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#PasstheMic - where are the women of colour in Scottish news?

by Professor Karen Boyle and Melody House at the University of Strathclyde, and Talat Yaqoob founder of Pass the Mic.

Pass the Mic is a project focusing on women of colour in Scottish news media. Initially an online database of women of colour experts, thanks to funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, from 2020-21 the project has expanded to undertake direct work with women of colour experts and media partners STV, The Herald, Sunday National, Daily Record, Scotsman, Courier and Holyrood magazine to challenge exclusionary cultures within news media and create a platform for the expertise of women of colour. This funding has also enabled them to undertake research to establish baseline information about where women of colour currently appear in Scottish news media in partnership with Gender Equal Media Scotland.

Read the previous blogs in the series here:

This blog presents some initial findings from our Pass the Mic research focusing on women of colour in the Scottish news media. As detailed in our previous blog, these findings are based on an analysis of 3121 stories across seven Scottish papers, twitter accounts and websites, and three television shows, during a one-week period from 9-15 November 2020. Across these 3121 stories, we coded 10,129 people appearing in these stories and 3410 journalists or anchors.

So who makes our news?

Of the 3410 journalists/ anchors, 33.4% were women, 49.2% were men, and in 17.4% we couldn’t determine the sex of the journalist (e.g. there was no byline, or they were referred to as “Record Reporter”).

Only 0.7% of journalists/ anchors were women of colour; 0.5% were men of colour.

When we turn to the people in the news, the gender differential is even sharper with men making up 61.6%. In our entire sample, there were only two people explicitly identified as trans or non-binary. Of the four media types, television had the highest proportion of women in the news (Figure 1).

 

 

Figure 1: people in the news by gender and medium

Though people of colour were better represented in the news than among those bringing us the news, the percentage remains low: people of colour made up 8.5% of all people in the news, and just 3.8% were women of colour.

Given our focus on the news we can most easily change, we were particularly interested to see how different groups were represented in local or national news about Scotland. As Figure 2 shows, when we focus on just the Scottish stories, the proportion of people of colour drops considerably. Only 1 in 4 women of colour in the Scottish news are in stories about Scotland.

 

 

The proportion of stories about Scotland varied from a low of 54.8% in newspapers to a high of 85.1% on twitter news, with 69% of web and 76.9% of television stories focusing on Scotland. It is perhaps not surprising then, that women of colour are least well represented on twitter (Table 1).

Table 1: Proportion of people of colour in news by medium

 

Men not of colourWomen not of colourMen of colourWomen of colourDon’t know
Newspaper52.1%25.5%5.6%4.3%12.3%
Web49.8%25.0%3.9%3.4%17.7%
Twitter46.9%30.6%4.3%3.0%14.6%
Television53.8%35.1%5.2%4.5%1.5%
All media50.5%26.5%4.7%3.8%12.3%

 

We also looked at the occupational categories of people in the news. Politicians and celebrities were the largest occupational categories, but women of colour were the only group where celebrities outnumbered politicians. Women of colour made up only 3.1% of all politicians appearing in the news. Keep in mind that this was the week after Kamala Harris became Vice President elect in the US, so we might have expected a bump in representations of women of colour politicians in this period.

That women of colour were concentrated in a small number of stories meant that the range of occupational roles they fulfilled was also less diverse than for any other group. For instance, where 41.1% of all men in the news were politicians and celebrities, the equivalent figure for women of colour was 54.3%. There were seven occupational categories in which women of colour did not feature at all, whilst women not of colour appeared in all 28.

Within occupational categories there were also some sharp gendered distinctions. For instance:

  • 82% of all criminals were men
  • 93.8% of all sportspeople were men
  • 76.8% of all business people were men
  • 65.7% of politicians were men (keep in mind that this is in a Scottish news context where the First Minister appeared in the news every day).

On television, everyone we coded was – by definition – seen and heard (even if, in a small number of cases, their voice or image was disguised to protect their identity). So in thinking now about who was seen and heard we focused on our newspaper, web and twitter samples. Here we found that 44.4% of all people in the news were quoted and 35.2% were photographed. However, when we broke this down two striking findings emerged (Figure 3): people of colour in general were less likely to be quoted than people not of colour; and women of colour were more likely than any other category of people in the news to be seen than heard. This is in keeping with the emphasis on women of colour celebrities

 

 

Figure 3: percentage of people photographed and quoted by gender and race

Finally, given the aims of Pass the Mic, it was important for us to drill down to look at the areas where media outlets have most control and so we wanted to look at the different functions fulfilled by people in the news. For example, journalists or media researchers can typically exercise considerable freedom in choosing experts or members of the public to interview. But when it comes to using spokespeople, they are more likely to have to rely on choices made by political parties or other organisations (although of course they can still choose whether or not to include those spokespeople in their reporting). So we paid particular attention to experts and members of the public invited to share personal experiences or offer popular opinion.

Of these three functions, it is unsurprising – though still depressing – that, as Table 2 shows, expertise remains most sharply gendered, although experts are not widely used and comprise just 4.4% of people in our news sample. Men made up 61% of all experts and women just 24% (the gender of 14% of experts was unknown, e.g. “a source close to the investigation”). Television did considerably better than other media on this marker, with women making up 30% of television experts.

However, in our entire media sample we counted only 11 women of colour experts. This means that 0.1% of people in the news are women of colour experts, and women of colour make up just 2% of all experts.

Even in the functions where we might expect to see greater gender parity – personal experience and popular opinion – men continue to dominate, and the marginalisation of women of colour is striking. Only 1.7% of people offering popular opinion in our news sample were women of colour.

It is perhaps worth noting here that the relatively high proportion of people offering popular opinion for whom we had no identifying information can largely be accounted for by the use of anonymous social media sources, particularly in web reporting and tabloid newspapers.

Table 2: Functions of people in the news

 

Men not of colourWomen not of colourMen of colourWomen of colour
Expert53%20%4%2%
Personal experience51%38%4.4%4.7%
Popular opinion47.4%24.4%3.2%1.7%

 

These are the areas where our media partners can make a real difference and we hope these figures convince them of the need to do so.

In future discussions of our data we will dig down into some of the most intriguing areas to emerge in this survey: how does news about Scotland compare to the overall picture in terms of all the measures we’ve discussed here?; who are the women of colour celebrities and politicians who appear in the Scottish news and how are they represented?; and who is included – and excluded – in constructions of Scottish national identity around major religious festivals or sporting events?

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