Percentage of Female Syndicated Pundits Still Rising, But Only a Little

By: Dave Astor

The percentage of women opinion columnists at the eight biggest syndicates rose from 24.4% to 24.5% during the past five months. But before anyone begins celebrating that modest gain, the actual increase was only from 24.44% (33 of 135 Op-Ed writers) to 24.46% (34 of 139).

E&P Online previously counted the number of female opinion writers for a March 15 story. That was soon after Creators Syndicate columnist Susan Estrich stirred discussion about the issue by criticizing the Los Angeles Times for not publishing more women on its Op-Ed pages. E&P Online reported back then that the percentage of female opinion columnists at the eight biggest syndicates rose from 23.7% in 1999 to 24.4% in 2005 — a slower rate of growth than the increase from 14.8% in 1989 to 23.7% in 1999.

Distributing the best ratio of female opinion columnists this March was United Media. United remains at a healthy 50%, but Universal Press Syndicate is now a little higher, with 6 of its 11 Op-Ed features written by women. And one of the six — “Woman to Woman,” which began online at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before Universal started syndicating it this May — is actually by two women: feminist Diane Glass and Christian conservative Shaunti Feldhahn.

Did Universal sign the feature because of the gender of its authors? “First and foremost the feature was tremendously well-written and had the point-counterpoint component that we were looking for,” said Kathie Kerr, the syndicate’s director of communications. “The fact the two Harvard graduates — one conservative and one liberal — are women also fulfilled our wishes for more strong female voices on the opinion pages.”

Kerr added: “Editors tell us they would like to draw more women into the editorial section of the paper and we believe ‘Woman to Woman’ will do that, at the same time that it’s getting the attention of the traditional editorial reader.” She said the column’s point-counterpoint approach is “educating the other side about the other side’s opinion” via “intelligent arguments,” not a TV screamfest.

“Woman to Woman” — which has about 45 clients — was not the only female-written opinion feature launched by the biggest syndicates since March. A few columns were introduced and a few were dropped, for the net increase from 33 to 34.

The only other big syndicate to have a percentage increase in women opinion columnists was Creators, where there was a tiny rise from 9 of 46 this March to 10 of 51 today. Staying the same or dipping slightly in the percentage of female Op-Ed voices were King Features Syndicate, Copley News Service, the Washington Post Writers Group, Tribune Media Services, and the New York Times News Service (counting only the columnists NYTNS syndicates from The New York Times newspaper’s Op-Ed pages).

Why aren’t there more syndicated women opinion columnists? E&P Online talked to some of these writers at the start of this spring (see March 21 story) — and the reasons they cited included sexism, resistance to change on the part of some newspaper editors, and the reluctance of some women to do Op-Ed commentary.

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