On Byline Parity At Washington City Paper
This week VIDA, an organization promoting women writers, released its 2011 count of bylines by gender in major magazines. Yep, it's as simple as that: They count to see how many women were published in the country's top magazines. And then they further break down the count by category—book reviews, articles, poetry, essays.
As you can imagine, it doesn't look so good at some places. At Harper's, for example, 65 articles were written by men, and 13 were written by women. And across the industry, there's a serious imbalance in how many stories are assigned to women versus men.
Of course, this made me wonder what, exactly City Paper's byline count looked like. Here's a handy chart:
For simplicity's sake, I stuck solely to cover stories: Last year there were 43 major cover stories (skipping the nine special issues), and out of those, 25 were written by men, and 18 by women. Forty-two percent of bylines written by women isn't bad at all.
But gender isn't all that matters.
When it comes to race, 34 covers were written by white authors, 7 by black authors, and two by contributor Mike Paarlberg—who is of white and Korean heritage. So that means 79 percent of our cover stories were written by white people, and 16 percent were written by blacks.
While that's closeish to real-world demographic percentages, it's pretty bad for a paper located in a city with a plurality of black residents. And it's subject matter former staffer Huan Hsu took on in a 2006 story about diversity. Alum Andrew Beaujon revisited it a few years later—to find that nothing had changed except that the staff size shrunk. These days our edit staff looks like this: white male editor, white male managing editor, white female assistant editor, white male arts editor, white male food editor, white female listings editor, white male staff photographer, white male staff writer, white female staff writer, and me, black female staff writer. (Which means, for one thing, the staff size shrunk again.)
It's important to note that byline counting is a way to get to an end goal: People of diverse backgrounds contributing to the larger sphere of thought. So how do we get to more diverse bylines? I like Ann Friedman's suggestion: Go after editors. Friedman is currently the editor of GOOD magazine—which has gender parity—and actually assigned me one of my first magazine pieces ever, for The American Prospect. She writes: "We have to expand other editors' networks, diversify the names that flow through their Twitter and RSS feeds and their inboxes, if we want to change the ratio."
I'm taking that as a cue to try harder to expand my own networks of women and people of color that I can promote to the assigning editors I know, but I think it's something our editors here can also do themselves, now that we have the numbers right in front of us.
Illustration by Brooke Hatfield