Monday, April 21, 2008

'Quality' And Inequality, Part 2

Thanks to all of you for your great comments and suggestions on the last post. Here are some answers in a bit more depth:

My dad said: 'Why stop there, apart from small considerations like work? The same exercise applied to the The Times and Daily Telegraph, not to mention the Sun and The Sunday Post, would throw up grist to all sorts of mills.'

I have no doubt that it would - the only reason I chose the Guardian/Observer is that we get the paper every day and so it's no big hardship to do a bit of counting on the letters page. Plus, these are the papers where I would least expect to see a gender bias, but I'm pretty sure there is one, and that's what I'm aiming to find out. Heaven forbid that anyone should mistake this for a scientific survey, incidentally - as we established in the last thread, there are just too many unknowns for that to be possible. But if someone did a proper scientific study across all the papers, I'd be very interested to read it.

Dave said: 'Of course, now you've alerted them, they'll change their policy (or the genders of the names they chose to append to the letters [which as we all know, they make up for themselves anyway]). What you should do is go through last year's back copies'.

In my more megalomaniacal moments I do like to imagine that the entire editorial staff of all the quality national dailies read this blog, but in reality I think the chances of Nigel Willmott and his oppo on the Observer dropping by are fairly remote. And even if he/they did, they probably wouldn't take any notice, because I am a) a scummy blogger and b) a WOMAN hur hur hur oh get me and my biting invective, etc. I do agree re. the back copies, though, so this morning I rifled meticulously through the recycling bag and salvaged ten or so recent copies of the Guardian and the Observer...results coming soon (I can exclusively reveal that things are already looking significantly less dubious for the Observer than the Graun, though).

Semaphore, Tim Footman, OPC and James all said something about: 'But how do you know that equal numbers of men and women write the letters in the first place?'

For me this is the most important point - if 75% of letters to the Guardian are written by men, I shouldn't expect there to be a near-50:50 balance in the ones selected for publication. Tim suggests I send a polite email to N. Willmott to find out, which I intend to do very soon...stay tuned for updates. Having said that, it's already looking like the Observer has more of a balance than the Guardian, which might be significant.

Collected Voices said: 'If women's letters don't get published in newspapers (I've sent a few the Guardian's way with no success), then maybe the women stop bothering to try (I certainly have).'

And this is what I am hoping, eventually, to find out. Personally, I've had successes and failures in sending letters to editors, and it must be difficult to choose just 15 or so out of a daily mailbag of 300. I'm interested to know if women are being (thinkingly or unthinkingly) filtered out of that selection process - and if so, how the papers in question can still claim to be providing a service to their readership, which is fairly equally split in terms of gender (Guardian 57:43 male-to-female ratio, Observer 54:46).

And lastly, Boz provides some words of wisdom for all would-be letter-writers: 'Everyone is entitled to an opinion. If you are going to enforce that opinion on others please make it interesting'.

And to that point, thank you and hurrah to all of you lot, who all have interesting things to say, despite this being the uncontrolled no-mans-land of the blogosphere where only lunatics, obsessives and harrumphers are thought to roam.

Anyway, apparently I have to do some work now, in order to earn money and stuff, so I will leave you with today's tally:


Tim Footman said...

I object. I am proud to be a lunatic, an obsessive and a harrumpher, but I also managed to have an interesting opinion, once.

The word verification is 'waiiubl', which is how a Geordie addresses a space telescope.

Valerie said...

My extremely small sample includes three letters written to editors of San Diego newspapers, none of which were published. Of course they also touched on left-of-(US)center politics, in a town of Republicans, so it's not all that surprising.

This blog post came out just after your previous blog post, and I thought it was interesting, though not saying quite the same thing. What MissLaura is saying is, essentially, that there are lots of women blogging about politics, but that some media folks think it's more interesting to say there aren't. In a different, yet still effective, way, this silences women's voices - by negating and delegitimizing them.

Willie Lupin said...

Some years ago the Letters Editor of the Guardian was a woman. I wonder if that made any difference to the gender balance of letters?

In those days I made a point of never beginning my letters 'Dear Sir' and she nearly always published them.

Albert said...

What proportions of the male and female readerships of the Guardian actually read the letters page, never mind write letters to it? I know I never do. But I'm guessing the letters page is the best bit for some people.

I do enjoy reading blogs that dissect journalism, and I'll sometimes read CIF on the Guardian, although usually it makes me shudder. I think the reason I assiduously avoid the letters page is because it's out of context. If I didn't read the original article each letter is in response to, it has little or no meaning for me. At least with a blog there's usually a link to the original article, so the whole comments stream makes some kind of sense.

thedonething said...

There's a whole new scientific discipline in this, methinks.

Let's call it Genderography, and imagine it will one day be taught by avuncular men in tweed.

For example, I'd be interested to see one of your graphs for the number of comedian / ennes billed in Time Out.

patroclus said...

Tim: But you can spell, which automatically disqualifies you from participating in 99% of all online forums.

Valerie: That's very interesting, thanks - it's back to the old Mary Dejevsky thing again: if the media says there are no female bloggers, then it must be true...

Willie: Yes, that might be another factor. Oh, I don't know, there are so many mitigating factors, maybe the whole thing is a waste of time and effort. But at the same time, I am sure there's something in it. It might be good data for someone, somewhere, anyway. And I'm not surprised to hear your letters were always published, what with you always making very pertinent observations in a very witty manner.

Albert: And yes, another good point. One of the things about newspapers moving online is that they can suddenly track how many times an individual article gets read. (In fact, that's how the journalist-bloggers on the Gawker empire get paid: on the number of views of each individual article). That must have been a pretty big wake-up call for a lot of editors and journalists, and I wonder if it's actually changing the way journalists write...

DoneThing: Don't get me started - my other pet project is counting pictures of men and women in the Economist. Some people might consider this to be a) anal, b) pointless and c) stupidly simplistic. Maybe I'm just doing it because I love Excel, and I love stats. Are you the blogger formerly known as 100 Words, incidentally?

Oli said...

"I wonder if it's actually changing the way journalists write..."



patroclus said...

Heh, precisely.

miss-cellany said...

"no-mans-land of the blogosphere"

That made me giggle. Perhaps the Graun are trying to bastion the "no-womans-land of the opinionated".

This might be of interest

James said...

I'm taking it as a given that you will be summarising your findings in a letter to the offending paper(s)

patroclus said...

Miss-Cellany: I can't believe I didn't even *notice* I said 'no-mans-land' there. Blimey, it's a good thing I don't work with the English language for a living, etc. And many thanks for that article, which seems to be along the same kind of lines.

James: Yes indeed - but will it get published, eh?

Willie Lupin said...

Thanks for the compliment.
But I think I got them published by being a creep.

Lucy Diamond said...

Brilliant idea. I am always pissed off in the Saturday Review bit of the Guardian that they review umpteen books by blokes and not many by women. Grrrr!