Sunday, August 29, 2010

All The Men That's Fit To Print: So Far This August, NYT Has Published 76 Obituaries -- 70 Men And 6 Women.

Still upset about that lack of gender equality in book reviews?

Consider this more frightening and fundamental imbalance: so far in the month of August, the NYT has published 78 obituaries. And only six of them were for women.

And for the year 2010 to date, the NYT has chronicled the deaths of 606 men, and only 92 women.

Bear in mind that the population of women in the U.S. exceeds that of men, and is nearly neck and neck worldwide.

This disparity in coverage has gone on for years, virtually unnoticed in a society that decades ago granted full equality to women, and has seen huge strides in the prominence of women in virtually all fields of endeavor.

And not only does it show no signs of getting better -- it's actually getting worse.

In a September 2006 "Talk To The Newsroom" interview, NYT obituaries editor Bill McDonald (pictured above) was asked about the lack of what a concerned reader referred to as "gender parity" in the section. His stunning response somehow slipped by unnoticed.

"Ask me in another generation," McDonald replied. "Really. The people whose obits are appearing in our pages now largely shaped the world of the 1940's, 50's and 60's, and the movers and shakers in those eras were predominantly white men."

Seriously? We were so struck by the seeming ludicrousness of that statement that we devoted several hours to a painstaking count of NYT obituaries in 1990. That's two decades ago, long enough in the past that the supposed disparity noted by McDonald should have been even more pronounced. Right?

Wrong. What we found was a disparity between men and women nearly identical to the extraordinary current gender split.

Of 691 NYT obituaries published in 1990, only 92 of them were of women -- almost exactly replicating the 2010 numbers.

So what's going on? Are the world's prominent women -- the ones deserving of NYT obituaries -- simply living forever? In the last two decades, has there been zero growth in the number of notable women who've died? Does it stand to reason that no more women have worked their way into the limelight in the last twenty years than in the previous twenty?

No, no, and no. In fact, what the numbers make plain is that the NYT still makes no significant effort to ferret out the stories of important women's lives, from unconventional sources -- and instead fills its columns with only the most obvious candidates for coverage.

Obituaries go first and foremost to the famous: we accept that, and acknowledge McDonald's point that we still live in a society dominated by a predominantly male power structure. We recognize that for all the advances that have been made by women, the world still too often rewards men with media attention, and denies women the spotlight they deserve. As McDonald went on to say:

Those generations of white men are now passing from the scene; hence you're seeing a disproportionate number of them. In a generation or less, I suspect that the Obits pages (no doubt entirely digital by then) will be filled with stories of women and members of minorities who made contributions at a time when the world finally allowed them to.

But as the gold standard of American journalism, it should fall to the NYT to aggressively find and chronicle the lives of women who deserve attention in the obituary column right now -- women whose rich lives and notable achievements warrant the honor of recognition when they die.

Is there no female equivalent to the man who invented the Cheeto? Or the man who designed the Greek coffee cup? Those are but two of the dozens of obituaries in the last year commemorating men who weren't particularly famous, but whose achievements earned them attention on the NYT obits page.

"To me," McDonald said in the 2006 interview, "the Obit page is not a reflection of the times in which we live. It's a mirror on a past that is slipping away."

That's simply not true. But if you doubt us, look at the NYT Magazine's well-executed annual "The Lives They Lived" issue, which brilliantly shapes its essays around the present, not the past. In its 2009 edition, eight out of 23 subjects were women -- more than three times the gender ratio of the NYT obits page.

It's time for McDonald to stop making excuses for his failures, and to withdraw his sweeping and false assessments of recent history. He must immediately direct his staff (we count eight regular contributors) to seek out more stories of noteworthy women's lives, ones that will give his page a desperately needed balance -- and more accurately reflect the contribution women have made to society in the last fifty years.


Bella Stander said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bella Stander said...

You only just noticed? It's not just the NYT; the Washington Post has overwhelmingly male obits. (And book reviews too. Hmmm...maybe there's a connection?) I observed years ago, when I was a daily WaPo reader, how remarkably few women died.

Anonymous said...

Women are too busy to die.

Roberto said...

A couple of days ago a friend sent me an obit from this week's Times: Jack Pitney, "a rising star at BMW of North America" who "led the wildly successful introduction of BMW’s updated Mini Cooper into the American market in 2002".

My friend wrote: "Really? A Times obit?"

Probably knew people at the Times, I replied.

No offense to Mr. Pitney's family and friends.

Anonymous said...

Such a head on directive is not going to be an appropriate management style� If you want McDonald to quit omitting dead women and ignoring women's newsworthy contributions, as I suspect others do too, it's better to employ more exploitative fear-mongering tactics aimed at challenging typical technocratic prejudice.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that when a noteworthy woman dies and get no coverage in the Times' obit page, that both the obit department AND the public editor be notified. Mr. Pitney of the MiniCooper seems to have gotten his obit because he died young. From a "marketing" POV, people will read an obit of a young person (47 is young for dropping dead) just to find out why he or she died so young.

Anonymous said...

Why stop at dead people? Count the bylines on any given day - they are heavily skewed to men. (Monday rough count: 80-25.) Op-ed page? Nine men, two women. Oh, and the four Public Editors? All men. That ratio is called infinite.

Your Penis Is not a Gun said...

McDonald's point is that his generation has to die off before his distorted reality can be replaced by externally real reality. But it's of better service to civilization if his kind, those of any generation who have an ax to grind regarding women, are choked off.

Problem is those who can do that the quickest, ie. his employer(s) are his kind.

Anonymous said...

btw, is 92 cq for both 1990 and 2010 to date?

Anonymous said...

Several years I suggested an obit for Coleen Gragon, the pioneer of the women's self-defense/martial arts movement in the US which ws born in the 70s. She was also one of the highest ranking women martial artists in this country, and the only who achieved the rank of "professor" in the very male lineage of Kajukenbo.

Of course, she wasn't important enough to be noted...

Anonymous said...



All The Men That's Fit To Print: So Far This August, NYT Has Published 76 Obituaries -- 70 Men And 6 Women.

[S]o far in the month of August, the NYT has published 78 obituaries. And only six of them were for women.

in all fairness, this is an easy typo to make when crunching numbers. it could've happened to anyone.

Anonymous said...

So someone suggested an obituary of one of the highest-ranking woman in martial arts world. Is this notable? Certainly. But is it notable because she's good at martial arts or is it notable because she's a woman? I think it's clearly the second because the newspaper isn't going to run obits about the men who were roughly as good as she happened to be.

(Obligatory, defensive liberal guilt sentence about she could kick my ass. Hah Hah. Back to the story.)

So women, you can't have it both ways. If you want affirmative action and insist that 50% of the obits be female, I'm going to start blipping over them completely once I see a female name. It will be clear that the women were only included because they were the first woman to pick a lock or play high school football as a place kicker or do something else that men routinely do with little fanfare.

But if you want the women to be included who are truly notable, well, you'll have to settle for the fact that even today most women consider raising a family to be the most important thing in their lives. While this is ultimately more important than designing a paper coffee cup, it's not really newsworthy. Don't take this the wrong way. Breathing is incredibly important, but it's not newsworthy when someone does it.

I'm pretty sure this is not how heaven works:

Anonymous said...

Not to be ghoulish, but, okay, let's have 'em. Who are the women whose obits the Times didn't cover? The female martial artist deserved mention for being the first woman -- that IS a notable achievement because there is almost certainly an aspect of sex-as-destiny involved OR she was the first woman because of enormous accomplishment on her part.

Which women has the obit page left out?

Anonymous said...

Males on average have a higher metabolic rate, so for longterm slow poisoning other toxins are used.
But seriously, what's changing is the very precise correction to the negation of female contribution.

So whereas to dick, or bill, or whichever buffoon is willing to risk defining a newsworthy dead woman as the first to achieve x in male-valued sector y, their future replacement, I'd bet on it, and bet against doubters, and bet against expression of doubt, anyway, like I was saying men accumulate body fat differently on average. It's worth individualizing the data for tailored treat.

FTP said...

How heaven works is sure not this pretty.

Pipi Bedwetter said...

I wonder if they correct the causes of death to represent population statistics, to make it look natural.

Anonymous said...

The 2 left out of his title count would be 2 dead men.

Ha ha

Anonymous said...

He's clear saying that comment to piss women off. Typical jerk. Here's a million, offer him a buyout so he can exit gracefully and eventually die an inevitable death.

Anonymous said...

You're often on the money, Mr. or Ms. Nytpicker, but this posting is chickenpoo.

Bill MacD. is completely right.

I agree with Anonymous of 9:16 a.m. Aug. 31. Let's see some suggestions of women who should have been in the NYT obits but were not.

Anonymous said...

Dicks come in all sizes, If they're still keeping such a large one employed, it means they are committed to stalling progress, and they're signalling to emancipated women that they have no allies in the NYT's upper ranks.

Wonder how easy it'd be for them to lose advertisers.

Anonymous said...

Sad thing is the women writers who deal with major social issues that are deemed feminine, are super bigots. Wonder how they got that way, and if their husbands' affairs are surfaced maybe they'll improve.

Anonymous said...

Read the entire Q&A, it's a lengthy weigh-in on this gross SOB's reported jerktime fantasies, electronic and otherwise. To profile without having to verify by snooping remotely on his computer terminal. But might easily qualify for a warranted raid, and Oh ya, little chicken shit, don't stop that lovefest of a PR nightmare. Whatever, the way they treat their wives after a good session of illegal pornographic consumption speaks volumes on its own.

Show me what a motherfucker looks like. said...

His point is that women's importance must not be allowed to be verbalized. It's a fine line and he is part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

excellent article. your point is well taken, but i'm unclear on the math.

you say the 2009 edition of the times magazine has "more than three times the gender ratio of the NYT obits page."

but i get 1:3 (or 35%) for the magazine, 1:13 (or 7.7%) for august 2010 to date, 1:7 (or 15%) for all of 2010 to date, and 1:8 (or 13%) for 1990.

if i'm not mistaken, that gives the magazine four times the gender ratio to august, two times the gender ratio to 2010 to date and nearly three times the gender ratio to 1990.

there are a couple of other problems too, tho: you're comparing (a) 2009 to either a single month (august) or an entirely different year (2010 or 1990) and (b) cherry-picked obits in the magazine to presumably less extensively cherry-picked obits in the paper.

but (as i said before) your point's well taken. there definitely seems to be a disparity. excellent article.

Anonymous said...

2009 edition of nyt magazine
23 / 8 = 2.87500 = 1:3 ratio
8 / 23 = 0.347826087 = 34.8%

august to date
78 / 6 = 13 = 1:13 ratio
6 / 78 = 0.0769230769 = 7.7%

2010 to date
606 / 92 = 6.58695652 = 1:7 ratio
92 / 606 = 0.151815182 = 15.2%

691 / 92 = 7.51086957 = 1:8 ratio
92 / 691 = 0.133140376 = 13.3%

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but to be the first woman to do something in a male dominated world is notable and warrants recognition in the obits of the NYTimes BECAUSE she is a woman doing it. I would guess that you would not argue against Jackie Robinson's obit running even though he is most famous for crossing the color line in major league baseball. So for example, when she dies I will expect to see an obit for Muriel Siebert as the first woman to purchase a seat on the NY Stock Exchange despite men holding ranks against her -- nine out of the first ten men she asked to sponsor her refused. And yes, breaking the gender barrier in that world is as notable as Robinson's achievement. This does not mitigate the need for affimrative action because as we know, tokenism will still abound even after someone makes the first step. In the case of the Exchange, it was over ten years before another woman was able to match her achievement; the men weren't making it any easier.

Bloke Skinner said...

He wasn't an editor in 1990.

Beside, that kind of public comment, is a firing offense in any respectable corporation, except a place that underestimates personal finance and personal health.

Lisa T. said...

The Times is a family newspaper. Families revolve around subservience to the male figurehead, who likes to squirt his own cum in the kids cereal bowl in the morning and feed it to his kids for extra protein, with Mrs. or Ms. preferably wallflower. So NYT is doing its share of honoring the Taliban.

Anonymous said...

This is a systemic issue, why gang up on
one lowly dude who sounds like a perv and a sexist pig cause he was hazy& thought he ought to give signals of phallic jouissance (meanwhile making a fool of himself). Keep him and fire Janet Robinson for trying to be a profiteering corporatist.

Anonymous said...


my math for the ratios was slightly off (tho the percentages are still correct). i didn't take the women out of the total number of obits when calculating the number of women to men.

here's the corrected tally.

i get 1:2 for the magazine, 1:12 for august 2010 to date, 1:6 for all of 2010 to date, and 1:7 for 1990.

if i'm not mistaken, that gives the magazine six times the gender ratio to august, three times the gender ratio to 2010 to date and more than three times the gender ratio to 1990.

my apologies. "we regret the error." ;)

2009 ratio of nyt magazine
(23 - 8) / 8 = 1.87500 = 1:2 ratio

august to date
(76 - 6) / 6 = 11.6666667 = 1:12 ratio
(78 - 6) / 6 = 12 = 1:12 ratio

2010 to date
(606 - 92) / 92 = 5.58695652 = 1:6 ratio

(691 - 92) / 92 = 6.51086957 = 1:7 ratio

Anonymous said...

let me try this one more time..

my initial ratio re. 2010 was correct--it's 1:7 rather than 1:6--tho that doesn't change the magazine's gender ratio to that year.

the language for that year's obits was slightly different, already separating the men from women.

2010 to date
606 / 92 = 6.58695652 = 1:7 ratio

Anonymous said...

Here's one way to put,

"Times are tight and people are still dying, and the NYTCO can't afford to wait for seven men to hit the hay for one bitch, as it might miss out on the death of that special young lady or that especially large bovine withered authoritative old hag" please let us buy back your contract, and you'll have all day and all night our sexologists are standing by to jerk u dry

Anonymous said...

This obsession with counting bylines and subjects makes me wonder whether they should be applied to other parts of the paper. While I'm not ready to waste an afternoon counting like some people, I'm guessing that:

* Most of the fashion articles are about clothes for women. While there are some occasional sops to men, they're usually aimed at feminine men. Where are the articles for men who aren't metrosexuals?

* The health section seems filled with female bylines and female-centric coverage is common. I'm guessing the breast cancer coverage is probably three to four times greater than prostate cancer.

* Small business coverage seems to skew female. The stories about plucky startups that have no chance of growing like Google or others are usually about women who raised money by getting their husband/father to pay the freight.

Are NYTPicker and others ready to push for 50/50 quotas in every section?

Anonymous said...

The last anonymous makes an interesting point. I'm wondering about errors. And by errors, I mean the errors that are first order. You misspell the name of a street? Okay, not good, but still, it's not the end of the world. But what about the articles (like John Burns recent pile of steaming blog bullshit about how no one could have foreseen that the Iraq War would be such a disaster) where the whole concept of the piece is in error? The sort of articles that aren't disagreements of politics or personal tastes but simply nonsense? My suspicion is that it's just about 50/50 between the genders.

Anonymous said...

He's another of the crop whose brain function is overwhelmed by their dicks. The problem with rigid quotas is they discriminate against intelligence.

Anonymous said...

The call for the Style section to include 50% stories for men made me laugh this morning. This piece about "male cosmetics" is probably what the Style section editors think will fulfill their quota. Hah.

How about some style stories about NASCAR or hunting or something that real men do.

Anonymous said...

@1:37 It's true, they might better afford the space for intelligent men's styles if put out some obnoxious and crowd tranquilizing bits about Real men who daily tie a noose around their neck to hang as a dog leash and nightly doze off to toys racing toys in circles.

Anonymous said...

This posting would benefit from less math and more EXAMPLES. Please find 10 women who died this year whose obits were notable yet excluded from the NYT. This is pretty much the basic question any good editor would ask.

Anonymous said...

I hate to read the wording in an accident report, "John Smith, his wife, and three children" were injured. I wish they would say, "Mary and John Smith and their children" were injured.

Anonymous said...

To 9:00, here's one omitted woman who would've counted for 10: Baroness Daphne Park of Monmouth.

Anonymous said...

Wash Post for the past five years has consistently had a gender ratio in its obits of one woman to every three men. They wrote about it in their obits blog, PostMortem.

Jared said...

The New York Times charges a lot of money for their obituaries/death notices. Most families will not pay the ridiculous amount of money for the notice to run. I think it crazy to assume there is a gender bias with the paper. Get over it.

Hiram Nuttleberg said...

Good article but I think it contains a logical gap... You state:

"That's two decades ago, long enough in the past that the supposed disparity noted by McDonald should have been even more pronounced"

This assumption appears to put words in Mr. McDonald's mouth. He says nothing about the rate of change. He does not imply that this shift has been gradual or linear. On the contrary, he seems to state that the shift in perceptions has been generational, meaning that it would be unsurprising to see these things move as a step function.

It would be perfectly consistent with Mr. Mcdonald's statement to suggest that the ~6:1 ratio you identify had been relatively constant for many decades previously, and is only now beginning to correct. This seems to be a fair statement.