A Chat with the Authors of From Outrage to Opportunity

From Outrage to Opportunity: How to Include the Missing Perspectives of Women of All Colors in News Leadership and Coverage is a new groundbreaking report about the marginalization faced by women, and especially women of color, in the news industry.

Internews is a launch partner of the report. On the occasion of the launch, we sat down with authors Luba Kassova and Richard Addy to hear more about their experience researching these issues and the process that led to the report.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

You authored the Missing Perspectives reports, which were extremely well-received by the industry and other advocates. Can you talk about the process that led to this new report?

LK: One of those two reports zoned in on women’s underrepresentation along the value chain in the news industry; the other one looked particularly at women’s underrepresentation around COVID-19 stories.

The genesis of this new report is directly linked to two of the challenges that were identified in those previous reports.

The first was around the fact that women, even when they are well-represented in newsrooms and in news leadership, they often feel excluded from decision-making or that they don’t have a strong voice. We want to understand why that is and, linked to that, why – even when organizations have reached gender parity at the leadership level – their coverage remains male-dominated.

And the second one was the fact that for decades, the proportion of women as protagonists in the news hadn’t moved significantly. In fact, one surprising finding from the Missing Perspectives report was how stagnant progress was for women. Often, the narrative [in the journalism industry] is that gender parity is no longer a story, no longer a problem. It was really surprising that progress had flatlined for decades.

Would you consider the new report a sequel to Missing Perspectives?

LK: I definitely consider this a sequel because it builds on the insight that we generated in the previous reports. It takes the industry a step further by saying “yes, there is a lot to be done and we can do it.”

RA: Completely agree. We’ve been consistent in thinking about the problem through the value chain, right from social norms to news impact. We’ve homed in on bits of the value chain — news leadership and news coverage — that weren’t covered in as much detail in the first two reports.

What are some of the north stars that guided your thinking?

LK: Whilst researching, we looked at the highest profile beats of news organizations, which are politics, foreign affairs, and business. These are the three genres that take up so much of the volume of news that we all get and that are very consequential today.

We looked at the representation of women on those beats. As we were doing that, I realized that what may have happened in the previous two reports is that whilst I was writing about women’s underrepresentation, I may have held the most dominant group of women—white, highly educated —as the standard reference. It really worried me that perhaps, by looking at women as an amorphous group, we may have missed some angles. We thought, ok, we absolutely need to overlay race onto gender.

That led to quite a painful realization for me as an author that I had been oblivious to a group of women — women of color within news leadership — that had been going through extraordinary suffering for decades. But they were, and are still, completely invisible within the news industry and news.

Only 2% of news organizations in South Africa, the UK, and US break up their data by race and gender, so largely no one mentions or analyzes women of color, and that makes them invisible. What you don’t measure you don’t know.

And how did your identities come into play in your perspectives and day-to-day research practice?

RA: We’re fortunate to have both worked in the news —we met at BBC News. So we have an appreciation for the industry, but we see its downfalls.

On the first two Missing Perspectives reports, Luba and I both came to understand which bits of work worked best for each of us. It was very clear that I would take the research elements of it, and Luba would do the bulk of the writing.

From a personal angle, Luba’s chapter on women of color made me quite emotional — I was in tears after reading it. I’m not a woman, but I’m a man of color, and that chapter spoke to the experiences I knew people had. It’s very hard to articulate in an elegant and coherent way. For those voices that are silenced in these organizations to be given space, and for Luba to do it in the way that she did, was incredibly powerful.

LK: While writing, I questioned whether I, as a white woman, had the right to relay those perspectives and to give recommendations based upon them. I don’t feel that I’m particularly an expert on race — I felt a lot more comfortable writing about gender. Once in consultation with Richard and the whole team, I realized the only way to write about these issues is by becoming a conduit of truth.

Since 2020, we’ve seen new leadership in news organizations turning away from initiatives to support leaders of color that were generated in the months following the murder of George Floyd. This is a big finding, that news industries are regressing, and that there is resistance. White leaders don’t want to feel the pain that you need to feel to resolve these issues.

What became clear is how important allyship is — for women generally and especially for women of color.

What was different about working in each country?

LK: What I found is that there were so many more similarities than differences in women’s experiences. We live in a world where we look too much for differences, and that leads to further polarization. What struck me is the similar experiences that women leaders had in terms of cultural exclusion. That’s perhaps surprising to some who would assume the situation is so much better in the US or UK than in other countries.

Another thing the report looks at is the seven gender gaps, which are barely reported in the news but affect women profoundly: power, pay, safety, health, confidence, authority, and age. What struck me was the universality of those gaps.

RA: Initially, we assessed 1200 editors within the six focus counties entirely from a desk position. We soon recognized that our knowledge on the ground was not strong enough, so we worked with subcontractors in India, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. We got an insight into how we thought about newsrooms, which potentially was from an Anglo-Saxon perspective. Roles in the global south countries we researched are often much more fluid, with people performing multiple roles, and it isn’t always clear who the most senior person is. When you’re doing research, always question the lens you’re looking through, because you may be making incorrect assumptions.

What changes do you hope this report will trigger?

LK: I was really taken aback by how many potential solutions there were along the whole news value chain. The business case that Richard produced — the revenue opportunity around closing the consumption gap between men and women — all of those billions felt like such a massive opportunity and a big revelation.

This research also taught me the importance of calibrating how much change you can expect and giving credit to one percentage point changes. Every incremental change can end up being substantive. I would love to see news organizations and individuals decide, “what is a one-point change that our organization can do to improve the situation,” and set up incremental goals.

RA: I would love it if the industry reframed how it thinks about gender and race inequity.  Among white male leaders, when gender and race diversity come up, they frame it as a problem. It would be great if they could start seeing it as an opportunity.

Yes, it’s right because you want to serve your audiences, but also it might help save your business. Revenue has declined significantly in some countries. Women audiences and women within the organization might be a lifeline thanks to their ability to connect with audiences in a relevant way.