Canadian Lisa Kassenaar, editor of global women’s coverage, explains how the news agency prioritizes women’s voices.

By Zoe McKnight

When a memo surfaced last fall from Bloomberg’s then-editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler to all staff requiring at least one woman’s voice be present in all feature stories and projects, it made few waves.

But it was only the latest in a series of shifts undertaken by the news service since 2010, when senior editor Lisa Kassenaar took on the role of Bloomberg’s editor at large, global women’s coverage.

“We’ve really have altered our news coverage in the last four years quietly to evolve into seeing global economics, business and finance through the lens of a more gender-neutral world than we were doing before,” the Winnipeg-born, New York-based Kassenaar told J-Source.

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Though the changes were made without much fanfare, the project has “become part of the ethos of this news organization,” she said.

It had become apparent during and after the extensive coverage of the 2008 financial crisis that women were largely absent from finance and market stories. But rather than the type of dedicated “women’s” coverage such as the Female Factor in the International Herald Tribune or She the People in the Washington Post, Bloomberg wanted reporters to reconsider how they gathered news and find a better balance between men’s and women’s perspectives.

In a November memo, Winkler said all feature stories must include at least one woman’s voice. (Breaking news is exempt and there’s no “draconian” enforcement, says Kassenaar.)

Reporters have been asked since 2010 to find out “where the women are” in the beats they cover and expand how they think about the global economy, Kassenaar said. That’s done by using more women as sources and voices in stories—an internal contact list of 1,100 female leaders and experts was created—and to find the most influential women related to the beat and write about them.

That directive helped Bloomberg break the news that Mary Barra was appointed to chief executive of General Motors because reporter Tim Higgins had already written a profile on her as the most senior woman in the company.

“In all kinds of ways, if you follow the women, you actually end up also providing this incredible benefit to the entire process of good journalism,” said Kassenaar.

The Bloomberg News wire produces 5,000 stories a day across 140 bureaus in 70 countries, Kassenaar said, adding “thousands” of stories since 2010 have been produced as a direct result of the women’s project.

The initiative also meant Bloomberg took a look at the number of news decision-makers and over four years, tripled the number of female editorial “team leaders” in the Americas, which was a deliberate move by senior management, Kassenaar said. That, in turn, shapes the way stories are covered, such as the Broken Pledges series that examined fraternity culture in the U.S., she said.

“These aren’t women’s issues and these aren’t women’s stories. They’re just stories that incorporate women as half the people.”

In recent years, increased readership among women has been linked to the inclusion of women’s perspectives in the news, said Shari Graydon, of Ottawa, who runs the Informed Opinions Project of Media Action Média, a national organization promoting gender equity in media.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, social justice is not such a high priority for businesses, but speaking to and retaining their audiences obviously is,” she said.

Graydon was not aware of any other mainstream news organization in Canada besides Bloomberg that explicitly mandates greater inclusion of women. Through Informed Opinions, Graydon has trained hundreds of female experts on how to get published in the male-dominated opinion pages.

Between 2010, when the project launched, and 2013, the number of female op-ed contributors published in The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen and Toronto Star has increased from 11 per cent to 22 per cent, according to the organization’s research.

Western University professor Romayne Smith-Fullerton, who teaches in the faculty of information and media studies, said exclusion of women’s voices remains problematic even if not deliberate. Reporters on deadline likely seek comment from tried-and-true sources, and women are still not equally represented in positions of power in government and business.

Family and other responsibilities outside work may also lead women to decline interview requests more often than men, Smith-Fullerton said.

“I think Bloomberg’s memo is brave and it’s definitely going in the right direction, by asking reporters to go the extra mile,” she said, adding more balanced reporting will attract more readers, who are more likely to engage if they see themselves reflected in stories.