Earlier this year and after years of development, review and testing, the Women in News Gender Balance Tracker finally launched on March 8, 2022. Gender biases and stereotypes creep into the news more often than we would like. They annoy audiences, alienate key segments and hurt media organisations’ bottom line in the long run. As part of WIN’s efforts to drive equality in news media, we developed the Gender Balance Tracker, a free (and easy) to use online tool for organisations, editors and journalists. We spoke to one of the people involved in its development, Dr. Mona Magdy, WIN’s Senior Manager, Knowledge and Research, Arab Region. She shares her insights on WIN’s motivation behind the tool, and why gender balance in content is a critical pillar of the organisation’s work, which cuts across Africa, the Arab Region and Southeast Asia.
WAN-IFRA Women in News has gender balance as one of its key focus areas. What drove the decision to move beyond training and advisory services to the development of the Gender Balance Tracker tool?
Media houses need to be able to assess their performance when it comes to gender balance. The best way to know if there are any gaps – and identify the need for future interventions and strategies – is to track and analyse their content. However, doing so requires a lot of effort, skill and time, which organisations are always able to spare.
We developed the Gender Balance Tracker to help decision-makers with ensuring more perspectives get into the news. The digital tool particularly helps organisations get an accurate idea of which areas to focus on when it comes to women’s voices, and what they’re doing well on.
The Gender Tracker also allows journalists to self-assess their articles and scripts on various gender indicators before sending them out for publication in newspapers, online or on broadcast platforms.
What, exactly, does the tool measure – and how?
The Gender Balance Tracker measures four main indicators.
Prominence of women: The tool counts the number of mentions women receive in an article. This metric divides the total number of women mentioned by the total number of people mentioned. A ‘mention’ includes any reference to a person (man, woman or unknown). This could be a name, a pronoun (she, he, etc.), a title (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms), or a gendered noun (girlfriend, boyfriend, daughter, son, wife, husband). It counts every single mention, not just unique mentions. This means if ‘she’ is mentioned 20 times in an article, it is counted 20 times.
Women as main characters: This looks at who the story is about – the main characters or subjects. A story can have more than one main character. This metric uses a ‘salience score’ and defines a main character as someone with a salience of more than 0.8. The number of women main characters is divided by the total number of main characters. A main character is only counted once.
Women as content creators: The author (byline) is a simple and powerful metric for voice and opinion. This metric counts the number of women authors and divides it by the total number of authors (where the author is specified).
Women as news sources: A ‘source’ can be someone giving an account of a personal experience or opinion, a witness, a spokesperson or an expert. A ‘source’ includes someone who is quoted either directly or indirectly. This metric counts the number of direct and indirect quotes by women, and divides it by the number of direct and indirect quotes by people.
Additionally, the more the tool is used, the smarter it becomes at detecting local gendered nuances.
What are the major benefits of gender balance in content for media organisations?
There are several benefits. The media is a prism of society, and it should play an active role in representing its different segments, including men and women, in an equal and respectful way.
A gender-balanced newsroom creates a healthy, rich work environment, which stimulates creativity, new angles for articles and new issues to tackle. If you have both qualified men and women in decision-making positions, you can expect diversity in the news mix. This boosts social justice and helps in the production of high-quality content that reflects society in a more accurate way.
When journalists produce gender-balanced content, they talk to a more diverse audience and tailor their stories towards the varied interests they represent. This allows media organisations to enjoy wider reach.
How can media organisations integrate the Gender Balance Tracker into their daily operations?
The tool can easily be integrated into daily operations and made part of the main workflow process. It can also be used as an internal monitoring tool that provides immediate results on how well an organisation’s content is doing in terms of gender balance. For teams committed to making women’s voices more prominent, the tool helps with transparency and accountability in monitoring progress. The Gender Tracker can also serve as an essential part of editorial meetings to monitor individual work or appraise journalists or a section’s performance.