Thursday, July 28, 2011

Female Journalists and HPV Coverage

We all know journalists help set the public's agenda.  What reporters cover, people find more important.  And when people see something as more important they act in very different ways -- from how they attend to the news to how they behave or support political action.

But does the gender of journalists make a difference?

Yes, at least in a recent Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly study that found "the presence of females as reporters and news executives in the newsroom affected news content related to women, such as coverage of the HPV vaccine."  Examining data at the organizational and individual level, the authors found the more "gender-balanced" the newspaper, the more pominent the coverage of the HPV vaccine. Male-dominated newspapers relied more on official sources and less on people (teens, parents, teachers) as compared to more gender-diverse newspapers.

There are limitations to the study.  There always are.  But it's interesting that the gender makeup of a newsroom could so clearly influence the quantity of stories and how they were reported.

What we don't know, at least from this study, is whether the differences in coverage make a difference in the readers of these newspapers.  It would be interesting to know whether, in different communities, there were fewer or more teenage girls getting vaccinated depending on such differences in coverage.  When you extend data that far, things tend to unravel, but I'm guessing you might be able to tease out some significant behavioral effects.

Full cite:  Teresa Correa and Dustin Harp (2011).  Women matter in newsrooms: How power and critical mass relate to coverage of the HPV vaccine.  Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 88 (2), 801-319.

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