Returns on equity: The untapped potential of gender journalism

2023-07-21. Media organisations should reflect the world around them, in their content and in their newsrooms. But if that’s not a good reason to invest in gender journalism, perhaps an industry boost of $11 billion could help close the gender news consumption gap, say panellists at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress.

Eliza Anyangwe, Esther Ng, Megan Clement and Ankita Anand

by Lucinda Jordaan | July 21, 2023

Did you know? The Women’s Euro 22 final was one of the three most-watched broadcasts in the United Kingdom last year – second only to the Queen’s Funeral Service, and topping her Platinum Jubilee.

The tournament, which broke records for crowd attendance, was watched live by over 365 million people in 195 territories, and the final match attracted a cumulative live viewership of 50 million worldwide, across television, out-of-home viewing and streaming.

“I watched that from my couch in France. And I wept not only because I was so excited that my team had won but because I remember, growing up in the 1990s, being told explicitly and constantly, that football was not for me – and I became a football fan despite all that,” Megan Clement, Editor of Impact, a French-English newsletter covering feminist movements and women’s rights worldwide, shared with audiences at the recent WAN-IFRA World News Congress in Taipei.

The session, ‘Returns on equity: the untapped potential of gender journalism,’ was led by Hui Yee Tan, Indochina Bureau Chief at The Straits Times in Singapore and featured fellow co-founders of the Gender Beat: Ankita Anand, a freelance journalist from India; Eliza Anyangwe, Managing Editor of ‘As Equals’ at CNN, based in Netherlands and Megan Clement. Esther Ng, chief content officer at Star Media Group Berhad, Malaysia was also on the panel.

Session moderator Hui Yee Tan, co-founder of The Gender Beat

The session explored a range of strategies to reach the vast, largely untapped market of news consumers: women. Panellists shared how to support the people who create this journalism and how to broaden coverage to ensure audience relevance.

Attendees also heard of the real-life impact of some of the best gender journalism around the world – notably, the parliamentary-level change brought about by The Star Malaysia’s Break the Bias campaign.

 “By not serving their needs, we’re telling women, female audiences and gender diverse people, that ‘the news is not for you.’ We are making assumptions that are not true. And we’re missing out on audiences,” noted Clement.

“It was assumed that women’s vote didn’t have an audience. And I think that we’ve shown that that’s wrong. I think there’s an audience for gender journalism, and it’s a monetisable audience as well.”

Clement referred to From Outrage to Opportunity, a report by Luba Kassova and Richard Addy from AKAS, “which found that, at the most conservative estimate, if newsrooms (in the print sector) actually served the needs of women audiences, and  close the gender consumption gap,  they could earn an extra $11 billion across the industry. This is not a moment in the news industry when we can afford to not be doing that.”

Breaking the Bias: measuring the very real, positive impact of gender journalism

In an industry where attracting audiences – and, therefore, potential sponsors, advertisers and funders – is paramount, the potential for tapping into what gender journalists refer to as “low-hanging fruit” cannot easily be dismissed. 

Its impact, too, has resounding implications for newsrooms and publishers. This came into focus for Esther Ng of The Star Malaysia, and chair of the World Editors Forum Asia Chapter, who set out to record the bias that exists in different countries in the region, noting their different socio-economic and cultural contexts.

 See also: Learnings from a year-long focus on gender issues in Malaysia

​​Launched on International Women’s Day last year, the campaign focused on women’s issues and challenges, at home and at work. “One of the things we did was to study the unpaid work that women do at home.” 

One of the most immediate results of the campaign was the spike in readership on the day the articles were published, notes Ng: “The data showed that these topics really affected the people; people really cared about them.”

The greatest impact though, was more long-term – and far-reaching.  

“Following the year-long project, several acts were actually brought to Parliament. We had the anti-sexual harassment bill; it’s about on its way, and we have the anti-stalking bill. And one of the more important ones is our social security act to take care of women who have domestic accidents – a first in the world.

“Another very important change is to the employees provident fund, with husbands now allowed to transfer 2% of their monthly contributions to their wives. This is great for Malaysia, and I would like to think that we contributed largely to this.”

See also: How The Gender Beat aims to advance gender issues by taking cues from climate journalism

See also: The frustrating challenge of advancing women in news

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