If you ask ‘Why don’t women and minorities read about politics?’, you’re asking the wrong question

By Megan Carpentier
Friday, April 6, 2012 15:53 EDT
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The following is an argument for diversity in media. If you think diversity is some sort of bullshit, PC-buzzword-y affirmative-action-in-disguise way to keep the white man down, stop reading here and skip to the comments and complain about how difficult your life is and how the feminazis have ruined society and things were easier before all us women and minorities had the audacity to think ourselves your equals and leave the grown-up talk to those who can handle it.

Don’t like being condescended to? Now you know how we feel. And that, actually, is perhaps more to the point.

Many political websites have the same complaint if they are viewing their reader stats: where are all the women and minorities? Because whether it’s Talking Points Memo (where I used to work) or Daily Kos or ThinkProgress or Salon, the male readers outnumber the women — by a lot, in some cases. Raw Story isn’t much better, I have to admit, but we’re working on it, like most of these sites. And, when it comes to attracting readers of color, most of us aren’t doing much better.

But too often, sites look at those statistics and reach for the easy answer: women and minorities just aren’t interested in politics. Well, if the sudden surge in women getting vocal about reproductive rights — or the women in the Occupy Movement, or the women at the rallies for Trayvon Martin, or in the immigrants rights movement, or even in the conservative movement — are any indication, that’s far from true. And certainly, voter turnout statistics from the 2008 and 2010 elections show that nowadays, women are actually more likely than men to vote. (And those are just the statistics for all women. African-Americans voted at a higher rate than whites in 2008, and only at a slightly lower rate than whites in 2010.)

So, what gives? Reader statistics offer some obvious clues. Salon, who has the best male-to-female reader ratio of the above list, is well-known for publishing women on political topics (and used have its own section for women, called Broadsheet). Firedoglake, founded and run by Jane Hamsher (and which hosts Lisa Derrick’s “La Figa” and Pam Spaulding’s “Pam’s House Blend” alongside 2 male-helmed blogs) has the reverse ratio — 60-40 women-to-men — of many similarly-situated liberal sites. And it goes without saying that TheGrio, which calls itself “the first video-centric news community site devoted to providing African Americans with stories and perspectives that appeal to them but are underrepresented in existing national news outlets,” has a heavily African-American readership.

In other words, it’s not that women and minorities aren’t interested in politics or political news. It’s that they aren’t interested in the political news served up by even the biggest liberal outlets — which skew heavily white and heavily male, like their mainstream counterparts. And when women and minorities are flocking to sites like Jezebel (where I covered the 2008 Presidential elections) and TheGrio for their political news, and women- and minority-voice blogs for their political coverage and punditry, it demonstrates not that those readers don’t care, but that they don’t care about the same things, or in the same ways, as the white male readers that generally flock to political news sites — and that the existing coverage isn’t serving their needs, or is even talking down to them.

And here’s where that pesky diversity thing comes in. News coverage is subjective — what some people think is news other people think is not, and vice versa. The mainstream media didn’t consider Trayvon Martin’s killing news until it was a full-fledged controversy and a conversation among white people, though plenty of African-Americans (reporters and otherwise) were damn certain it was from the get-go. The war on women’s reproductive rights that’s been going on for years wasn’t big political news until the state across the river from the nation’s Capitol was about to mandate medical penetration for all women seeking abortion — even though women in the state of Texas getting transvaginal ultrasounds now probably would have thought it important to know last year. And in the eighties, even as AIDS was killing scores of gay men, the mainstream media didn’t consider it newsworthy enough to rate.

Reporters and editors and even opinionators make decisions about what is “news” from their own individual experiences, and even those with the best intentions and all the mindfulness in the world of racial and social justice aren’t going to key to the importance of every story outside their own experience right away. And if there’s no other reporter or editor to say, “Hey, actually, I think this thing is news and is important,” then it’s going to not get the attention it might legitimately deserve — or at least the attention that would attract women and minority readers.

Diversity isn’t a buzzword — it’s a growth mechanism without which political sites are going to stagnate. That is to say: once you’ve cornered all the white dudes in the world, where are you going to go next, and is someone else going to have snapped up that audience and their loyalty first? At Raw Story especially, where we see it as our responsibility to provide news to our audience that other mainstream organizations often ignore, we are not only uninterested in singing with the choir, we’re making an effort to sing to more than just the same audience.

(Oh, and, hey, check out our latest blog addition, Angry Black Lady.)

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Megan Carpentier
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
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