Monday, February 22, 2021

Men and Women on the Op-Ed Page of the Star Tribune

Back in January, I got tired of what seemed like an endless stream of almost-all-male writers on the op-ed page of the Star Tribune. If pressed, I would have said that it seemed that the syndicated national writers particularly were all male.

Having done a content analysis of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press at an earlier point, I knew that my sense of things might be incorrect, though. I had spent a month counting the conservative, liberal, or neutral stance of op-eds because I was sure they were tilted to the right — especially in the Pioneer Press. But for that month at least, as it turned out, there did not turn out to be a clear pattern.

So I knew I would have to count the writers and the cartoonists of the Star Tribune to see who they were publishing. Of course, all I had to go on to determine their sex or gender was their names, so I sometimes did some googling. 

And I had to come up with a rule on the fly about pieces that had multiple authors. I decided that if an article had two authors, I would count them both, but if it had three or more, I would count only the first named author, because after two it seemed like more of a gesture of representation in a public forum rather than indicating the piece was actually written by the person. (For instance, a list of politicians.)

Here are the results for the past month, 31 days starting on January 22, 2021. I think I will continue this for a few more months and report in again.

  • First the cartoons. Numbers: 30 vs. 1. As most local people know, the Star Tribune still employs a full-time political cartoonist who is male (Steve Sack), so there's already a big bias in the numbers that's going to happen from that reality. But the page's editors don't seem to have any consciousness about making up for it. Their other regular local artist, former Star Tribune staffer L.K. Hanson who contributes a piece on Mondays, is also male. And their syndicated selections were all by male cartoonists except one, the often unintelligible Lisa Benson who is chosen to provide right-wing balance, I suppose. Nothing by the award-winning Ann Telnaes, for instance, let alone someone like Jen Sorensen.
  • It wasn't nearly as bad for the writing, of course. Overall, there were exactly twice as many men printed as women, 56 to 28. (Two of those women were conservative mouthpieces Annette Meeks and Katherine Kersten, but I still have to count them.)
  • Representation of women among local writers (Minnesota/western Wisconsin) was slightly better: There were 1.7 men for every 1 woman (33 men vs. 19 women). 
  • That means the problem is worse among the syndicated voices that are available to or chosen by the op-ed page editors than among the locally cultivated writers. The syndicated writers' numbers were 23 vs. 9, or more than 2.5 to 1. 

I didn't count the letters to the editor, which appear on the editorial page across the spread. But my (probably a bit unreliable) sense is that there's at least a 2:1 ratio of the writers there as well.

And of course none of this addresses anything but the essentialist categories of women and men, female and male, and as I said, I based my gender categorization on names (or from appearances for the people who I googled). 

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