Chicken Little Amok on the Business Pages

Are men really "disappearing" from TV news?

The business section of today's Star Tribune bemoans the supposed disappearance of the male TV news anchor, and declares women, who hold 57 percent of non-network anchor jobs, "in the driver's seat."

The number of male news anchors started to decline 10 years ago and is now at an all-time low. Men account for fewer than 43 percent of anchor jobs, compared with 46 percent in 1996, according to the RTNDA survey. Women also outnumber men as executive producers, reporters, news producers and writers, the survey found.

Where to even start with what's wrong with this....

How many decades has it been since statistics showing that men comprise a majority of anything has been news? And since when does holding 43 percent of a category of jobs make anybody endangered? Forty-three percent is almost half. Is it even statistically relevant?

More missing-but-crucial context: With the exception of main newscast anchors in large markets, most of the jobs cited in this story are relatively low-wage. (There's a term for it, guys: The pink-collar ghetto.) How many news directors are men? The very same Ball State professor quoted in this story decrying the wane of the male anchor probably knows. In 2002, he wrote about a 2 percent increase in their ranks--to 26 percent. A 2 percent increase--Baby, we really have come a long way. In the same survey, published by the Radio Television News Directors Association, he reports that women hold less than 39 percent of TV newsroom jobs.

And if we're in the driver's seat, how come the substance of the 10 o'clock news is still dominated by women with pesky domestic conundrums and men with serious commentary on the major policies of our era?

Here's what I think. I think editors love stories about endangered men. "Endangered women? A batch of shrews harping on stuff we covered back in the 70s and 80s, thank you. But endangered men? Now that's counterintuitive and sexy." I'll bet you can reel off a list of a dozen such "epidemics" with your eyes closed, without even having to resurrect the angry white man of the '90s: There are our endangered school-age boys, the supposed anti-dad bias of the family court system, male victims of sex harassment and of "reverse discrimination, falling sperm counts, crazy sports dads, "bigorexia," the wrestlers and sundry other male athletes endangered by Title IX, and the latest, boys as hapless victims of more sexually aggressive teen girls.

Or last month's little adventure in dubious reporting of statistics, news from the U.S. Census Bureau that the wage gap is falling. The bean counters at the U.S. Department of Labor actually bragged that the gap between what men and women earn is lower than ever on record, with women bringing home 77 cents to every male dollar. Set aside for a second the notion that this means that in my 25 years in the workforce we've advanced a nickel and consider the D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute's parsing of the numbers, which reveals that the gap is shrinking because pay for men is shrinking.

Following current earnings trends, the Figure projects what more "good news" of this sort would bring in the decades ahead. It turns out the gender gap would completely close in 2024, when earnings for full-time, full-year workers would be just under $25,000—40% below today’s level for men and 22% for women.

Even if the Strib's anchor story numbers are meaningful, they speak volumes about more impressive numbers that aren't news. To wit: 86 percent of congressional seats are held by men, but have you tried to sell a mainstream U.S. newsroom lately on a story about women's underrepresentation in Congress? And you thought the Unibomber was treated like a freak.

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