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Top news editors are white men

People of colour and women are in general underrepresented in top positions in the news media. Overall, 23% of the 75 top editors across 100 online and offline news outlets are people of colour, despite that, on average, 44% of the general population are people of colour, a new study by Reuters Institute shows. In South Africa and the US, there are more top editors of colour than journalists of colour.

Another recent study by the Institute shows that only 24% of the 174 top editors across 240 major online and offline news outlets are women despite that, on average, 40% of journalists in the 12 markets are women. In 2023, this figure was 22% across the same markets. Among 33 new top editors appointed this year and last, 24% are women.

The new study covers  news outlets in five different markets across four continents: Brazil, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“If we set aside South Africa and look at the four other countries covered, 9% of the top editors are people of colour, compared with, on average, 31% of the general population”, the Institute says.

“In Brazil and Germany, as has been the case for the past three years, none of the outlets in our sample have a person of colour as top editor.” The study shows that in South Africa, the percentage of top editors of colour has dropped from 80% in 2023 to 71%. 

In the US, the percentage of top editors of colour also decreased to 29%, compared with 33% last year. 

In the UK, 7% of those in top editorial positions are people of colour.

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“As in previous years, in every single country covered, the percentage of top editors of colour remains below the percentage of people of colour in the general population.”

In the four countries where data are available on the number of journalists of colour, there continues to be no simple relationship between the percentage of journalists of colour and the percentage of people of colour in top editorial positions, the study says.

“In Brazil, there are fewer top editors of colour than there are journalists of colour. In the UK, these percentages are nearly the same. In South Africa and the US, there are more top editors of colour than journalists of colour.”

The share of internet news users who say that they read news from at least one major outlet with a top editor of colour ranges from 0% in Brazil and Germany to 90% in South Africa, the study shows.

In 12 markets where the Institute studied women in top editorial positions, the majority of top editors are men, including in countries where women outnumber men among working journalists.

The percentage of women in top editorial positions varies from 0% in Japan to 43% in the US.

“There is notable variation in the percentage of online news users in each market who say they get news from one or more major outlets with a woman as the top editor (whether offline or online). This ranges from, at the high end, 76% in Finland to, at the low end, 17% in Mexico and, given the absence of women top editors in our sample, 0% in Japan.”

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“Looking across the ten markets where we have collected data for five years, the percentage of women among the top editors has changed from 23% in 2020 to 25% in 2024. A linear projection suggests that, at this pace of change, there could be gender parity in top editorial positions by the year 2074”, the Institute says.

“But the change is not consistent across our sample – while the percentage of women in top editorial positions has increased relative to 2020 in six countries, it is the same in Mexico (6%) and Japan (0%), and it has decreased in Germany (from 27% to 25%) and South Africa (47% to 29%).”

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