Mind The Byline Gap

The glaring disparity between men and women writers contributing to large, influential media publications has reared its ugly head once again. But this time, we can watch along in real time.

Launched this week, Who Writes For The New York Times? tracks the bylines on the Times’ online front page, breaks down the writers by gender and refreshes every five minutes.

Andrew Briggs, the creator of WhoWritesFor (its common designation), credits his inspiration for the site to reading a 2011 study by literary organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. “The Count,” as it is called, annually charts gender disparities across media giants such as The Atlantic, Boston Review and Harper’s. From i’s beginnings in 2009 to its most recent 2012 report, VIDA has consistently found that men have more bylines, write more reviews and have more reviews written about their work than women do. Briggs explained his reaction to the study and his new site in an interview with The First Bound:

I think that was really the first time the idea of an imbalance in voice occurred to me. I don’t think [The New York Times has] deliberately imbalanced voices, but rather this is the kind of thing that happens when the people in charge aren’t really paying attention.

WhoWritesFor and VIDA targets prestigious publications like the Times in hopes of forcing transparency onto those highly regarded news and literature sources. Briggs hopes that seeing the up-to-date byline count will encourage a dialogue about decisions the media makes and how they affect the reading public:

There are systems in place that affect what we do, what we read, what we watch, and I think we have a responsibility to interrogate those systems.

The way it works is simple: Using a program called BeautifulSoup, WhoWritesFor pulls bylined stories from the opening page of NYTimes.com. The system then matches the bylines to a gender-by-name dictionary compiled from U.S. Census Bureau data by Bemmu. The names and article links are then posted side by side under the men/women daily count. Exclusively counting articles that appear on the front page is a deliberate choice, narrowing the focus of the count and recognizing the elevated and influential status of a front-page article.

The past two weeks have not been pretty for women writers, with the worst ratio reaching 35 men to just four women on June 23:

Briggs is the first to admit that no algorithm is perfect, and welcomes correction in the event of repeats or gender misrepresentations. Even with less than a week on the Internet under its belt, WhoWritesFor has already chronicled a staggering gender gap—but will the Times and other media outlets take note?

Top screen shot from the official count on WhoWritesFor the morning of August 1. Bottom graph courtesy of WhoWritesFor. For an interactive version, see the WhoWritesFor Archive.


Jennifer Simeone is a freelance feminist writer and recent graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently based in Los Angeles but moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find out more by following her on Tumblr or Twitter