Gender man and woman
Credit: Image by Thinkstock
A website which measures the gender balance of homepage bylines was launched last week, starting with a spotlight on the New York Times site.

WhoWritesFor.com, created by recent graduate Andrew Briggs, keeps a daily tally of bylines along with a two week graphic representation and archive. Since Briggs began recording the data on 12 July, the results have shown that men have consistently had more bylines on the homepage than women.

"The New York Times is certainly aware of this problem," Briggs told Journalism.co.uk. "I would love to see the beginning of some institutional change."

On his website, Briggs explains that NYTimes.com can have more than 300 unique links to content on the site at any one time. Rather than scrape the whole website, the WhoWritesFor code looks just at bylines on the front page, as "these bylines are given elevated status by their location and prominence".

"Of the approximately 40 'story' div class elements," Briggs writes, "about 10 of these (at any given time) contain bylines. These stories always fall in the two main columns at the top of NYTimes.com."

WhoWritesFor.com scrapes names and articles from the front page of NYTimes.com every five minutes then runs the bylines past a name-gender database compiled from the US Census Bureau. Every day, at midnight Eastern Standard Time, the day's totals are added to the archive and the 'today' ticker starts with a fresh scrape of data from NYTimes.com.

"What my project does that is useful, or maybe more useful than some of these other projects, is that it presents the information in a very clear way," Briggs said, explaining that the Times is the pilot publication for the platform. "I really wanted the data and information to speak for itself so when you look at the front page you get those two big numbers and it tells a very clear story."

WhoWritesFor.com daily total
Screenshot taken from WhoWritesFor.com at 09:53 GMT on Monday 5 August

Journalism.co.uk approached the New York Times for comment regarding the data on WhoWritesFor.com. A spokesperson sent a statement which explains that the Times's newsroom is approximately 40 per cent female and 60 per cent male, with programmes in place to "recruit talent and expand diversity across the company and newsroom" as a commitment to diversity in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and "other factors".

"Focusing on the gender of bylines on NYTimes.com is not an accurate reflection of gender equality in our newsroom," reads the statement. "Women hold positions on the masthead, as department heads, senior editors, reporters, graphics editors, web producers, copy editors, photographers, and video journalists – not all of which can be measured by counting bylines which appear on the homepage."

WhoWritesFor.com comes at a time when the background chatter around gender balance in the media is becoming more audible within the industry. Notable publications on the topic include research from the University of Nevada on quoted sources at the New York Times and work by the Knight Foundation-funded Open Gender Tracker project – whose creators have been involved in projects investigating gender balance at UK news organisations and around the world.

The genesis for the site came when a friend told Briggs of VIDA's The Count, which has been measuring the gender balance in the US literary arts scene for the last three years. Shocked at the disparity, the idea got "kicked around" while Briggs finished his English literature and computer science degree at Northwestern, with one eye on a career as a newsroom developer. 

"In April I realised I had a lot of the tools in front of me that I could build something that looks at a digital source and is not just published every year, but that can update every day" he said. "And now the system update is every five minutes."

WhoWritesFor.com archive
Screenshot taken from WhoWritesFor.com at 09:53 GMT on Monday 5 August

The open source tools used in the site's construction are clearly explained on the site, and Briggs told Journalism.co.uk that it was always his intention to make the software public. plans to also analyse the gender balance of homepage bylines at other publications.

But he is also fully aware that the issue of gender balance involves a large number of factors which are still being discerned, adding "you can get into tricky discussions about how you would address that".

"I don't want to make any recommendations, I don't necessarily think gender quotas are the way to go but I think it's very important to paint a very clear picture of an imbalance that needs to be fixed," he said.

"[The New York Times] has two very, very capable women who are leading a lot of very good efforts. They have Jill Abrahamson and Margaret Sullivan who are doing really good work and are very much aware of this".

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