BBC journalists Emily Maitlis and Fiona Bruce have Wikipedia pages detailing their early life and education, career, personal life and awards

Credit: (Left) BBC journalist Emily Maitlis by Gothick via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence. (Right) BBC journalist Fiona Bruce by Andrew Campbell via Wikimedia CC BY 2.0 Licence. (Both Images cropped to fit together)

Fewer than one fifth of biographies on Wikipedia, one of the most visited English-language websites in the world, are females. When it comes to biographies of women journalists, this imbalance persists.

But visibility is necessary to help gender parity in journalism leadership, and it also affects women journalists’ safety, credibility, recognition, inclusion and income.

The easy fix would be to simply sit down and write the biographies of all those amazing women who, over centuries, contributed to world-class reporting. But it is not that simple. The entry bar to qualify as a Wikipedia editor is quite high.

Enter Women Do News, a non-profit organisation created in 2019 that teaches people how to contribute to Wikipedia to raise women journalists’ voices, profiles and stories and help close the gender gap in the media industry.

"Historically, women have been excluded from the record despite their contribution to the media industry," says Jareen Imam, senior content and editorial manager at Amazon, and a former journalist for NBC News, CBS News and CNN, speaking at Hacks/Hackers event yesterday (22 September) in London.

Above: Nellie Bly (Pseudonym of Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman). H. J. Myers, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There are so many examples, like 20th century US journalists Winifred Sweet and Elizabeth Cochrane (right) who were girl stunt reporters, which means they went undercover using pseudonyms to expose certain issues like child labour, medical malpractice and scams. But they never got the bylines.

This is not just history, women journalists still get overlooked in newsrooms today. From "forgotten" bylines to hidden contributions, many do not get the recognition and pay they deserve.

This is even more true for women journalists of colour, like Marvel Jackson Cooke. She was the first African American woman to work at a mainstream white-owned paper and a civil rights activist. Despite her contribution to history, her biography was not added to Wikipedia until 2020.

Building trust, safety and notability

With Wikipedia being so popular, its articles rank highly on Google which can benefit journalists who are being looked up online either by sources or the public.

In a world where three quarters of women journalists experience online violence, Wikipedia offers a space to publish their accurate profiles, strengthen their reputation and combat trolling that aims to discredit them in the eyes of the public.

Prominent journalists Nidhi Razdan, Arfa Khanum Sherwani and Rana Ayyub have been long warning that orchestrated attacks liked to India's ruling party have disseminated online content promoting threats and harassment against them because of their reporting on government corruption.

Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa from Rappler has also been the target of violence, online and offline. But if you look her up on the internet, the Wikipedia article is the first search result you will see.

Of course, Wikipedia articles alone are not enough to protect women online or help them close the gender pay gap. The evidence of it working is still anecdotal, but Imam said that some women journalists saw reluctant sources agreeing to be interviewed after looking journalists up on Wikipedia. The same goes for the impact on their safety.

Women Do News faces several challenges. Firstly, most editors on Wikipedia are men and if women do not contribute regularly, there is a greater chance of unconscious bias skewing the online content.

The website is also quite complicated to navigate and editors need some training to use it effectively.

Finally, there is the notoriety requirement. An editor needs to be notable, which means they authored articles, news stories or books, and have been cited by third parties. In a world where women sometimes do not even get their own bylines, this notoriety threshold is hard to reach.

How do we fix it?

“Women need to sign up as editors,” says Imam. Women Do News will then teach them how to contribute to help elevate other women’s profiles.

Since its inception in 2019, the collective added 30 brand new articles to Wikipedia, improved 10 existing articles, and collected 116 biographies of women journalists who should be on there. They also host edit-a-thons, which are sessions where people learn to contribute to Wikipedia.

If you want to get involved, you can sign up for its newsletter, nominate a notable journalist, or join an edit-a-thon.

Do not miss our next digital journalism conference Newsrewired, with four days of panels and workshops. Check out the full agenda and tickets

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