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Reaching more women with news: lessons on gender representation from the FT 

September 27, 2023 | By Rumyana Nikolova, Manager – FT Strategies@FtStrategies

“He is a man, he has his back towards me and is not listening to me.” Those are the words one woman used to describe the regular FT reader as part of a 2015 focus group. Back then, the Global Media Monitoring Research Project showed women only appear in 29% of media coverage leaving women feeling that most content speaks to and is consumed by men.

The quote from the FT focus group was so powerful that eight years on it still propels many initiatives across departments to reach and engage a more diverse audience. From establishing an Audience Diversity team to running more inclusive marketing campaigns, FT has been working hard to resonate with the increasingly growing number of women in leadership positions across finance, business, politics and many other industries. Along the way, we’ve learned a great deal.

During the DCN Subscription Innovation Day held last week in New York, Daisy Donald, a principal consultant at FT’s media consultancy arm, FT Strategies, talked about some of the findings from these efforts and we share some of those here. 

But we also decided to go beyond suggestions and guidelines at FT Strategies and developed a tool called FT Diversify that can help any media organization in its efforts to diversify its reporting, sourcing, and its audience. FT Diversify is a machine learning tool incorporated into the regular editorial workflow that counts gender imbalances in content and gives actionable recommendations for making the journalism more representative. And the implementation of this tool has also taught us lessons worth sharing. 

Why is being representative so important for audience diversity?

Unfortunately, not a lot has changed in making media coverage more equal since 2015. Current numbers from the Gender Equality Tracker show that men represent over two-thirds of all names and pronouns in U.S. media. 

Luba Kassova and Richard Addy’s research suggests that the lack of representation also translates into a news gender consumption gap: 60.1% of visits to the top 48 news websites were made by men. That marks a missed opportunity – not only in being socially equitable but also commercially prudent. News outlets are missing out on lots of visitors and subscribers that come from underrepresented segments. And this goes beyond gender into race, socioeconomic background, age, and more. 

What can we do to analyze & increase representation?

During the session at DCN’s members-only event, FT Strategies’ Donald shared a few tips to address this: “the crux of it is a deep understanding of what segments of underrepresented audiences want, rallying behind that as an organization and having the motivation and diverse talent to translate that knowledge into journalism, products and experiences that these people are looking for.” 

The way to achieve that is through feedback mechanisms that open up conversations with your readers. For example, ask yourselves: Can we create a survey on the home page? Can we bring them into the newsroom for a visit? Can our reporters talk to women readers to hear what pieces they really enjoyed? Can we do more to encourage women to participate in wider discussions such as in the comment sections?

It goes without saying that simply collecting that information isn’t going to change much. With our ‘Diversify’ product, we connect data on reporting with consumption data to produce a dashboard with statistics as well as actionable recommendations and next steps generated by its algorithms.

Would knowing what pieces resonate well with women and publishing more of those increase their engagement with your journalism and brand? Would having more women be featured as authors, sources and in images lead to an increase in women readers? From our experience at the FT and working with other publishers we believe the answer is a resounding yes.  

We have also found that it is important to think beyond just the topics that women are viewing in order to avoid stereotyping. It’s more impactful to supplement that with information on what platforms and channels and in what formats women consume these articles. Writers and editors must also always be sure to consider the why. 

During our collaboration with a Finnish publisher we created a dashboard that showed similar information to the FT Diversify tool: number of women in photos, bylines and quotes and viewership and time on page per topic, platform and format. We found out that there is a shortage of women writers in certain verticals and that women readers were viewing a lot more content on climate change than men. Our feedback mechanisms revealed that women were often short on time, juggling a few activities at once, and preferred a more informal, relaxed tone of reporting. 

In order to solve those “problems” we experimented with a newsletter on climate change written by a group of women journalists on rotation, sharing their favorite climate stories from the week in a concise and informal way. The result was 6% more women subscribers to that newsletter compared to others in the short space of two weeks.

This shows that giving instant access to feedback and easy-to-digest data to journalists can be really powerful. It may not completely transform commissioning decisions or how reporting is done. However, it does nudge content creators to think more inclusively and focus on different formats, topics, and conversations. We have seen firsthand how this leads to better engagement and increases the impact of their journalism. 

About the author

Rumyana is a manager at FT Strategies, and has worked with large media & publishing companies across Europe. She designed the Google News Initiative Audience diversity programme, and also has experience in content strategy, newsroom evolution and engagement tactics. She was recently part of the Financial Times’ Audience Engagement team supporting their audience diversity ambition to increase the amount of engaged women subscribers.

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