed as the
of foul play. Thus, negative news about women tended to be played at the
beginning of a newscast (Friedan and Woodhull, 1994).
This latest Women Men and the Mass Media (WMM) study is somewhat
consistent with earlier research regarding women's portrayal on television
news. A 1991 study by Rakow and Kranich that explored how women
as sources in television news revealed when women did appear, it was
ritualized role. Researchers also determined, after analyzing the
newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC, the majority of women appeared as
individuals." This category included women affected by crime,
public policy or the actions of their families (Rakow and Kranich,
p. 14). Also coded as private individuals were child abusers, cancer
patients, women addicted to television, shopping and women who love to
quilt. Weighted heavily by the feminist viewpoint, Rakow, a
"...white radical feminist," (Rakow, 1992, p. 4) and Kranich, concluded
that women predominantly spoke in the news as an "anonymous example of
uninformed public opinion, as housewife, consumer, neighbor,
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-6
or a mother, sister, wife of the man in the news, or as victim of crime,
disaster, or political policy. Thus, not only did women appear less
frequently, but they tended to speak as passive reactors...rather than as
participants...." (Rakow and Kranich, 1991, p. 14). In only 16
the stories did women appear as experts. They appeared as
13 percent of the stories and as candidates and politicians in only 8
percent of the stories (Rakow and Kranich, 1991, p. 16).
Again, in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights study, female news sources
were categorized as government officials, public figures, criminals
private individuals. Some 35.5 percent of the female sources were
individuals in the traditional gender role of wife and mother; 19.28
percent were public figures; and only three percent were government
officials (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1977).
Possibly there is a silver lining to the research on women portrayed in
news. For example, in the WMM study (Friedan and Woodhull, 1994) -- while
women are still seen as "appendages to men," women are also appearing on
network television as authorities and leaders -- from 11 percent in
24 percent in 1994.
So while the overall percentage of women as newsmakers dropped, the trend
to how they were portrayed is somewhat promising. In another study, women
as government officials also increased from 2.7 percent in 1987 to 3.6
percent in 1989. Women also made tremendous gains being represented in
area of public figures from 12.1 percent in 1987 to 21.9 percent in 1989.
Women shown as criminals dropped from 6.9 percent to 0 percent and women
as private individuals dropped from 27.2 percent to 25.9 percent
and White, 1990).
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-7
Researchers received videotape from four of the top rated stations in the
cities of southeastern states. Researchers promised anonymity therefore
will not be revealed since denoting such would automatically allow readers
to identify stations. Researchers did tell news directors that their
newscasts would be evaluated, however, news directors were not told the
nature of the research.
News directors in the selected geographic area provided researchers with a
of the station's prime early evening newscasts for the week of October 2,
1994. This week was selected to avoid a sweeps period when stations
put forth their best effort to maintain or increase ratings.
A researcher viewed all newscasts and the following information was coded
for each story: 1) the overall frequency of women and men appearing
television news stories, 2) the gender and role of each person
the foreground of the story and 3) the topic of each story. A graduate
student also coded stories. Intercoder reliability was 81.4 percent.
The role of each person was put into several categories: politician or
government official; spokesperson for an organization or office
operationally defined as
non-governmental; expert or professional speaking as individuals not as
of organizations; resident, defined as a private individual not working or
in an official capacity; person on the street, defined as individuals
surveyed as examples of public
opinion; educator or administrator in education; business person speaking
for an organization, business or group; shopper; celebrities; law
enforcement; journalist; student;
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-8
worker, defined as non-professional person or laborer; medical person
defined as any
person in the medical field, for example, nurse or doctor; soldier;
criminal, defined as a person convicted or accused of a crime; and other.
Story topics included crime operationally defined as either occurrences of
criminal acts, crime statistics and trends; entertainment; political;
general news defined as
everyday life activities ranging from stories about the state fair and
local cultural activities to the opening of a soup kitchen; economics,
defined as dealing with business and economic issues, for example an
unemployment or banking story; education;
health; and civil rights.
The newscasts varied in length from one-half hour to one hour. Only the
segments were analyzed. Not analyzed were weather and sports unless they
were presented as news stories during the news segment. Syndicated
that were repeated during a later part of the newscast unless the story was
changed significantly; public service announcements, such as a health
screening to be held and
promotions for stories to appear later in the newscast or on a later
newscasts were not
Frequencies and percents were observed. Cross tabulations were run to
statistical significance at the .05 level.
Researchers found that of a total of 395 persons appearing in television
news stories during the period examined, more than twice the number of
males appeared in
stories as compared to females. (See Table 1)
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-9
When examining the role of the women appearing in TV news stories, when
women were shown, they appeared nearly one-quarter of the time as a
resident -- a private individual not working or in an official capacity.
Women were seen
in the role of a student in 15.4 percent of the stories with females. Like
the role of resident and student, women appeared as a worker in 8.5
percent of the stories. These categories, resident, student and worker,
all place women in non authoritative roles.
As a spokesperson, women appeared in 9.4 percent of the stories. In only
story (.8 percent) was a women portrayed as a business person or expert.
seen as a politician or governmental official in only eight stories (6.8
Overall, women were portrayed more often than men as residents, shoppers
and students (See Table 2).
Furthermore, when combining the traditionally non authoritative roles of
student and worker, women are portrayed nearly 50 percent of the time (45.3
On the other hand, when males appeared in TV news stories, they were most
often seen as a politician or governmental official -- 21.7 percent.
were also portrayed in high percentages as law enforcement officials (15.2
percent) compared to females 2.6 percent. Thus men are proportionally
shown 8 times more in the "authority" position of law enforcement than
women. This illustrates how males were seen more in "power" or
roles -- unlike women. Additionally, men were seen as experts in two
percent of the stories. That's nearly three times more than women.
categories alone, expert and law enforcement, reveal men are
proportionately seen much higher in authority roles. Thus, when cross
tabulating the gender of the person by the
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-10
role he or she appeared in the story, results are statistically significant
(See Table 2).
Researchers also coded each story by its topic or news peg. When
comparing the story topic by gender, results were significant. (See Table
Almost 50 percent of the time, women appeared in the general news category
(everyday life activities) compared to just more than one-third of the
males. In stories about politics, women appeared in 17.1 percent of
stories compared to nearly 30
percent for men. In stories about education, of the women, they appeared
percent of the stories compared to males 5.4 percent. Since Table 2 shows
us the high
percentage of women were seen as students (role of person in story), one
can assume these women in stories about education are students. One
note that women as
students then are seen nearly three times more than men in such stories.
Thus, once again, showing that a high number of women appears in
about topic that do not
lend themselves to women seen in positions of power or authority. (See
In the past years, while some studies reveal an increase in women on
network television news, other studies do not. Certainly, it is clear,
women have never been
seen in representative numbers of their population (52 percent).
While this study is not comparative to earlier data from the same
stations, it too
reveals women's under representation in television news. The WMM 1994
24 percent of those on network television were women. Thus, this study is
consistent with such national data showing that just under 30 percent
those in television news stories were women.
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-11
In this study, it is significant that when women were shown, they were
most often (21.4 percent) seen as a resident, an individual not working
in an official capacity,
followed by a student (15.4 percent). Women were seen as a spokesperson in
one in ten stories; as a political or governmental official even fewer
times, and they were
portrayed as experts in only one story.
Compared to men, women were seen more often as residents and students and
even shoppers. Women's portrayal in this study is not surprising. In
fact, it is consistent with earlier data where women were viewed most
in ritualized "female" roles and in non authoritative positions.
Men, on the other hand, were most often portrayed as political figures or
governmental officials as well as law enforcement officials. This reveals
portrayal of men as "authority" figures compared with women as individual
without authority or power.
Regarding the examination of gender by story topic, it is interesting to
the highest percentage of both males and females fell into the general
they were portrayed in everyday life activities. However, proportionally,
nearly half of
the females were seen in general news category stories compared to just
more than one-third of males.
After the general news category, males were seen most often in stories
politics -- women too. But again, in proportion to women, men were seen in
stories nearly twice as many times in that category. While it may be fair
to say that there are more men in politics than women -- is it twice
many? Thus, once again,
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-12
fewer women than men are seen in an "authority" role like politics, law
enforcement, expert and business.
These finding agree with other data revealing that women are not only
under represented in television news, but also their portrayed roles
continue to be "traditionally" female. This study, like others, should
send up a red flag. If most people
do claim they get their news from television and one agrees with the
literature that news
can reflect our valuation of society -- then the portrayal of women in
television news rooms across the Southeast is certainly problematic.
First, the number of women in news stories in southeastern states is not
representative of the numbers of females in society across the U.S. or
regions examined in this research. Secondly, southeastern
television stations continue to portray women in traditional female roles
-- with very few
examples of women as authorities or experts.
Further research in this area is important. A replication of this study
over time would be beneficial. Replication of this study in other
the United States would
also help to determine if geographical regions differ in their portrayal of
such traditional roles for women an effect of southern stereotypes?
Additionally, it would be interesting to determine if newsrooms run by
made a significant difference in its frequency of coverage and portrayal of
For now, at least, while some studies show women have made "some"
progress, this study confirms, females continue to be under represented in
television news in southeastern states and the roles they are seen in
be even more damaging to their fight for equality.
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-13
Women Appearing in Television News Stories
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-14
The Role of Women Appearing in Television News Stories
DF=16; Chi-Square 67.37;p=.0001
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-15
Gender by Story Topic
DF=8; Chi-Square 17.708; p=.0235
Women in Southeast TV Newscasts-16
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Women in Southeast TV Newscasts
This study examined four of the top rated local television newscasts in
southeastern region of the United States to determine frequency and role of
women appearing in those newscasts.
Researchers found women did not appear in nearly three-quarters of the
news stories surveyed.
When women did appear, they were most often portrayed as traditional, non-
authoritative figures without power. Females also appeared most often in