The first thing a lot of people do whenever a new list of "most outstandings" comes down the pike is check to see what the male to female breakdown is. In the case of NYU's “100 Outstanding Journalists in the United States in the Last 100 Years,” culled from more than 300 nominees plus write-ins in a vote by the faculty at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and an Honorary Committee of alumni, that final ratio is 78 men to 22 women. That's a little less than 1 woman for every 4 guys. In 100 years.
Of course, we're talking about the last 100 years in journalism; you'd hope that the breakdown would be a little more even if we were ranking outstanding journalists of the last 25 or even 10 years. And yet, as recently as this February, we were talking about how men still dominate in numbers in the writing world.
This is not to knock the outstanding male journalists on the list—they are, indeed, pretty outstanding, ranging alphabetically from James Agee to Bob Woodward. But let's take a moment to look at the women journalists, who, by sheer force of making their way onto this grouping in which fewer women are represented, seem inherently to have fought a harder battle to start with. Who made the cut? NYU lists the following 22 women and their qualifications:
- Christiane Amanpour: longtime and distinguished international reporter for CNN; now also works for ABC News.
- Hannah Arendt: a political thinker, author of The Origins of Totalitarianism, who reported the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker; those articles were turned into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil in 1963.
- Margaret Bourke-White: a photographer who was among the first women to report on wars and whose pictures appeared on the cover of Life magazine, beginning in 1936.
- Rachel Carson: a science writer whose 1962 book Silent Spring called attention to the dangers of pesticides and helped inspire the environmental movement.
- Joan Didion: a literary journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and memoirist, who helped invent “new journalism” in the 1960s and whose judgmental but superbly written articles have become standard texts in many journalism departments.
- Barbara Ehrenreich: a journalist and political activist who authored 21 books, including Nickel and Dimed, published in 2001, an exposé of the living and working conditions of the working poor.
- Nora Ephron: a columnist, humorist, screenwriter, and director, who wrote clever and incisive social and cultural commentary for Esquire and other publications beginning in the 1960s.
- Frances FitzGerald: a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who went to Saigon in 1966 and in 1972, published one of the most influential critiques of the war, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam.
- Martha Gellhorn: a World War II correspondent whose articles were collected in The Face of War; she also covered the Vietnam War and the Six Day War in the Middle East.
- Katharine Graham: a publisher who took over The Washington Post after her husband’s suicide in 1963, she resisted White House pressure during the paper’s printing of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate investigation; her memoir won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.
- Linda Greenhouse: a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered the U.S. Supreme Court for The New York Times for more than 25 years, beginning in 1978.
- Jane Kramer: a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1964, writing mostly from Europe.
- Adrian Nicole LeBlanc: author of Random Family, the acclaimed nonfiction book published in 2002 about the relations of drug dealers in the South Bronx.
- Jane Mayer: an investigative reporter who has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1968; her 2008 book The Dark Side exposed the Bush administration’s more questionable tactics in the war on terror.
- Mary McCarthy: a novelist and critic, McCarthy’s essays appeared in publications like The Partisan Review, The Nation, The New Republic, Harper’s Magazine, and The New York Review of Books from the 1940s through the 1970s.
- Anna Quindlen: a novelist, journalist and columnist, her path-breaking New York Times column “Public and Private,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992.
- Marlene Sanders: the first female television correspondent in Vietnam, the first female anchor on a US network television evening newscast and the first female vice president of ABC News.
- Susan Sontag: an essayist, novelist and preeminent intellectual, among her many influential writings was “Notes on ‘Camp,’” published in 1964; a human-rights activist, she wrote about the plight of Bosnia for The Nation in 1995 and even moved to Sarajevo to call further attention to the region.
- Gloria Steinem: a social activist and writer, Steinem co-founded the women’s magazine Ms. in 1972.
- Dorothy Thompson: her reporting on Hitler and the rise of Nazism led to her being expelled from Germany in 1934; also a widely syndicated newspaper columnist, a rare female voice in radio news in the 1930s and the “second most influential woman in America,” after Eleanor Roosevelt, according to Time magazine in 1939.
- Barbara Walters: a journalist, known for her interviewing skills, and host of many influential ABC programs, including the ABC Evening News and 20/20.
- Ida B. Wells: prominent civil rights activist whose 1892 editorial on the lynching of three black men earned her popularity; she wrote her autobiography Crusade for Justice in 1928.
Mitchell Stephens, professor of Journalism at NYU's Carter Institute, told The Atlantic Wire that 25 people voted on the list, most of them full-time or part-time faculty. The full-time faculty breakdown for the Institute is 11 female and 14 male, and both the current and previous directors are women.
Stephens said, "I am happy that so many of pathbreaking female journalists I grew up reading made this list. Still, I do wish the female to male ratio better approached that in life or in contemporary journalism. And someone might certainly argue that we could have subtracted someone here or added someone there. This was the result of a vote. It is intended to start a conversation not end it. And, alas, I fear this list, stretching back to people working in 1912, reflects the difficulty women had obtaining important positions in journalism for the bulk of the last 100 years."
Starting the conversation, then: Who got left out—and how do we ensure this gender breakdown moves toward a more evenly distributed future?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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