Who’s covering that story? Depending on the topic, it might be easy to guess. Some beats are still disproportionately covered by journalists of a particular gender, ethnicity, or race, according to new 2023 analysis of Pew Research Center data gathered from a 2022 survey. The analysis also broke down beats by age of reporters, and coverage by freelance journalists versus those employed part or full time by news organizations.
- Sports beats are mainly covered by white journalists (82%) and men (83%).
- Health topics are more often covered by white journalists (78%) and women (64%).
- Travel and Entertainment beats are more often covered by freelancers (57%).
- Education and family beats were disproportionately covered by young reporters aged 18-29 (22%, though the generation was 14% of the survey) and women (63%).
- Science and technology beats are disproportionately covered by men (58%) and white journalists (77%). Freelancers contribute 46% of science and tech stories even though they make up 34% of the journalists surveyed.
- Environment and energy beats are overwhelmingly covered by white reporters (84%).
- Asian reporters were over represented on topics of science and technology, covering 7% of these stories even though they made up only 3% of the survey, and underrepresented in sports (1%) and local issues (2%).
- Black and Hispanic journalists cover local and state issues disproportionately (20%) compared to their overall representation among survey respondents (6% and 8% respectively).
Gender imbalances linger
Consumers of U.S. news are still getting most of their sports coverage from men (83%) and most of their health coverage from women (64%). Other topics more likely to be covered by men: government and politics; science and technology; economy and business. In addition to health themes, women were more likely to cover education and family, as well as social issues and policy.
The gender balance is more even when it comes to covering crime and the law, local and state issues, environment and energy topics, as well as travel and entertainment. The original online survey data was drawn from 11, 889 U.S.-based journalists, 51% of whom were men and 46% women.
Beats vary by race and ethnicity
The percentage of newsroom employees who are white is higher than the overall portion of U.S. workers who are white. 76% of the journalists responding to the online survey were white, 6% Black, 8% Hispanic, and 3% Asian.
Black reporters were more likely to cover social issues and policy (15%, although they comprised only 8% of the journalists surveyed). Black and Hispanic reporters were over represented when it came to covering local and state issues (20%) in proportion to their overall representation in the survey. Asian reporters were more likely to cover science, health, as well as social issues and policy. The original survey was available in English and Spanish only, which may have excluded some journalists working in the U.S. who spoke other languages.
While nonwhite reporters are significantly underrepresented in general, Black reporters are particularly so when it comes to issues related to the environment and energy, and science and technology (2% and 3% respectively). Hispanic reporters were particularly underrepresented in coverage of sports and environment and energy (6% of each of these areas).
Interestingly, age seemed less likely to influence the beats of reporters. If there were any surprises, it might be that the youngest journalists, those ages 18 to 29, who were 14% of the survey participants, were somewhat underrepresented in the areas of science and technology (10%) and entertainment and travel (10%).
However they were over represented in education and family (22%) as well as crime and law (19%). The oldest generation of journalists, 65 and older, made up 14% of the survey and were underrepresented in topics of crime and law (8%). More than two thirds (68%) of the journalists who responded to the survey were between the ages of 30 and 64.
Freelancers versus staff
Pew also evaluated the percentage of journalists who are freelancers compared to those employed part or full time by a news organization. While 34% of reporting journalists identified as freelance or self-employed overall, the percentages were much higher for the entertainment and travel beat (57%), as well as science and technology (46%). The percentage was also slightly higher in the category of social issues and policy (38%).
In contrast, journalists reporting on crime and the law were much more likely to be full or part time employees of a news organization (87%), as were those who report on government and politics (77%), and those covering local and state issues (75%), as well as education and family issues (71%). Overall, 65% of all the reporting journalists surveyed were full or part-time employees of a news organization.
This is significant given that freelance news journalists are less likely to receive formal training on equity issues. Data showed freelance reporters were 37% less likely to have had formal training or meetings on issues related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and 27% less likely to have had training on how to cover diversity and inclusion when reporting the news within the 12 months.
Freelance journalists were also more likely to respond that they were unsure whether or not there was sufficient diversity in the news organization for which they work.
- 22% of freelance or self-employed journalists were unsure whether their news organization had sufficient gender equity (compared to only 6% of full or part time employees of the news organization).
- 26% of freelance or self-employed journalists were unsure about the adequacy of racial and ethnic diversity within their news organization (compared to only 8% of fuller part-time employees.)
The big picture
Overall, 52% of the journalists surveyed said their news organization does not have enough racial and ethnic diversity. This percentage rose to 68% among young journalists, aged 18 to 29. Women were also more likely to perceive racial and ethnic diversity lacking in their organization (59%) compared to men (46%). Diverse perspectives add value to any topic. By avoiding potential stereotypes when assigning work, media companies can better ensure that their coverage is relevant and engaging.