Women Run The Show Online

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When newspapers die, will gender imbalance in news management go with them?

It could happen.

The long list of men who run newspapers from the Top End to Tasmania is dispiriting — until you realise that the majority of online news sites are run by women.

The key difference is that each of the online news sites is an independent. They do not rely on centuries of the management practice that handed power from one man to the next — because those online sites don’t have centuries of management practice.

Today, it’s dreadful in the newsroom and it’s dreadful at board level. As companies all over the country strive to improve diversity in the boardroom, the statistics for media companies in Australia are appalling.

In 2012, the WGEA Census on Women in Leadership revealed the best performing industry sectors for gender equality in the boardroom in the ASX top 200 are insurance, banks, food and software. Those figures say that in those boardrooms, 20 per cent or more of the directors for publicly owned companies in those sectors are women.

Media doesn’t even make that list in the 2012 survey — in 2010, the previous census date, the figure was around 14 per cent. And two important media organisations, the ABC and SBS, would not be included in WGEA calculations because they are not publicly owned companies in the commercial sense.

One in seven. That is Australian commercial media’s embarrassment. New Matilda’s own research reveals that in those companies fewer than one in seven board members is a woman.

That embarrassment for media companies should be profound.

All that rescues them are the government-owned businesses. The boards of SBS and ABC have boards with gender equality — yet have not imploded.

At an editorial level, at first glance, the overall statistic of which gender has editorial power — actually editing newspapers — doesn’t look too bad. Men edit two-thirds of the Australian newspapers in our survey, and women a third. Surely that’s an improvement on 20 years ago.

Perhaps it is, but talented women do not reach senior executive positions on mainstream newspapers — instead they get hived off to run the weekend paper; or the magazines. If they are editors, they run small suburban papers.

In fact, that third of women who edit newspapers? They edit the Blacktown Advocate and the Southern Courier. They are not in line for the top jobs at the top papers. Of the 15 major national and metro papers, not one has a woman editor. Only two ever have — Michelle Grattan and Amanda Wilson — and neither lasted long.

What if Grattan and Wilson were doing their jobs today — online — in a start-up? Would the news be different?

News sites within major metropolitan news organisations are still run by men; and the online versions of the publications are run by men. But news organisations that begin online have a different story.

Of the nine sites in our survey, all dealing with news of one kind or another, five were run by women: Katharine Viner of the Guardian Australia whose news editor Lee Glendinning is also a woman (launch soon); Lauren Martin at the Global Mail, who works under Jane Nicholls, the CEO; Mia Freedman, editor and publisher of Mamamia (but whose husband is the CEO); Wendy Harmer and Lucy Clark at The Hoopla; and New Matilda’s Marni Cordell whose deputy is Catriona Menzies-Pike.

It was telling when Fairfax Media decided to rebrand its Daily Life section to "fit in" with the rest of their restructure; this popular site was renamed "Women’s Perspective".

The editor was reported to have struggled against the rebranding. Fifties. Kitsch. Completely excluding all the men who take part in daily life. She was right.

Would women exercise better judgment in running media organisations, companies on the brink of extinction? Perhaps the better question is whether they could do any worse.

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New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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