Why is Media Criticism Dominated by White Men?

Yesterday, D.C.-based journalist Shani Hilton wondered in the Washington City Paper: “Where are the women and non-white media critics?” Her quick brainstorm of those who’ve achieved prominence included The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz, NYU’s Jay Rosen, Reuter’s Jack Shafer, and The New York Times’ David Carr. They all seem to confirm that media criticism is a white-male dominated world.

In it, she quotes Andrew Beaujon, “the new Romensko,” whose theory is that media criticism “is fundamentally an alt-weekly pursuit, and alt-weeklies’ DNA is heavily white and male.” His working theory about the white and male alt-weekly is that “working at such places gives white males such as myself a chance to feel like an underdog for once in our lives.”

Certainly, alt-weeklies are predominately white and male, as is journalism itself—but that fails to take into consideration other venues of media criticism. One may think of The Atlantic’s Megan Garber or FAIR’s Janine Jackson. A commenter pointed out the work of Michele McLellan and Amy Gahran at the Knight Digital Media Center. Nonetheless, is the shortage of women and minorities in media criticism really a cause for wonder?

Though there are no demographic surveys of media critics themselves, a look at the demographics of journalists may be instructive. The most encompassing demographics are from the American Journalist project by professors David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit of Indiana University. They surveyed journalists in 1982, 1992 and 2002 to see how the demographics had changed over two decades, and chronicled their findings most recently in The American Journalist in the 21st Century. Though the industry remained dominated by white men, women and minorities made some modest gains. They make up a large part of young and entry-level positions, but their numbers decline after five years. More women graduated from journalism and mass communication programs than men in 2002, but an increasing percentage of them planned careers in PR and advertising rather than news.

I would infer that these demographics would be reflected in other subdivisions of journalism, say media criticism or investigative reporting. And they are not just limited to the journalism industry. Plenty of industries be they government, venture capital, or film are dominated by white men with women and minorities seeing modest gains in recent years. This is no reflection of media criticism or alt-weeklies, but one of our institutions’ slow march to catch up to changing attitudes.