E&P Study: Percentage of Female Syndicated Pundits Barely Up Since 1999

By: Dave Astor

The percentage of female opinion columnists on major-syndicate rosters has risen very slightly since 1999, according to an E&P study.

E&P looked at the Web sites of eight major distributors, and found that 33 of 135 opinion writers — 24.4% — are women. When we previously studied the numbers nearly six years ago, 23.7% of these writers were women (E&P magazine, Aug. 21, 1999).

Growth has obviously slowed, because the 23.7% figure from 1999 rose nearly nine percentage points from 1989 — when 14.8% of op-ed columnists were female.

The percentage of female writers has been in the news lately as Creators Syndicate columnist Susan Estrich has criticized the Los Angeles Times for not publishing more women on its op-ed page (E&P Online, March 7).

Distributing the highest ratio of female op-ed columnists — 50% — is United Media. Its United Feature Syndicate and Newspaper Enterprise Association divisions have a total of 15 op-ed writers, with 7.5 female. (The half refers to Cokie Roberts co-authoring a column with Steven Roberts.)

Why is United at 50%? “I can’t say it’s completely intentional,” replied Editorial Director Marianne Goldstein, noting that the syndicate doesn’t have any kind of quota system. But she said United feels it’s important to have a roster of skilled columnists who are diverse in gender, background, age, and ideology.

Goldstein added that newspaper editors have told United — via the NEA survey, and via conversations with United editors and sales reps — that they’re interested in at least considering a variety of columnist voices, including women. “A lot of newspapers realize it’s important for their op-ed pages to be more reflective of who their readership is,” she said.

So why hasn’t there been more syndication-wide growth in female commentators since 1999? Goldstein isn’t sure. She noted that there certainly isn’t a lack of columnist candidates. “We get almost as many unsolicited submissions from women as men who want to do general-interest or harder political columns,” Goldstein told E&P.

The second-highest percentage of female commentators is at Universal Press Syndicate, which has 4.5 out of 11, according to its Web site. (The half refers to Patrisia Gonzales co-authoring a column with Roberto Rodriguez.)

Other distributors — in order of the percentage of female opinion writers on their rosters — include King Features Syndicate (3 of 9), Copley News Service (1 of 4), Creators Syndicate (9 of 46), the Washington Post Writers Group (3 of 16), Tribune Media Services (4 of 26), and the New York Times News Service (1 of 8 from The New York Times; the service also distributes columnists from elsewhere). The seven Times men include Frank Rich and John Tierney, who are coming to the newspaper’s op-ed page next month.

Some of the above numbers may be off slightly if rosters listed on syndicate Web sites don’t include recently signed or recently dropped columnists.

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