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The Gender Gap Tracker: Using Natural Language Processing to measure gender bias in media

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We examine gender bias in media by tallying the number of men and women quoted in news text, using the Gender Gap Tracker, a software system we developed specifically for this purpose. The Gender Gap Tracker downloads and analyzes the online daily publication of seven English-language Canadian news outlets and enhances the data with multiple layers of linguistic information. We describe the Natural Language Processing technology behind this system, the curation of off-the-shelf tools and resources that we used to build it, and the parts that we developed. We evaluate the system in each language processing task and report errors using real-world examples. Finally, by applying the Tracker to the data, we provide valuable insights about the proportion of people mentioned and quoted, by gender, news organization, and author gender. Data collected between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2020 shows that, in general, men are quoted about three times as frequently as women. While this proportion varies across news outlets and time intervals, the general pattern is consistent. We believe that, in a world with about 50% women, this should not be the case. Although journalists naturally need to quote newsmakers who are men, they also have a certain amount of control over who they approach as sources. The Gender Gap Tracker relies on the same principles as fitness or goal-setting trackers: By quantifying and measuring regular progress, we hope to motivate news organizations to provide a more diverse set of voices in their reporting.
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
The Gender Gap Tracker: Using Natural
Language Processing to measure gender bias
in media
Fatemeh Torabi AsrID
1
, Mohammad Mazraeh
1
, Alexandre LopesID
2
,
Vasundhara GautamID
1
, Junette Gonzales
1
, Prashanth RaoID
1
, Maite TaboadaID
1
*
1Discourse Processing Lab, Department of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada,
2Research Computing Group, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
*mtaboada@sfu.ca
Abstract
We examine gender bias in media by tallying the number of men and women quoted in
news text, using the Gender Gap Tracker, a software system we developed specifically for
this purpose. The Gender Gap Tracker downloads and analyzes the online daily publication
of seven English-language Canadian news outlets and enhances the data with multiple lay-
ers of linguistic information. We describe the Natural Language Processing technology
behind this system, the curation of off-the-shelf tools and resources that we used to build it,
and the parts that we developed. We evaluate the system in each language processing task
and report errors using real-world examples. Finally, by applying the Tracker to the data, we
provide valuable insights about the proportion of people mentioned and quoted, by gender,
news organization, and author gender. Data collected between October 1, 2018 and Sep-
tember 30, 2020 shows that, in general, men are quoted about three times as frequently as
women. While this proportion varies across news outlets and time intervals, the general pat-
tern is consistent. We believe that, in a world with about 50% women, this should not be the
case. Although journalists naturally need to quote newsmakers who are men, they also
have a certain amount of control over who they approach as sources. The Gender Gap
Tracker relies on the same principles as fitness or goal-setting trackers: By quantifying and
measuring regular progress, we hope to motivate news organizations to provide a more
diverse set of voices in their reporting.
Introduction: The Gender Gap in media and in society
Women’s voices are disproportionately underrepresented in media stories. The Global News
Monitoring Project has been tracking the percentage of women represented in mainstream
media since 1995, when it was 17%. Twenty years later, in 2015, it had increased to only 24%,
with a worrisome stalling in the previous decade [1]. At this rate, it would take more than 70
years to see 50% women in the media, a true reflection of their representation in society.
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OPEN ACCESS
Citation: Asr FT, Mazraeh M, Lopes A, Gautam V,
Gonzales J, Rao P, et al. (2021) The Gender Gap
Tracker: Using Natural Language Processing to
measure gender bias in media. PLoS ONE 16(1):
e0245533. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.
pone.0245533
Editor: Andrew Kehler, University of California, San
Diego, UNITED STATES
Received: August 1, 2020
Accepted: January 2, 2021
Published: January 29, 2021
Peer Review History: PLOS recognizes the
benefits of transparency in the peer review
process; therefore, we enable the publication of
all of the content of peer review and author
responses alongside final, published articles. The
editorial history of this article is available here:
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245533
Copyright: ©2021 Asr et al. This is an open access
article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original author and
source are credited.
Data Availability Statement: The data was
downloaded from public and subscription websites
of newspapers, under the ‘fair dealing’ provision in
Canada’s Copyright Act. This means that the data
The underrepresentation of women is pervasive in most areas of society, from elected repre-
sentatives [25] and executives [3,6,7] to presidents and faculty in universities [5,8,9].
Women are also underrepresented in political discussion groups [10]. It is, therefore, not
entirely surprising that news stories mostly discuss and quote men: Many news stories discuss
politicians and business executives, drawing on expert opinion from university professors to
do so. Perversely, in many stories where women are overrepresented, it is because they are por-
trayed as having little or no agency, as in the case of victims of violence [1114] or politician’s
spouses [15]. During international gatherings like G7/G8 or G20 summits, a set of stories
often discuss the parallel meetings of spouses with a focus on their attire, and humorously
commenting on cases when the lone man joins activities clearly planned for wives only [16,
17]. Countless studies have pointed out how the representation of women in media is different;
e.g., [1824]. In our project, we first tackle the question of how much of a difference there is in
the representation of women; cf. [25].
Not a great deal of progress seems to have been made since Susan Miller found, in 1975,
that photos of men outnumbered photos of women by three to one in the pages of the Wash-
ington Post, and by two to one in the Los Angeles Times. Among the more than 3,600 photos
that Miller studied, women outnumbered men only in the lifestyle section of the two papers
[26].
Most previous studies of gender representation in media have performed manual analyses
to investigate the gap. Informed Opinions, our partner organization in this project, carried out
a study in 2016, analyzing 1,467 stories and broadcast segments in Canadian media between
October and December 2015, to find that women were quoted only 29% of the time [27]. The
work was laborious and intensive. Similarly, the enormous effort of the Global News Monitor-
ing Project is only possible thanks to countless volunteers in 110 countries and many profes-
sional associations and unions around the globe. Thus, it only takes place every five years. Shor
et al.’s [24] study of a historical sample of names in 13 US newspapers from 1983 to 2008
found that the ratio went only from 5:1 in 1983 to 3:1 by the end of the period. It seems to be
stubbornly stuck at that level. A recent analysis of news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic
[28] used a mix of manual and automatic methods and found that men were quoted between
three and five times more often than women in the news media of six different countries.
The causes and solutions to the underrepresentation of women in society in general and in
news articles in particular are too complex to discuss in this paper (but see [2933]). We focus
here on the first step in any attempt at change: an accurate characterization of the current situ-
ation. Just like a step tracker can motivate users to increase their physical activity, we believe
that the Gender Gap Tracker can motivate news organizations to bring about change in areas
they have control over. It is obvious that, if a news story requires a quote from the Prime Min-
ister or a company’s president, the journalist does not have a choice about the gender of those
quoted. Journalists, however, do have control over other types of sources, such as experts, wit-
nesses, or individuals with contrasting viewpoints.
Indeed, when journalists keep track of their sources and strive to be more inclusive, both
anecdotal and large-scale evidence show that parity is, in fact, possible. Ed Yong, staff writer
for The Atlantic who covers science news, reported that keeping track of his sources was the
simple solution to ensure gender parity in his articles [34]. Ben Bartenstein, who covers finan-
cial news for Bloomberg, improved the gender ratio in his sources by keeping lists of qualified
women and tracking the sources in his stories [35]. The BBC’s 50:50 project (https://www.bbc.
co.uk/5050) also uses strategic data collection and measurement to achieve 50% women con-
tributing to BBC programs and content.
It is with this goal in mind—of motivating news organizations to improve the ratio of peo-
ple they quote—that the Gender Gap Tracker was born. The Gender Gap Tracker is a
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can be made available only for private study and/or
research purposes, and not for commercial
purposes. As such, the data will be made available
upon request and after signing a license
agreement. Contact for data access: Maite Taboada
(mtaboada@sfu.ca) or Carla Graebner, Data
Librarian at Simon Fraser University (data-
services@sfu.ca). The code is available on GitHub
under a GNU General Public License (v3.0). The
authors of this paper are the creators of the code
and own the copyright to it: https://github.com/sfu-
discourse-lab/GenderGapTracker A light-weight
version of the NLP module is also made available
for processing one 804 article at a time: https://
gendergaptracker.research.sfu.ca/apps/
textanalyzer.
Funding: We are grateful for funding and in-kind
contributions from the following units at Simon
Fraser University: the Big Data Initiative; the Office
of the Vice-President, Research & International;
and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Social
Sciences. Funding was provided by grants to M.
Taboada from the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council (Insight Grant 435-2014-0171)
and the Natural Sciences and Engineering
Research Council of Canada (Discovery Grant
261104).
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
collaboration between Informed Opinions (https://informedopinions.org), a non-profit orga-
nization dedicated to amplifying women’s voices in media, and Simon Fraser University,
through the Discourse Processing Lab (http://www.sfu.ca/discourse-lab) and the Big Data Ini-
tiative (https://www.sfu.ca/big-data).
We harness the power of large-scale text processing and big data storage to collect news sto-
ries daily, perform Natural Language Processing (NLP) to identify who is mentioned and who
is quoted by gender, and show the results on a public dashboard that is updated every 24 hours
(https://gendergaptracker.informedopinions.org). The Tracker monitors mainstream Cana-
dian media, seven English-language news sites (a French Tracker is in development), motivat-
ing them to improve the current disparity. By openly displaying ratios and raw numbers for
each outlet, we can monitor the progress of each news organization towards gender parity in
their sources. Fig 1 shows a screenshot of the live page. In addition to the bar charts for each
organization and the doughnut chart for aggregate values, the web page also displays a line
graph, charting change over time (see Fig 2 below).
For the two years since data collection started on October 1, 2018 until September 30, 2020,
the average across the seven news outlets is 29% women quoted, versus 71% men, with a negli-
gible number of unknown or other sources. We have, however, observed an increase in the
number of women quoted between the first and the last month in that period, from 27% in
October 2018 to 31% in September 2020. Some of that increase can be directly attributed to an
increase in the quotes by public health officers during the COVID-19 crisis. It just so happens
that a large number of those public health officers across Canada are women [36]. We report
some of the analyses and insights we are gathering from the data in the section Analysis and
observations.
In this paper, we describe the data collection and analysis process, provide evaluation
results and a summary of our analysis and observations from the data. We also outline other
Fig 1. The Gender Gap Tracker online dashboard page. Reprinted from https://gendergaptracker.informedopinions.org/ under a CC BY license, with permission
from Informed Opinions, original copyright 2018.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245533.g001
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Fig 2. Counts and percentages of male vs. female sources of opinion across seven news outlets. Dates: October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2020. Female sources
constitute less than 30% of the sources overall. CBC News (blue line) and HuffPost Canada (green line) show a better gender balance compared to other outlets; The
Globe and Mail (light blue) and The National Post (orange) are at the bottom, quoting women less than 25% of the time. Reprinted from https://gendergaptracker.
informedopinions.org/ under a CC BY license, with permission from Informed Opinions, original copyright 2018.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245533.g002
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potential uses of the tool, from quantifying gender representation by news topic to uncovering
emerging news topics and their protagonists. We start, in Related work, with a review of exist-
ing literature on quotation patterns, extracting information from parsed text, and potential
biases in assigning gender to named entities. We then provide, in Data acquisition and NLP
processing pipeline, a high-level description of the data acquisition process and how we deploy
NLP to extract quotes, identify people, and predict their gender. More detail for each of those
steps is provided in the S1 Appendix. Throughout the development of the Gender Gap
Tracker, we were mindful of the need for accuracy, in both precision and recall of quotes, but
also in terms of any potential bias towards one of the genders (e.g., disproportionately attribut-
ing names or quotes to one gender). In order to ensure that the Gender Gap Tracker provides
as accurate a picture as possible, we have performed continuous evaluations. We describe that
process in the section on Evaluation. The section Analysis and observations answers the most
important questions that we posed at the beginning of the project: Who is quoted, in what
pro-portions? We add more nuanced analyses about the relationship between author gender
and the gender breakdown of the people those authors quote. Finally, Conclusion offers some
reflections on the use of the Gender Gap Tracker as a tool for change, also discussing future
improvements and feature additions.
Before delving into the technical aspects of the Gender Gap Tracker and the insights it
provides about the gender gap in media, we would like to acknowledge that the language we
choose to describe people matters and that the terms we use are simplifications of a complex
reality. We use ‘women’ and ‘men’ and ‘female sources’ and ‘male sources’, implying a
binary opposition that we know is far from simple. Gender is more nuanced than that. We
know, at the same time, that lack of gender representation in many aspects of society is a
reality. Our goal is to quantify that lack of representation by using language and the tradi-
tional associations of names and pronouns with men and women. We discuss this issue in
more detail in the section on on Gender prediction and gender bias in Natural Language
Processing.
Related work
The Gender Gap Tracker involves the application of different insights and research findings in
linguistics and Natural Language Processing. To our knowledge, there is no comparable proj-
ect extracting both direct and indirect quotes on a continuous basis. Because so many different
research fields are involved, it is challenging to provide a succinct summary of related existing
work. We have focused our survey in this section on three aspects that have informed our
work the most: descriptions of direct and indirect speech in linguistics, prediction of gender
based on names in text, and extraction of dependency structures and quotes in Natural Lan-
guage Processing to make a connection between entities and quotes.
Reported speech
Reported speech is a recreation, or a reconstruction, of what somebody said in a certain con-
text [37]. Note that even though we refer to it as reported speech, the concept applies equally to
quotes from written text, such as a press release [38]. The structure is also used to recreate
thought (I thought “Okay. What am I gonna do?”) or even action (I was like “[choking/gagging
sound]”), especially in colloquial language [39, p. 44]. Volos
ˇinov [40] characterized reported
speech as both ‘speech within speech’ and ‘speech about speech’.
It is this nature of reported speech as the recreation of an event, whether involving speech
or not, that makes it so important in interaction and in narrative. Goddard and Wierzbicka
[41] propose that, regardless of typological differences in how it is expressed across the world’s
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languages, reported speech is fundamental to human society: Our environment is largely made
up of other people’s utterances in our stories, dreams, memories, and thoughts. Talk is cer-
tainly fundamental to cognition; more specifically, however, it is often talk about talk that
“binds groups and communities together” [41, p. 173]. See also Volos
ˇinov [40] and Goddard
and Wierzbicka [42].
In linguistics, a distinction is drawn between two types of reported speech: direct and indi-
rect speech. Direct speech involves direct quotation of somebody’s exact words, typically
enclosed in quotation marks in writing. With indirect speech, we report on those words, per-
haps altering the exact original formulation, and involving deictic shifts, i.e., changes in tense
and point of view [38]. Thus, the direct speech “I’ve chosen to start wearing a mask,” Mr. Tru-
deau said becomes Mr. Trudeau said that he had chosen to start wearing a mask in indirect
form, with a change from Ito he and ’ve chosen to had chosen. The distinction may be labelled
as direct vs. indirect quotation, or direct vs. indirect report [43]. In English and many other
languages, it is generally understood that direct speech is used when the intention is to repro-
duce the speaker’s words verbatim, that is, to be faithful not only to the content of the message,
but also to the form in which it was uttered [4446]. We will be using the term ‘reported
speech’ for any recreation of what somebody said, as a broad term including both direct and
indirect speech.
Reported speech has played an important role in our common cultural stock, including oral
narrative and written fiction. We have progressively used it more and more as a form of evi-
dence. Consider the so-called Miranda warning in the United States: Upon arrest, a suspect is
told that anything they say may be used as evidence against them. Citations in scientific articles
are also a form of reported speech as evidence. We cite or paraphrase other scientists’ words as
part of a scientific argument, and as part of the dialogue we engage in as researchers [47].
Reported speech, especially in its direct version, features in news discourse as a direct repro-
duction of somebody’s exact words, as a safeguard against interpretation by the reporter in the
form of indirect speech. (Note also that we refer to journalists as reporters, signalling their role
in telling us the news.) The use of reported speech as evidence in news articles is what makes it
such an interesting object of study. By identifying who is quoted in news articles, we capture
whose words are considered important and worthy of repetition.
As we will see in Quotation extraction below, our analysis focuses on patterns of quotation
typically found in news articles: quotes with a matrix clause, whether as direct or indirect
speech, and direct quotes that appear in their own sentence (floating quotes). A lively debate in
linguistics tries to elucidate whether reported speech is a syntactic, a semantic, a pragmatic, or
a paralinguistic phenomenon [38,39,42,4851]. While reported speech probably requires a
syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic analysis for a full account, here we use a structural
approach and rely on NLP tools rooted in syntactic patterns to identify and extract quoted
material, the reporting verb (the verb introducing the reported speech), and the speaker (or
source) of the quote.
Extracting quotes with Natural Language Processing
Reported speech, both direct and indirect, features specific syntactic structures that can be
identified through automatic parsing. In direct speech, the presence of quotation marks,
together with the presence of a reporting verb, signals a quote. For indirect speech, it is the
reporting verb plus a specific syntactic structure, the dependent clause, that points to the pres-
ence of reported speech. The most reliable way to find that information, and to find the begin-
ning and end of quotes, is to first create a parse tree or a dependency tree of the structure of
the text.
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The slightly different flavours of automatic parsing in NLP all result in a reading of the
structure of sentences in constituents, with dependency structures identified either implicitly
(through tree structure) or explicitly [52]. The focus of our attention in those structures are the
complement clauses of reporting verbs.
Much of the research on dependency structures, especially for reported speech, involves the
Penn Treebank, the Penn Discourse Treebank [53], and related collections of annotated news
articles that are widely used in computational linguistics research. Early in the development of
the Penn Discourse Treebank, it was clear that the discourse relations involved in reported
speech needed to be addressed, as they featured prominently in the news articles present in the
corpus. Consequently, a great deal of attention was paid to annotating attribution and its fea-
tures in the original corpus, including source, level of factuality, and scope [54]. An extension
of the annotations, the PARC corpus of attribution relations [55], contains a more fine-grained
annotation with more relations, which can be used to train machine learning systems to detect
quotations [56,57]. We do not follow a machine learning approach here, as we believe not
enough annotations are available for the wide range of reported speech types that we have
encountered.
An approach that also relies on parse trees of sentences is that of van Atteveldt et al. [58],
who extract the text of quotes from news reports. They compare this to a baseline and find
that, although there are errors in the parse tree, a syntactic parsing method outperforms a base-
line which relies on word order. Likewise, a method using a mix of parse trees and regular
expressions is deployed by Krestel et al. [59] to identify both direct and indirect speech in news
text.
In a large-scale approach similar to ours, but using rules, Pouliquen et al. [60] identify direct
quotes (those surrounded by quotation marks) in news reports from 11 languages. This
research led to the pioneering Europe Media Monitor (http://emm.newsexplorer.eu/), which
tracks news events, top stories, and emerging themes in the news of over 70 countries (but
with a focus on Europe). The quotation extraction, however, seems to have been discontinued
in recent versions of the tool.
Our approach is medium-scale, in that it concentrates on Canadian English-language news
sources, but is comprehensive enough in the sphere of the Canadian media landscape that
trends in gender representation can be gleaned. By using reliable parsing information, we are
confident that we detect the majority of quotes in different formats, covering both direct and
indirect speech. To our knowledge, this is the most extensive quote analysis performed on a
continuous basis.
Gender prediction and gender bias in Natural Language Processing
The statistics that we are interested in the most, i.e., the gender breakdown of people quoted in
the news, rely on accurate prediction of gender based on people’s names. Although gender pre-
diction based on this approach is straightforward and accuracy can be quite high, it is, like
many other aspects of NLP, a site for potential bias.
Automatic gender prediction typically relies on the predictable gender associations of
people’s first and sometimes last names. For English-speaking countries, a common source
of these associations is the US census and the Social Security Administration, where names
are mapped to their most frequent sex association at birth (https://www.ssa.gov/oact/
babynames/). Clearly, this is a problematic practice, as it assumes that gender is binary, that
sex and gender have perfect correlation, and that people’s names are accurate predictors of
their sex or gender. We acknowledge and respect the complex nature of this matter, and we
are open to further refinements of our approach, as discussions are underway at many levels.
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For instance, the US census is considering how to best capture sexual orientation and gender
identity [61].
The other main method for automatic gender prediction is the entity-based approach
where a label is given based on the individual, i.e., an association of a first-last name combina-
tion with a specific person and their public gender identity. This is feasible with public figures,
as their gender can be extracted from online resources such as Wikidata or HathiTrust [62].
As we will section on Identifying people and predicting their gender, we apply both first name
and first-last name methods by extracting information from online services.
We acknowledge that gender is non-binary, and that there are different social, cultural, and
linguistic conceptualizations of gender. For this project, we rely on self- and other-identifica-
tion of gender through names in order to classify people mentioned and quoted as female,
male, or other. In English, the third person singular pronoun he encodes male gender and she
encodes female gender. First names tend to be used distinctively by persons of different gen-
ders. We recognize that some people prefer a gender neutral pronoun (they) and that some
people adopt or have been given names that are not strongly associated with one gender (e.g.,
Alex). We are aware that, because our technical approach is based on a simplified view of gen-
der prediction, it glosses over the many possible gender identities, does not quantify the bias of
our tools towards traditional white Western names (which tend to be overrepresented in train-
ing data), or intersectionality. This is just a start in the conversation about representation in
the media, and we tackle this first attempt through the encoding of gender in language, which
in English is mostly binary. All our statistics and analyses include a categorization of gender in
three parts: female, male, and other. The latter includes cases where the gender of a person,
based on their name, is unknown (because the name is used for both genders), or non-binary
(because the person identifies as non-binary).
One issue that we would like to point out here is the inherent bias in many standard NLP
tools, datasets, and methods. While we have not fully measured how such biases affect our
results, we do bear them in mind when making generalizations about the data. For instance,
Garimella et al. [63] show that different syntactic patterns displayed by men and women can
lead to different levels of accuracy in part-of-speech tagging and parsing. Therefore, if the pars-
ing method we rely on has been trained on data primarily written by men and quoting men, it
is quite possible then that its accuracy is lower when parsing and extracting quotes from
women. Caliskan et al. [64] make a compelling case that implicit human biases are learned
when using standard machine learning methods to extract associations from data. Among the
biases Caliskan and colleagues found are associations of gender from names and careers (e.g.,
female names more associated with family than career words; more associated with the arts
than with mathematics). Gender biases have also been found in coreference resolution [65,
66], visual semantic role labelling [67], and machine translation [68,69].
In general terms, the type of bias that we are concerned about is what Blodgett et al. [70]
term representational harm, specifically two types of representational harm: i) a difference in
system performance for different social groups (different parsing accuracy for male and female
voices); and ii) system performance that leads to misrepresentation of the distribution of dif-
ferent groups in the population (incorrect gender prediction that misrepresents the true pro-
portion of men and women quoted). Ultimately, we are aware that these biases exist in text
because they reflect inherent biases in society, and that attempts at minimizing them are not
always successful [71]. We report error rates for our gender prediction process in the Evalua-
tion section, and also make some observations in the Most frequent sources by category sec-
tion about error rates for categories of people quoted. In general, we can say that our error rate
is very low and that it does not seem to show bias.
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Data acquisition and NLP processing pipeline
This section provides a summary of the steps in acquiring data and processing it so that we can
extract quotes, the people who said them, and the gender of those speakers (or sources). This is
an overview of the process, which is described in much more detail in the S1 Appendix.
Data scraping
Scraping public data from the web appears to be a simple task. We have found, however, that
daily data scraping from heterogeneous sources is actually quite complex and requires custom-
ization of existing libraries. We had to deal with a variety of challenges arising from the differ-
ent technologies, standards, and layouts used by the news outlet websites. This made it difficult
to find a common pattern and write a script that could collect the data from different news
outlets efficiently and in real time. The S1 Appendix contains further information on the
techni-cal aspects of this process.
The final pipeline is a 24/7 online service composed of a set of scrapers in the background
of the Gender Gap Tracker website. Each scraper is an individual process for a specific news
outlet, scheduled to run twice a day, collect the daily publication of the target website, and
store them in our central database. Each process takes between 5 and 30 minutes to execute
each day, depending on the target outlet and the number of daily articles published, which
tends to range from 800 to 1,500.
Once we have the article and all its metadata in the database, we move onto the Natural
Language Processing piece of the pipeline, which involves extracting quotes, identifying peo-
ple, and predicting their gender.
Quotation extraction
To measure the gender representation gap in news media, we identify the number of men and
women who are quoted in news articles; in other words, people who have not only been men-
tioned but have also seen their voices reflected in news. We consider both direct speech (sur-
rounded by quotation marks) and indirect speech (She stated that. . .) to be quotations. We
refer to the speaker of such quotes as a source in the news article. In order to identify sources,
we first need to extract quotes from the news article text, to then align quoted speakers with
the unified named entities that are gender-labelled through the procedure described in the
next section. While reported speech in general may be described as a semantic—rather than a
syntactic—phenomenon [48], from an NLP point of view, the most reliable mechanism to
identify it is the syntactic structure of sentences. Based on study of the literature on reported
speech and our initial study of the data, we separate quotes into two different types and apply
different procedures to each: syntactic quotes and floating quotes.
What we refer to as syntactic quotes follow a structure whereby a framing or matrix clause,
containing the identity of the speaker (the subject) and a reporting verb, introduces a reporting
clause, containing the material being quoted [38]. They may be direct or indirect quotes, but
they share a common syntactic structure. Such quotes can be identified by finding patterns in
a syntactic or dependency parse of the text, as in Example (1), where the structure Janni Ara-
gon. . . says introduces the content of what the speaker said.
(1). Janni Aragon, a political science instructor at the University of Victoria, says research
shows different adjectives are used to describe female leaders compared to male
counterparts.
When multiple quotes by the same speaker are present in a news article, it is often the case
that only one syntactic quotative structure is used, with subsequent quotes receiving their own
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sentence or sentences, all in quotes, as in Example (2). The first quote contains a quotative
verb and speaker (Kim told). The second quote, The fact that. . . is a separate sentence without
a quotative verb. We label these cases ‘floating quotes’.
(2). “Honestly, it feels like we’re living our worst nightmare right now” Kim told CTV News
Friday. “The fact that we are being accused right now of an unethical adoption is
crazy.”
In the above example, the second sentence is a continuation of Kim’s quotation. However,
Kim’s name is not mentioned as the speaker of the quote anymore. Readers understand
implicitly that this second quotation is from the same person mentioned in the previous sen-
tence. These are also referred to as open quotations [50]. Spronck and Nikitina [38] character-
ize them as ‘defenestrated’, because the framing or matrix clause that typically introduces
reported speech is absent. We identify floating quotes by following the structure of the text
and matching their speaker to the most recently mentioned speaker.
Using the above two procedures, we capture a variety of syntactic and floating quotes with
their verb and speaker. We also introduced a heuristic system for detecting quotes that were
initially missed by the syntactic process. Further details on how we extract each type of quote
are provided in the S1 Appendix. The next step connects each of these quotations to an entity
identified as a source, labelled by gender.
Identifying people and predicting their gender
We apply gender prediction techniques not only to sources (i.e., the people quoted), but also
to all the people mentioned in the text as well as the authors of the articles. Since the main goal
of the study is tracking the gender gap, it is very important that the identification of people
and gender predictions are performed as accurately as possible.
As a first step towards extracting mentions of people in text, we use Named Entity Recogni-
tion (NER), a commonly used procedure in NLP. Current NER techniques work fairly well on
English data. These methods are statistical in nature, relying on large amounts of annotated
data and supervised or semi-supervised machine learning models, with neural network models
being the most commonly used models nowadays [72,73].
We first extract only entity types tagged with the label PERSON. This excludes organiza-
tions and locations that may look like names of people (e.g., Kinder Morgan or Don Mills). We
then proceed to entity clustering. The same person may be referred to in the same article with
slightly different names or pronouns (e.g., Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau,
he, his). To unify these mentions into clusters, and ensure that we attribute quotes to the right
person, we apply a coreference resolution algorithm, described in the S1 Appendix.
The coreference process results in a unique cluster for each person containing all mentions
in the text that refer to that person. Thus, we can count the number of people mentioned in
the text and move to the next step, i.e., predicting their genders.
For gender prediction of each unified named entity (cluster of mentions), we rely on gender
prediction web services that use large databases to look up a name by its gender. Initially, we
experimented with using pronouns to predict gender (he or she), but found that this method
was not reliable, because not all clusters of reference to an individual include a pronoun (see
S1 Appendix for details).
The gender prediction web services that we use perform lookups by first names only, based
on databases of names and sex as assigned at birth, or lookups by first and last name, using
information for that specific individual and how they are identified publicly. We also keep an
internal cache of names that we have previously looked up. In addition, the cache contains
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manual entries for names that we know are not available in public databases, or are incorrectly
tagged by a gender service.
We apply the gender prediction algorithm to three different lists of names: people men-
tioned in the article, people quoted (who we refer to as sources), and authors of articles. This
process, especially for authors of articles, involves extensive data cleaning (see S1 Appendix).
To match the name and gender of the speaker to quotes, we find the corresponding named
entity for each extracted quote. In order to do so, we compare the character indices of a quote’s
speaker against the indices of each named entity mention in our unified clusters. If a mention
span and a speaker span have two or more characters of overlap, we assume that the mention
is the speaker and attribute the quote to the unified named entity (coreference cluster) of the
mention. After trying to align all quotation speakers with potential named entities, there may
still remain some quotes with speakers that could not be matched with any of the named enti-
ties. There are several categories of these cases, such as quotes with a pronoun speaker (e.g., she
said) where the pronoun is still a singleton after all named entity and coreference cluster merg-
ing. Our current version of the software ignores these cases. We provide statistics on these and
other missed cases in the evaluation section below.
Evaluation
Evaluation of the system was continuous in the development phase, with each new addition
and improvement being tested against the previous version of the system, and against manual
annotations. Evaluation was carried out separately for each component (quote extraction, peo-
ple and source extraction, and gender prediction) several times over the course of the project
to test out new ideas and to enhance the system. In this section, we discuss the main annota-
tion and results of our evaluation for the most recent release of the system, V5.3. Further
details on a pilot annotation and the format of the manually-annotated dataset can be found in
the S1 Appendix.
For evaluation, we selected 14 articles from each of the seven news outlets, for a total of 98
articles, chosen from months of recently scraped data at the time (December 2018-February
2019). We chose articles that were representative of the overall statistics according to our sys-
tem, i.e., contained less than 30% female and more than 70% male sources (calculated based
on the latest system release at the time of annotation). The articles were picked in a way that
they were distributed across different days of the week and each was selected to have at least
3,000 characters.
We draw articles from our database, rather than using unseen data, for two reasons. First of
all, since none of the processes involve supervised learning on this data, there is no risk that
the system will have learned anything from the test data. The NLP methodology uses a combi-
nation of pre-trained language models (from spaCy), linguistic rules, and custom phrase
matching. Thus, we can safely assume that any true positives captured during evaluation will
generalize to the rest of our data as well. Second, we are primarily interested in how the system
performs specifically on the data we are processing. While evaluation on news articles by other
organizations may be useful, we are most of all interested in our performance on the data the
Gender Gap Tracker collects daily.
An experienced annotator, who had participated in our pilot annotation, completed the
data labelling. The annotations were then also validated and corrected when necessary by a
second annotator.
For each of the 98 articles, we have a JSON file which contains an array of extracted quotes,
verbs, and speakers, together with their character span indices in the text. We evaluate the out-
put of our system by comparing it to these human annotations. To do so, first we need to align
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the annotations with the extracted quotes. Let q
a
be the span of an annotated quote and q
e
the
span of an extracted quote. The match between these two quotes is defined as:
score ¼lenðqa\qeÞ
lenðqaÞð1Þ
For each annotated quote q
a
, the best matching quote from among all extracted quotes is
the one with the highest matching score, assuming the score is above a certain threshold. We
experimented with 0.3 and 0.8 as easy and hard thresholds, respectively. We found that 0.3
captured a relatively large portion of each quote, and 0.8 captured the majority of the content.
In the following example, the human annotated and automatically extracted quote spans are
highlighted using italic and underlined text, respectively. The alignment score is 0.45, which is
the ratio of the length of the overlapping portion (69 characters) to the overall length of the
annotated span (153 characters).
(3). “It’s premature for us to make any sort of pronouncement about that right now, but I can
tell you this thing looks and smells like a death penalty case”.
After alignment, we examine how many of the quotes were correctly detected (true posi-
tives), how many were not detected (false negatives), and whether we have some non-quote
sentences detected as quotes (false positives). With these numbers, we report the precision,
recall, and F1-score of the system in Tables 1and 2.
Table 1 shows the result of evaluating the quotation extraction code on the manually-anno-
tated dataset. The first three columns of numbers reflect how well the system captures the quo-
tation content span (according to each of the set threshold of overlap 0.3 and 0.8) and the last
two columns show system accuracy on verb and speaker detection. We consider the verb to
have been correctly detected if the verb extracted by the system has exactly the same span as
the expert-annotated span for the verb of that quotation. In order to evaluate the speaker
detection quality at the surface textual level, we apply a simple overlap threshold: If the system-
annotated span for the speaker has at least one character overlap with the expert-annotated
text span for the speaker, it will be accepted as a correct annotation. For example, if the sys-
tem-annotated span was [12:17], corresponding to the string Obama, while the human-anno-
tated span was [8:17], corresponding to the string Mr. Obama, the span overlap of five
characters would mean they were considered the same speaker. Verb and speaker evaluations
are applied only to the matched quotes (the quotations that are already passed as aligned
Table 1. Quote extraction evaluation on manually annotated data.
Quotation content Verb Speaker
Precision Recall F1-score accuracy accuracy
Easy match threshold (0.3) 84.6% 82.7% 83.7% 91.8% 86.0%
Hard match threshold (0.8) 77.0% 75.2% 76.1% 93.1% 86.9%
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Table 2. Entity extraction evaluation based on manually annotated data.
Human annotation, nSystem annotation, nPrecision Recall F1-score
Female people 2,906 3,387 72.4% 77.6% 75.0%
Male people 8,381 10,034 77.4% 92.1% 84.2%
Female sources 1,442 1,104 94.6% 64.6% 76.8%
Male sources 3,809 3,346 87.7% 76.5% 81.8%
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between system and expert based on the content span overlap). That is why the accuracy scores
for Verb and Speaker in the table were higher when we used a stricter quote matching tech-
nique (hard match threshold).
People and sources
The most important data point with respect to the goal of our project is the ratio of female and
male sources. Therefore, we compare the raw number of people and sources of each gender
extracted by our system against the corresponding numbers in the human expert annotation.
Furthermore, we would like to know how many of the people mentioned in the text were
correctly detected and how many were missed. According to the annotation instructions, the
most complete name of each person in the text needs to be provided by the annotators in the
annotation files. We have the following arrays of names for each article: female people, male
people, other/unknown-gender people, female sources, male sources, and other/unknown-
gender sources. Using these manually annotated lists, we can calculate the number of entities
our system detects and misses. We first convert all system- and expert-annotated entities in
these lists to lowercase and trim the start/end space characters. Then we perform exact string
matching on the elements of the arrays to calculate the precision, recall, and F1-score of each
identification task. Note that this is a strict evaluation of the system performance and it is
directly motivated by our goal to reveal the proportion of female and male sources in news
publications.
Table 2 shows the results of entity matching between the system- and expert-annotated peo-
ple and sources. We see better precision scores in detection of sources in comparison with peo-
ple. The reason is that the quote extraction step narrows down the people list by filtering out
the captured entities that were not quoted at all (so some errors such as location names tagged
as people names would automatically be excluded). The recall measure shows the opposite
trend: Recall is better for people than for sources. This is because the same narrowing down
that improves the precision for sources results in an increase in the number of missed sources,
thus negatively affecting recall.
One more interesting gender-related pattern we found was that, in general, we had better
recall for male people mentioned and sources, compared to the female mentions and sources.
This motivated us to take a closer look at the data and see whether there was any systematic
bias in our entity recognition and/or gender recognition procedures, by carrying out a manual
analysis.
Manual analysis of top sources
In addition to the comparison to a full set of articles described above, we also checked the gen-
der accuracy for the top sources in each of the 24 months between October 2018 and Septem-
ber 2020. The results are gratifyingly accurate: The overall error rate is 0.1%. Table 3 provides
a breakdown of the error rate per gender (false positives). Note that we examined the top 100
male and female sources per month, but each of those people is quoted multiple times. As a
consequence, the number of quotes examined is quite large (over 195,000). There are three
aspects to highlight in Table 3:
Considering that we are examining a constant number of sources per month (top 100 men
and top 100 women quoted), it is clear that men are overrepresented in the dataset. That is,
the top 100 men each month are quoted much more frequently than the top 100 women. We
discuss this further in Analysis and observations.
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The error rate for quotes by women is higher. In our list of quotes by women, we see a higher
proportion of names that were actually men (0.2%). That is, the system is more accurate in
recognizing the gender of male names. This means that there probably is, in fact, a slightly
lower number of quotes from women than our official statistics on the dashboard show, as
more quotes are incorrectly attributed to women.
Most of the errors in the female name list are names that are actually male names or ambigu-
ous (Ashley, Robin). Most of the errors in the male name list are names that are actually not
people’s names. They include Raymond James, an investment firm, and Thomas Cook, a
travel agency. We correct both types of errors on a regular basis, by adding information to
our internal caches.
Analysis and observations
In this section, we provide statistics on the data extracted from the seven news outlets, pro-
cessed and tagged by the Gender Gap Tracker in the time frame of October 1, 2018 to Septem-
ber 30, 2020, 24 months of data and about 613,000 news articles. All numbers are based on the
calculations of the Gender Gap Tracker version 5.3 (the most recently released version at the
time of publication of this paper).
Male vs. female sources
Fig 2 shows the statistics available on the Gender Gap Tracker dashboard online. The aggre-
gated counts and ratios of female vs. male sources across different news outlets within the time
interval of October 2018 to September 2020 are presented in the bar and the doughnut charts
at the top. The bottom line graph shows the percentage of women quoted in the publications
of each outlet week by week. Most numbers are in the range of 20 to 30 percent, meaning that
women are consistently quoted far less often than men. While some outlets such as Huffington
Post and CBC News are more gender-balanced than others, such as The National Post and The
Globe and Mail, the numbers suggest that, overall, media outlets disproportionately feature
male voices. This may be the result of unconscious bias on the part of the reporters (e.g., reach-
ing out to men more often than to women, when a choice exists). We, of course, also know it is
a result of societal bias. In a context where 71% of the Members of Parliament are male [74], it
is natural to expect that we hear more often from male politicians. The fact that the current (in
2020) federal cabinet is gender-balanced probably helps. It does not, however, make up for the
fact that the person at the top is a man. As shown in Table 4, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minis-
ter, is quoted 8.3 times more often than Chrystia Freeland, arguably the most prominent
woman politician in the country. At the top of the list of women is Bonnie Henry, the Public
Health Officer for the province of British Columbia, a reflection of how important public
health officers have become in the COVID-19 pandemic. And, clearly, Donald Trump is the
Table 3. Gender prediction accuracy for the top sources of opinion.
Number of quotes Error rate (false positives)
Total quotes by men 140,156 Error rate for men 0.1%
Quotes by men incorrectly identified 147
Total quotes by women 55,149 Error rate for women 0.2%
Quotes by women incorrectly identified 117
Overall error rate 0.1%
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most quoted person by far in that time period. Perhaps the style of a person’s statements, in
addition to their content, makes the press more likely to find them quotable.
It is important at this point to emphasize that we do not distinguish between Justin Trudeau
as a source of information (the way source is typically used by reporters) and Justin Trudeau
saying something that reporters felt the need to quote, even if it is not new or privileged infor-
mation, of the type that sources typically provide. To us, they are both instances of a ‘quote’,
and Justin Trudeau is equally the source in both cases. Either of these cases is significant
enough in that it points to reporters giving people who are already quoted frequently more of a
voice.
The occupation of people quoted, as shown in Table 4, is also quite illuminating. Politics
dominates, including international figures (Nancy Pelosi, Boris Johnson), and Canadian politi-
cians at the federal (Elizabeth May, Jagmeet Singh), provincial (Rachel Notley, Doug Ford),
and municipal (Vale
´rie Plante, John Tory) levels. The diversity in the list of quoted women is
perhaps more interesting. It includes Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei, who
was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 and is in the middle of a legal extradition process
as of 2020.
The three other female names that are not politicians are public health officers (Bonnie
Henry, British Columbia’s Public Health Officer; Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of
Canada; and Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Public Health Officer). One could also include Patty
Hajdu (federal Minister of Health) and Christine Elliott (Ontario’s Minister of Health) in the
list of public health officers. All these women have been frequently quoted as a consequence of
the COVID-19 pandemic, and started appearing in monthly top lists only in January 2020. By
comparison, in the top 15 women quoted in December 2019 are Bonnie Lysyk, Auditor Gen-
eral of Ontario, who released her annual report that month, and environmental activist Greta
Thunberg.
From these top-15 lists, it does seem that lack of equal representation in sources is partly
due to lack of equal representation in society in general and in politics in particular. Indeed,
political empowerment is the area where women are most underrepresented across the world
Table 4. Top 15 quoted men and women in Canadian media between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2020.
Identified as men Identified as women
Name # of quotes Sector Name # of quotes Sector
Donald Trump 15,746 Politics Bonnie Henry 2,239 Public health
Justin Trudeau 13,422 Politics Christine Elliott 1,918 Politics
Doug Ford 6,760 Politics Chrystia Freeland 1,890 Politics
Jason Kenney 4,190 Politics Nancy Pelosi 1,718 Politics
Andrew Scheer 3,679 Politics Theresa Tam 1,627 Public health
Franc¸ois Legault 2,754 Politics Jody Wilson Raybould 1,493 Politics
John Tory 2,401 Politics Rachel Notley 1,365 Politics
Jagmeet Singh 2,039 Politics Deena Hinshaw 1,106 Public health
John Horgan 1,910 Politics Andrea Horwath 1,053 Politics
Joe Biden 1,667 Politics Vale
´rie Plante 979 Politics
Mike Pompeo 1,661 Politics Patty Hajdu 950 Politics
Blaine Higgs 1,659 Politics Catherine McKenna 861 Politics
Stephen McNeil 1,595 Politics Meng Wanzhou 681 Private business
Boris Johnson 1,553 Politics Elizabeth May 671 Politics
Scott Moe 1,528 Politics Theresa May 622 Politics
Total 62,564 Total 19,173
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[4]. We do not believe, however, that news organizations and journalists are powerless to
change the overall numbers we see on the Gender Gap Tracker dashboard. We know that the
bias is pervasive and extends to expert sources and other areas where a choice does exist.
Franks and Howell [75] discuss how the gender gap in broadcast media applies to prominent
public figures and expert sources alike. They find that the source of the gap may be in who is
hired and promoted within news organizations, with more men being hired, despite the fact
that a larger number of women graduate from TV and broadcast university programs.
Most frequent sources by category
In order to obtain a more extensive snapshot of who is being quoted by occupation, we con-
ducted an annotation experiment. We extracted the top 100 men and women quoted for each
of the 24 months between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2020. We then manually anno-
tated each of those sources and labelled them according to their occupation or the reason they
were being quoted. The categories in Table 5 were based on previous work on manual source
classification [27]. Most of the categories are self-explanatory. We assign ‘Unelected govern-
ment official’ to cases such as attorneys general, government auditors, and (Canadian) gover-
nors, that is, cases where the person fills a political or representative role, but they were
appointed, not elected. Health professionals can be considered unelected government officials
(e.g., the Public Health Officer). However, given their prominence during COVID-19, we
chose to assign them to a separate category, ‘Health profession’. ‘Perpetrators’ may be accused
(i.e., alleged perpetrators) or convicted. In ‘Creative industries’ we include artists, actors, and
celebrities. Journalists and anchors are assigned to ‘Media’. The category ‘Person on the street
interviews’ is used for random interviews, or cases where the person is affected by an event
(e.g., a flood), but cannot be considered a victim. ‘Error’ refers to cases where a name was
wrongly identified as that of a person (e.g., Thomas Cook as a person). Errors in gender pre-
diction are reported in Table 3.
Table 5. Top 100 male/female sources, by category, in each of the 24 months between October 1, 2018 and September 30, 2020.
Identified as men Identified as women
Category Quotes Unique persons Quotes Unique persons
Politician 103,378 73.8% 295 40.4% 29,007 52.6% 270 24.7%
Sports 10,723 7.7% 113 15.5% 1,415 2.6% 60 5.5%
Unelected government official 9,175 6.5% 75 10.3% 4,583 8.3% 153 14.0%
Health profession 5,327 3.8% 21 2.9% 9,217 16.7% 58 5.3%
Leader (union, education, activist) 2,297 1.6% 36 4.9% 1,578 2.9% 65 6.0%
Police 1,763 1.3% 33 4.5% 1,471 2.7% 57 5.2%
Private business 1,739 1.2% 40 5.5% 1,553 2.8% 57 5.2%
Legal profession 1,319 0.9% 33 4.5% 1,171 2.1% 69 6.3%
Creative industries 1,278 0.9% 19 2.6% 1,011 1.8% 49 4.5%
Perpetrator 948 0.7% 18 2.5% 264 0.5% 17 1.6%
Academic/researcher 685 0.5% 15 2.1% 835 1.5% 45 4.1%
Victim/witness 634 0.5% 10 1.4% 1,424 2.6% 94 8.6%
Media 530 0.4% 11 1.5% 391 0.7% 21 1.9%
Non-governmental organization 245 0.2% 7 1.0% 959 1.7% 53 4.9%
Error 91 0.1% 4 0.5% 8 0.0% 1 0.1%
Person on the street interviews 24 0.0% 1 0.1% 262 0.5% 22 2.0%
Total 140,156 731 55,149 1,091
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There are some interesting observations with regard to Table 5. First of all, we notice that
there are more women than men being quoted overall for this period (1,091 women vs. 731
men). That is, we see more variety in women in terms of the number of people being quoted.
The difference in the number of quotes, however, is astounding: Men are quoted almost three
times as often as women. That is, even though we hear from more women, we hear from men
more often. This fact probably accounts, in large part, for the gap that we see on the Gender
Gap Tracker dashboard, which counts unique quotes (not unique persons). Additionally, we
see that there is a large difference between the most frequently quoted category and the second
most frequently quoted. For men, number 1 is politicians (103,378) and number 2 is sports fig-
ures (10,723). For women, politicians are also at the top (29,007), with health professionals sec-
ond to politicians (9,217). (Note that the rows are sorted by frequency of quotes for people
identified as men).
These two findings, that much more space is given to men (in terms of number of quotes)
and that much more space is given to the top category or occupation, point to a possible Pareto
distribution [76], the principle that a large proportion of the resources is held by a small per-
centage of the population. Originally applied to wealth inequality, Pareto distributions have
been found for the size of cities, internet traffic, scientific citations [77], and for the reward sys-
tems in science [78]. The related Pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule, preferential
attachment, or the Matthew effect (‘the rich get richer’), quantifies the difference in distribu-
tion (80% of the wealth held by 20% of the population). It seems that the main obstacle to hear-
ing more from women in the media is a form of preferential treatment to those who already
have a voice. This effect has been described as a winner-take-all distribution [24], in society in
general and in news media in particular. We do have to bear in mind, however, that the num-
bers in Table 5 are based on the top 100 citations for men and women in each month. That is,
they inherently capture the top of the Pareto distribution. Table 4 captures an even smaller
fragment of that distribution, because it considers only the top 15 across the two-year period.
Finally, we would like to make some observations about the relative distribution of men
and women by category. It is interesting to observe that, by number of unique persons, politi-
cians seem to be close to parity (295 men and 270 women). There is a stark difference, again,
in the number of quotes, that is, the number of times they were quoted: over 103,000 quotes by
the 295 male politicians compared to just over 29,000 by the 270 female politicians. In other
words, when we hear a quote by a politician, that politician is a man 78% of the time. The dif-
ference is even higher in sports. An interesting asymmetry is found between perpetrators (78%
of the quotes by perpetrators are by men) and victims or witnesses (31% of the quotes by vic-
tims are men). Categories where women outnumber men both in terms of quotes and unique
persons quoted in the category include health professionals, non-governmental organizations,
and academics or researchers.
The role of author gender
Now that we have established that the majority of quotes in news articles are from men, it
would be interesting to check whether this bias has any correlation with the gender of the
authors. Our hypothesis is that authors may prefer to feature and interview people of their gen-
der, that is, articles written by female authors may contain a higher ratio of female sources
compared to articles written by male authors.
In order to test this hypothesis, we first tagged the gender of the author or authors of each
article, using the same name-gender services that we utilized for gender recognition on people
and sources mentioned in texts. The process for cleaning up the author fields is described in
the S1 Appendix, Section A.3.3. We then extracted statistics for female and male sources within
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the publications of each news outlet, broken down into several categories: articles written by
female authors only (155,197 articles), by male authors only (213,487 articles), by several
authors of different genders (21,825 articles), and articles without a byline (222,041 articles).
The last category encompasses different types of situations. It contains articles that had no
byline or named author, such as editorials or newswire content. It also includes articles written
by specific authors for which our system did not find a gender due to different limitations
(e.g., the name does not exist in the gender databases). We know that our gender recognition
services work quite well, because the rate of ‘other’ for sources mentioned (as opposed to
authors) is quite low, at less than 1% for the entire period. Note also that this category is quite
variable across news organizations. For instance, in the case of CBC News, where ‘no byline’
makes up the majority of the articles, this is because many articles do not have an author, but
are posted as ‘CBC News’ or ‘CBC Radio’, or come from newswire sources.
From Fig 3, we see that, overall, the number of male authors exceeds the number of female
authors in all outlets, except for The Huffington Post (49% women vs. 36% men, and 13% with
no byline), which is also consistently the best performer in terms of female sources (see the
line chart at the bottom of Fig 2).
Fig 4 shows, for each of the categories of authors described above, the percentage of times
that they quoted female voices. The group at the bottom shows the aggregated percentage
across all outlets, which speaks in favour of our hypothesis: Female authors are on average
Fig 3. Percentages of authors by gender, by outlet. Dates: October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2020.
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more likely than male authors to quote women in their articles. The chart shows that 34% of
the sources are women in the articles authored by women, whereas this number is 25% in
those authored by men.
Now let us examine the performance of male and female authors working for each of the
news outlets. In all cases, without exception, articles written by women quote far more women
than articles written by the other three groups. This suggests that part of the solution to the
gender gap in media includes having more women reporters. This is true not only because
women quote more women, but also because they seem to have a positive influence when part
of a group. In most cases, articles written by a group that includes both men and women have
more women quoted than articles written by men only. The two exceptions are CTV News (by
a small margin, 26.3% women quoted with male-only authors vs. 24.4% with multiple genders)
and HuffPost (by a slightly larger margin, 27.0% vs. 24.6%).
It is difficult to comment on the ‘no byline’ author category, as it includes many different
types of authors, from editorials and newswire content to authors whose name we could not
assign to a gender. In most cases, however, the trend is also that those articles tend to quote
women more than articles under a male-only byline (with the exception of Global News, which
also had the lowest percentage of articles without a byline).
In summary, the analyses in this section indicate that the bias towards quoting men seems
to be strongest in articles written by men, a trend that has been observed in academic citations
Fig 4. Percentages of female sources across seven news outlets by author gender. Dates: October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2020.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245533.g004
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[7983], Twitter mentions [84], including the Twitter circles of political journalists [85], and
certainly in news articles [86]. Articles co-authored by a mix that includes male and female
writers seem to contain a better balance of male and female sources of opinion; this observa-
tion points to collaboration between genders as a path towards closing the gender quote gap.
This is, however, by no means a silver bullet. Recent analyses of the relationship between lead-
ership in news organizations and balanced gender representation have found no correlation
between the proportion of women producing the news and the proportion of women featured
in the news [87]. This may have to do with a male-dominated culture in newsrooms, where
professional identity overrides gender identity [8789].
The role of out-of-house content
One objection that news organizations may have is that, in some cases, they have no control
over the breakdown of sources in an article, because they republish content, either from news-
wire or from other news publishers. Thus, it would be interesting to know whether there is a
difference in the ratios depending on the source of the article.
As it turns out, classifying articles by source is a rather difficult task. We rely on the data we
obtain by scraping, and specifically the author field. Unfortunately, the author field in an arti-
cle does not always clearly indicate the author’s affiliation or the source. We restricted our
analyses to The Toronto Star, because that organization had expressed an interest in a more
fine-grained analysis. Note that this analysis is for slightly different dates, the 18 months
between October 2018 and March 2020.
Using a combination of patterns and regular expression searches, we classified all the arti-
cles of The Star into three categories: in-house, out-of-house, or newswire. Out-of-house arti-
cles were labelled using an extensive list of external publishers that The Star re-publishes (e.g.,
LA Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal). Newswire articles were determined to
originate from a handful of news agencies: Canadian Press, Associated Press, Bloomberg, and
Reuters. We were careful to restrict our pattern matching to author fields, as articles written
in-house sometimes contain photos from newswire organizations.
Using this method, we obtained the results in Table 6. (Note that our method has a margin
of error: In a manually labelled sample of 10,000 articles, we found an error rate of 4.41%,
almost always in the in-house articles. That is, articles that are out-of-house or newswire may
be incorrectly identified as in-house.) We find that, regardless of the origin of the article, men
are the dominant source, and that the proportions are quite similar for out-of-house and news-
wire content. It is encouraging, however, to see that articles written by The Star reporters are
more inclusive than those originating outside the organization. The Star has publicly stated
that they want to improve the proportion of female sources that they quote [90], and it seems
to be the case that their reporters do better, even if the proportion is still far from parity.
Conclusion
The main goal of the Gender Gap Tracker database and dashboard is to motivate news outlets
to diversify their sources. This applies to all forms of diversity. While the Gender Gap Tracker
Table 6. Gender ratio in sources by article type. Articles from The Star only. Dates: October 1, 2018 to March 31, 2020.
Article type Articles nMale sources Female sources Other sources Male sources % Female sources % Other sources %
In-house 22,528 29,766 11,281 285 72.0% 27.3% 0.7%
Out-of-house 13,400 17,359 6,246 182 73.0% 26.3% 0.8%
Newswire 32,341 49,856 14,193 620 77.1% 21.9% 1.0%
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245533.t006
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can only capture one kind of diversity, because it relies on names to assign gender to sources,
we believe that other forms of diversity should be considered, as we know that many other
groups are underrepresented in the news [9196].
Gender equality is one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals [30]. We
are, sadly, far from achieving gender equality in many areas of our societies. Gender represen-
tation in the media is, however, within our reach, if enough effort is devoted to this goal and if
we incorporate accountability into the effort. We hope that the Gender Gap Tracker provides
the type of accountability tool that will encourage and facilitate gender parity in sources. Two
results from our analyses that we would like to highlight here suggest a path towards equality.
First of all, we saw in Fig 4 that articles by authors of multiple genders tend to quote women
more often. That is, when the author list is diverse, so are the sources quoted. Other research
suggests that diversity at the top, in editors and publishers, also has a positive effect on the pro-
portion of women mentioned in the news [24], although it is not sufficient to have parity in
the newsroom or increased female leadership in news organizations [87,88,97]. The relation-
ship between female leadership and improved representation for women in the news is indeed
quite complex [98].
Second, results (Tables 4and 5) point to a lack of equality in how many times men and
women are quoted overall, not just in how many men and women are quoted. Thus, although
we see a certain tokenism in having female voices present in the news, their voices are drowned
out by the overwhelming number of times that we hear from men, often from just a handful of
men. It looks like women are given a presence, but then men get the majority of the space.
This also points to a concentration of power at the top, which can be balanced by diversifying
sources in general.
Journalists report that it takes more time and effort to reach diverse sources. There are
many barriers for women to participate in civil society, and in particular for engaging with the
media. One particularly harrowing issue that needs to be addressed is the abuse and harass-
ment that women experience when they speak publicly, especially when they speak to contro-
versial topics [99103]. Women who engage in online discussions experience trolling, abusive
comments, death and rape threats, and also threatening offline encounters, such as name-call-
ing and public abuse [104,105]. Jane [106] argues that the extent of the harassment online has
offline consequences for women, which are manifested socially, psychologically, financially,
and politically. Many women, understandably, self-censor to avoid such consequences. True
equal representation in public discourse will be much more difficult to achieve if the rewards
and consequences of participating are unequal across genders.
The size and richness of the data in the Gender Gap Tracker database lends itself to many
interesting further analyses. One area that we are investigating is the relationship between the
topic of the article and the gender of those quoted. The research question, simply put, is
whether men are quoted more in financial news and women in arts and lifestyle articles. Our
preliminary answer is that, indeed, this is the case, with a bright spot in the prominence of
female voices in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic [107]. Topic-based analyses can
also help identify emerging topics, such as one-time events (terrorist attacks, sports events) or
new developments that stay in the news (Brexit, COVID-19).
We have also informally explored the relative prominence of political candidates in several
elections [108]. We found that eventual winners of elections were more likely to be quoted in
the period leading up to the election in most elections we studied (but not all). We, of course,
do not propose a causal relation between presence in the media and likelihood of being elected.
Even if there is a causal relation, the cause and effect direction is unclear. It could be that the
more well-known the candidate, the higher their chances of being elected. It could also be the
case that when a candidate seems to be leading in the polls, they are more likely to be quoted
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in the news media. Further analyses as new elections take place would shed more light onto
those questions.
Other research avenues that could be pursued relate to questions of salience and space, i.e.,
whether quotes by men are presented more prominently in the article, and whether men are
given more space (perhaps counted in number of words). Finally, more nuanced questions
that involve language analysis include whether the quotes are presented differently in terms of
endorsement or distance from the content of the quote (stated vs. claimed). We plan to pursue
some of those questions, but also invite researchers to join in this effort. The data collected for
this project can be made available, upon request, for non-commercial research purposes.
Data and code
The data was downloaded from public and subscription websites of newspapers, under the
‘fair dealing’ provision in Canada’s Copyright Act. This means that the data can be made avail-
able only for private study and/or research purposes, and not for commercial purposes. As
such, the data will be made available upon request and after signing a license agreement. Con-
tact for data access: Maite Taboada (mtaboada@sfu.ca) or Research Computing Group at
Simon Fraser University (research-support@sfu.ca).
The code is available on GitHub under a GNU General Public License (v3.0). The authors
of this paper are the creators of the code and own the copyright to it: https://github.com/sfu-
discourse-lab/GenderGapTracker.
A light-weight version of the NLP module is also made available for processing one article
at a time: https://gendergaptracker.research.sfu.ca/apps/textanalyzer.
Supporting information
S1 Appendix.
(PDF)
Acknowledgments
The Gender Gap Tracker is a collaboration between the Discourse Processing Lab, the Big
Data Initiative at Simon Fraser University, and Informed Opinions. Our thanks and admira-
tion to Shari Graydon of Informed Opinions for initiating this project and for being a tireless
advocate for gender equality. We would like to thank Kelly Nolan, Dugan O’Neil, and John
Simpson for bringing us together, and John especially for the initial design of the database.
Yanlin An, Danyi Huang, and Nilan Saha contributed to the heuristic quote extraction process,
as part of a capstone project in the Master of Data Science program at the University of British
Columbia. Thank you to members of the Discourse Processing Lab at SFU for feedback,
insight, and help with evaluation: Laurens Bosman, Lucas Chambers, Katharina Ehret, Rohan
Ben Joseph, and Varada Kolhatkar. Special thanks to Lucas Chambers for tracking down refer-
ences and for editing assistance.
Author Contributions
Conceptualization: Fatemeh Torabi Asr.
Data curation: Mohammad Mazraeh, Alexandre Lopes, Vasundhara Gautam, Prashanth Rao.
Formal analysis: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Mohammad Mazraeh, Prashanth Rao, Maite Taboada.
Funding acquisition: Maite Taboada.
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Investigation: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Mohammad Mazraeh, Alexandre Lopes, Vasundhara
Gautam, Maite Taboada.
Methodology: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Mohammad Mazraeh, Alexandre Lopes, Vasundhara
Gautam, Maite Taboada.
Project administration: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Maite Taboada.
Resources: Alexandre Lopes, Maite Taboada.
Software: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Mohammad Mazraeh, Alexandre Lopes, Vasundhara Gautam,
Prashanth Rao, Maite Taboada.
Supervision: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Maite Taboada.
Validation: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Mohammad Mazraeh, Alexandre Lopes, Vasundhara Gau-
tam, Junette Gonzales, Prashanth Rao, Maite Taboada.
Visualization: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Prashanth Rao, Maite Taboada.
Writing – original draft: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Mohammad Mazraeh, Vasundhara Gautam,
Junette Gonzales, Maite Taboada.
Writing – review & editing: Fatemeh Torabi Asr, Mohammad Mazraeh, Vasundhara Gautam,
Junette Gonzales, Prashanth Rao, Maite Taboada.
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... Our analyses rely on statistics provided by the Gender Gap Tracker, 1 a purpose-built tool that measures the proportion of male and female sources quoted in mainstream Canadian media in English. The Gender Gap Tracker is an automated software system that monitors men and women's voices on seven major Canadian news outlets in real time, using Natural Language Processing (Asr et al., 2021). The goals of the Tracker are to enhance awareness of women's portrayal in public discourse through hard evidence and to encourage news organizations to provide a more diverse set of voices in their reporting. ...
... Data was obtained for the Gender Gap Tracker and analyzed for this related project. The Gender Gap Tracker data is scraped daily from the websites of seven major Canadian news outlets in English (Asr et al., 2021). We built scrapers from scratch for each outlet and maintain them regularly, as the sites change in structure frequently. ...
... Using the Gender Gap Tracker's existing Natural Language Processing pipeline (Asr et al., 2021), the data is enriched with information about the people mentioned (via Named Entity Recognition) and the people quoted, whom we refer to as sources. For the latter, we first identify quotes (reported speech, whether direct or indirect speech) in the text and then associate a speaker with them, using coreference resolution. ...
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We present a topic modelling and data visualization methodology to examine gender-based disparities in news articles by topic. Existing research in topic modelling is largely focused on the text mining of closed corpora, i.e., those that include a fixed collection of composite texts. We showcase a methodology to discover topics via Latent Dirichlet Allocation, which can reliably produce human-interpretable topics over an open news corpus that continually grows with time. Our system generates topics, or distributions of keywords, for news articles on a monthly basis, to consistently detect key events and trends aligned with events in the real world. Findings from 2 years worth of news articles in mainstream English-language Canadian media indicate that certain topics feature either women or men more prominently and exhibit different types of language. Perhaps unsurprisingly, topics such as lifestyle, entertainment, and healthcare tend to be prominent in articles that quote more women than men. Topics such as sports, politics, and business are characteristic of articles that quote more men than women. The data shows a self-reinforcing gendered division of duties and representation in society. Quoting female sources more frequently in a caregiving role and quoting male sources more frequently in political and business roles enshrines women’s status as caregivers and men’s status as leaders and breadwinners. Our results can help journalists and policy makers better understand the unequal gender representation of those quoted in the news and facilitate news organizations’ efforts to achieve gender parity in their sources. The proposed methodology is robust, reproducible, and scalable to very large corpora, and can be used for similar studies involving unsupervised topic modelling and language analyses.
... Consequently, sourcing in news is crucial since the sources that journalists choose to quote in their stories affect whose stories get told, how stories are told, whom the news is for, and what communities are served. Some existing studies show that the voices of women and minorities are often substantially under-quoted in media stories [3]. Thus, it is important for newsroom to track who is quoted, how often they are quoted, what are the proportions of people quoted by gender, title, race, ethnicity, community, etc. ...
... The manual approaches are often not scalable. To examine gender bias in media, the Gender Gap Tracker [3] was recently created to tally the number of men and women quoted in news text using natural language processing. However, this system does not support real-time processing of news articles nor cover the important dimension of race and ethnicity in diversity. ...
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Professional news media organizations have always touted the importance that they give to multiple perspectives. However, in practice the traditional approach to all-sides has favored people in the dominant culture. Hence it has come under ethical critique under the new norms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). When DEI is applied to journalism, it goes beyond conventional notions of impartiality and bias and instead democratizes the journalistic practice of sourcing -- who is quoted or interviewed, who is not, how often, from which demographic group, gender, and so forth. There is currently no real-time or on-demand tool in the hands of reporters to analyze the persons they quote. In this paper, we present DIANES, a DEI Audit Toolkit for News Sources. It consists of a natural language processing pipeline on the backend to extract quotes, speakers, titles, and organizations from news articles in real time. On the frontend, DIANES offers the WordPress plugins, a Web monitor, and a DEI annotation API service, to help news media monitor their own quoting patterns and push themselves towards DEI norms.
... Since the first publication on gender bias detection in 2004 in the ACL Anthology 1 , which indexes papers published at almost all NLP venues, there have been a total of 224 publications aiming an investigation of gender bias, showing a clear upward trend in the number of papers published every year that has started back in 2015. In particular, previous research has confirmed gender bias to be prevalent in literature [Hoyle et al. 2019], news [Wevers 2019], media [Asr et al. 2021], and communication about and directed towards people of different genders [Fast et al. 2016;Voigt et al. 2018]. Further, prior studies have shown bias in underlying NLP algorithms such as word embeddings [Bolukbasi et al. 2016] and language models [Nadeem et al. 2021], as well as in the downstream tasks they are employed for, e.g., machine translation [Savoldi et al. 2021], coreference resolution [Rudinger et al. 2018;Webster et al. 2018;Zhao et al. 2018a], language generation , and part-of-speech tagging and parsing [Garimella et al. 2019]. ...
... On the other hand, gender gap is a phenomenon influencing gender bias in the text. Since women are underrepresented in most areas of society, it is not surprising that available texts mainly discuss and quote men [Asr et al. 2021], which leads, for example, to biased corpora researchers train their models on. ...
Preprint
Language can be used as a means of reproducing and enforcing harmful stereotypes and biases and has been analysed as such in numerous research. In this paper, we present a survey of 304 papers on gender bias in natural language processing. We analyse definitions of gender and its categories within social sciences and connect them to formal definitions of gender bias in NLP research. We survey lexica and datasets applied in research on gender bias and then compare and contrast approaches to detecting and mitigating gender bias. We find that research on gender bias suffers from four core limitations. 1) Most research treats gender as a binary variable neglecting its fluidity and continuity. 2) Most of the work has been conducted in monolingual setups for English or other high-resource languages. 3) Despite a myriad of papers on gender bias in NLP methods, we find that most of the newly developed algorithms do not test their models for bias and disregard possible ethical considerations of their work. 4) Finally, methodologies developed in this line of research are fundamentally flawed covering very limited definitions of gender bias and lacking evaluation baselines and pipelines. We suggest recommendations towards overcoming these limitations as a guide for future research.
... As a result, women perceive the public sphere, and public facing professions such as politics, as masculine (Polletta and Chen, 2013). Though news outlets are employing more women with every passing year (Artwick, 2014;Asr et al., 2021), gender disparity in the news such as allotting more space and prominence to masculine issues and citing more male sources, gives women implicit signals that the news is neither relevant to them nor meant for them (Sendén et al., 2015;Toff and Palmer, 2019). ...
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News avoidance, particularly among women, raises potential challenges for democracy. While research shows audiences don’t penalize women reporters or the outlets that employ them, we don’t know whether the presence of women in the newsroom affects such avoidance behaviors, particularly for women audiences. Additionally, the news may communicate gender to the audience in other ways beyond ascriptive characteristics of the reporter. We ask, do reporter gender, source gender, and gender of issues affect readers’ engagements with news, attitudes toward news avoidance, or perceptions about gender bias in journalism? Results from a survey experiment show that newsroom diversity affects “news-is-for-men” perceptions. Upon reading a masculine-issue story, respondents—both men and women—were more willing to read and seek stories from the same news outlet. News stories from male reporters also caused a stronger belief that the newsroom was dominated by men, which boosted “news-is-for-men” perceptions. As such, though reporter gender may not always impact readers directly, its influence is more pervasive than can be directly captured.
... Elle rend enfin possible et ce de manière quasi-instantanée l'analyse de très gros corpus intégrant un grand nombre de sources différentes. C'est d'ailleurs la raison de l'adoption de cette approche dans plusieurs projets d'outils automatiques mesurant la répartition genrée des sources citées dans les journaux, notamment le Gender Gap Tracker 7 au Canada [Asr et al., 2021]. Pour le français, le projet Mediabot suisse 8 calcule chaque semaine pour un nombre de journaux suisses en ligne la répartition du genre des personnes connues de Wikipedia dont les noms sont détectés dans les articles. ...
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... In contrast, when the photo lens cut to the picture of women, it tended to show facial blisters and bloodstains squeezed out by masks, rather than expressions of expertise and confidence in providing care. Therefore, in such an ultra-high-risk environment, men, who are a minority of nurses, appear to have a higher authority than women, which seems to be a declaration of frontline sovereignty and public conviction [15]. In this research, female nurses who had volunteered to go to Wuhan were interviewed. ...
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