NY Times Public Editor Criticizes Lack of Women in Paper’s Leadership

“Even with recent successes, women still feel outnumbered” in newsrooms, Liz Spayd says

Gender diversity at The New York Times has made a steady decline with women highly underrepresented at the highest tiers of power, according to the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd.

“Women have skidded down the power structure since Jill Abramson was dismissed as executive editor three years ago, with fewer females leading big news departments and fewer coming up the pipeline,” Spayd wrote in an article on Saturday. “Thus, fewer women decide what big stories are assigned, what broad coverage priorities are set, and what a re-envisioned Times should look like.”

Although women have been added to masthead in recent weeks as news editors, as well as heads of the Washington bureau, the arts and culture coverage, the book, photo and video desks, men hold the top one and two spots in the chain of command with Dean Baquet as executive editor and Joseph Kahn as the recently named managing editor. The two tiers below them are also heavily male. In addition, male reporters outnumber women in significant numbers — up to 3-to-1 in some beats.

“The overall scarcity of women may contribute to the persistent complaints from readers who see a sexist tinge to elements of the news coverage,” Spayd notes. “Fury is often stirred by an incessant attention to a woman’s looks. Theresa May’s leopard heels. Hillary Clinton’s signature pantsuits. Or, in an example that particularly riled readers last summer, the attire of a female concertgoer — miniskirt, sleeveless denim jacket, black leather boots — described in a story that mentioned no one else’s looks, not even the performers.”

With the male slant that outlet takes — whether unintentionally or otherwise — it should come as no surprise that internal research shows that more men than women read The Times, a gender gap that Spayd says the editors are taking seriously.

“Gender issues plague other newsrooms too,” she says. “But part of what frustrates many women I spoke with — in senior leadership positions and around the room — is what they feel is a backslide from earlier years. And even with recent successes, women still feel outnumbered.”

What’s equally troubling is to Spayd is that “a gender, or racial, imbalance changes what’s considered news. When you combine the two variables — race and gender — you’re no longer representing the audience you’re trying to reach.”

The addition of three women in the masthead is a small step, but Baquet tells Spayd that it doesn’t solve the issue at hand. “There’s no question that with women in positions of authority you will see stories covered in a different way,” he says. “I’m forcefully working to get women into positions of authority.”