behind the news

Few Female Bylines in Major Magazines

Losing the count
March 6, 2012

It’s appropriate that the red, the color of passion and anger, represents the female male slice of the pie in latest set of charts created by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.* The infographics reveal an ugly, unchanging truth: in 2011, the number of articles published by women in top thought-leader magazines was significantly less than the number of articles published by men.

For those unfamiliar with “The Count,” as VIDA calls it, the numbers are shocking. At The Atlantic, women wrote 64 articles in 2011, while men wrote 184. The overall percentage of female bylines dropped 1.5 percent from last year, when the numbers were 52 to 158.

At The New Yorker, whose byline disparity was covered by CJR in 2005, men wrote 449 articles in 2010, while women wrote 163—or 26.63 percent of the total. In 2011, that percentage slid to 26.44 percent. At Harper’s, the number fell to 16.66 percent from 21 percent. Female bylines in the New York Review of Books comprised a mere 12.5 percent of the total in 2011, down from 14.6 percent in 2010. Women’s bylines in the London Review of Books dropped to 13.88 percent from 17.74 percent in 2010. The Boston Review also slipped from 34.96 percent to 31.41 percent. Even progressive magazines like The Nation aren’t gender-equal; in 2011, just 28.71 percent of Nation articles were written by women.*

Though a few outlets, like the New York Times Book Review and The New Republic, increased their female bylines, to 34.42 percent and 20.16 percent respectively, overall, in the past year, we’ve crawled backwards.

This is the second year that VIDA, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting female writers, has researched and compiled information on bylines by gender. Last year, after its’ debut, “The Count” triggered a hailstorm of commentary, both on and off the web. Some blamed institutional sexism; others suggested that women simply needed to stop whining and start submitting more articles.

“The truth is, these numbers don’t lie,” VIDA member Amy King wrote in the original blog post last February. “It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity.” Hundreds of comments piled up beneath her post; mostly pingbacks from outlets ranging from Forbes to Ms. Magazine.

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Elissa Straus, of The Sisterhood blog, took editors to task for the gruesome disparity. Strauss wrote to editors at The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, and The Atlantic. All responded, except for The Atlantic. “It’s certainly been a concern for a long time among the editors here,” David Remnick told her. “But we’ve got to do better — it’s as simple and as stark as that.” Harper’s editor Ellen Rosenbush told Strauss that she tried to have at least one female writer in every issue. Editor Robert Silvers rattled off a list of women who had written for the New York Review of Books without mentioning his publication’s glaring gender discrepancy. The only editor to offer a thoughtful, in-depth response was Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, who ultimately chalked the inequity up to socialization.

Last week, VIDA released a statement in tandem with their findings for 2011. “…The publication numbers don’t look markedly different than last year’s,” they noted, couching their grim findings in apologetic-sounding optimism. VIDA said they believe “things are in the process of changing for the better.”

Are they really?

Since 2009, the Byline Blog, a part of the Op-Ed Project, has kept a “running tally” of the ratio of women in outlets including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and more. Their findings are similarly dismal.

Over at The American Prospect online, columnist E.J. Graff decried the fact that “time isn’t making significant changes,” and challenged women to stop talking and start doing. Ann Friedman, editor of Good magazine, began a popular Tumblr called Lady Journos. A few days ago, Friedman followed up on her 2006 article “The Byline Gender Gap” with a blog called “Promote Women: Use Your Network to Solve the Gender Gap.” It concluded with actionable bullet points.

“I first wrote about this issue in my column’s early days, like 14 or 15 years ago!” Nation writer Katha Pollitt told me via e-mail, after I asked women from the organization Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) to chime in. After last year’s VIDA charts came out, Pollitt published a piece in Slate assigning blame to both editors and the general lack of participation from men in conversations about byline equity.

“If you really want more women writers, get more women editors,” she wrote. “The phone works both ways, after all… It’s naive to think that the fact that most top editors are men isn’t part of the story.”

With the gender gap sustaining its staggering girth, one can only imagine how wide the chasm is when it comes to racial equity in bylines. Who’s going to compile those figures?

I’d bet it won’t be the white male editors who currently sit at the top of the media food chain. Better luck next year, ladies.

For further reading:

Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS):

Women, Action, and the Media (WAM):

The Applied Research Center: http://

*Example of calculations:

London Review of Books, 30 to 186 in 2011 (total 216 for total of 13.88 percent female); 74 to 343 in 2010 (total 417 for 17.74 percent female).

Granta, 34 women, 30 men in 2011 (53.12 percent); 26 to 49 in 2010 (34.66 percent).

Boston Review, 60 to 131 in 2011 (191, 31.41 percent); 93 to 173 in 2010 (total 266, 34.96 percent).

The Nation, 118 to 293 in 2011; 411 total or 28.71 percent for 2011 (no 2010 data).

Correction: This piece originally reported that, in the most recent set of pie charts released by VIDA, the color red denoted the number of female bylines that appeared in major magazines last year. In fact, red is used to denote male bylines. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.

Erin Siegal is an Ethics and Justice in Journalism Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University , the author of Finding Fernanda and The U.S. Embassy Cables: Adoption Fraud in Guatemala, 1987-2010, and a Redux Pictures photographer. She currently lives in Tijuana, Mexico, and tweets about human rights, photography, FOIA, and border issues @erinsiegal .