A good piece of journalism relies on talking to experts to capture their insights and experience. This makes it stand up and engage the reader.

But how many of us actively pay attention to whether the experts we cite are male or female? Or to a larger extent, whether we are giving too much column space to one or the other.

Informed Opinions has produced the Gender Gap Tracker in partnership with Simon Fraser University. It analyses the ratio of males and females who are quoted in seven major Canadian news publications.

This project aims to raise awareness around lack of female representation when citing experts, and to encourage more news organisations to think critically about who they interview for their stories.

”In most countries, highly qualified women exist in almost every field,” said Shari Graydon, founder of Informed Opinions.

“Diversity of sources is a hallmark of quality journalism. Going beyond ‘the usual suspects’ is likely to lead to richer, more interesting stories.”

The Gender Gap Tracker measures the ratio of female to male sources quoted in Canadian online news media by using big data analytics and Siri-style recognition technology.

Site visitors can use the slider at the top of the screen to see a breakdown of men and women quoted in the different publications in a chosen time period, which then populates a bar graph and a pie chart.

The bar graph shows how each of the news outlets being monitored compares to the others (number of articles published, percentage of male and female sources quoted), and the pie chart shows the aggregate data from all of them together.

For example, using the tool, we can see that in the last month there is a 73:26 ratio of men being quoted to women. (pictured below)

Screenshot: Bar chart and pie chart of male and female interviewees in Canadian news media between 19 January and 19 February 2019

The site also features the logos of each of the monitored news outlets. Clicking on any one of these automatically generates an email to the news outlet, facilitating feedback if you feel like voicing your concern.

While there has been overwhelming support from men and women in academia, business and the non-profit sectors, Graydon said it has had mixed reception from the industry itself.

“We consulted with dozens of journalists in 2015 when building our database of expert women, and they acknowledged that they weren't doing a very good job of representing women's perspectives. Many told us ‘you need to stay in our faces about this'," she said.

“Others feel hard-pressed as a result of disruptions to the news industry, and have grumbled about not having the time to find new sources. A very small minority push back, defending the absence of women experts as a reflection of their insistence on the 'best' source.

“Interestingly in the two weeks since we made the Gender Gap Tracker publicly available, the data from the poorest performers has increased, and the aggregate percentage of women's voices has moved up four points from 25% to 29% (as of February 17th).”

Graydon hopes that with continued collaboration with media researchers and grassroots organisations, diversity is improved at home and abroad. The last time counted, we quoted 53 per cent of women in the period between January to July 2018.

Ultimately, she recognises the challenges that journalists face but said it is in their own interest to level the playing field.

“We're excited by anecdotal evidence suggesting that increasing the diversity of sources also increases audience engagement. So it's not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do," she concluded.

While currently only taking into account English-speaking Canadian news sites, Graydon says that she expects to launch another version later this year for French-speaking sites.

Want to reach more digital readers? Find out how to kickstart an effective digital strategy at Newsrewired on 6 March at Reuters, London.

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