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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What we lose when we lose female reporters

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It is a truth increasingly acknowledged that many men are paid more than their female counterparts. How much more? About 50 percent, in the BBC journalist Carrie Gracie's case. Over the weekend, Ms. Gracie quit as the broadcaster's China editor and announced she was returning to London. "Enough is enough," she wrote, in an astringent open letter, describing how she discovered last year that the BBC paid two of its four international editors - men, of course - 50 percent more than the female editors.

At least she knows. Ms. Gracie discovered this gross inequality only because in 2017 the British government forced the BBC, which it partly funds, to disclose salaries of top on-air talent. The figures showed a gender and ethnic pay gap, with male anchors making in some cases twice as much as their female co-anchors. It says something when it's considered an advancement for women just to get to the bargaining table and ask for equal pay. Many of us never even get that far.

More than a decade ago, I was coming off a successful summer stint as a Wall Street Journal reporting intern. Naturally, I vied with other interns for a full-time reporting job. A post came up in the Hong Kong bureau. Did I, a Cantonese speaker with prior Asian reporting experience, get it? I wasn't even asked to apply. Instead, a fellow intern with no prior Asia experience was hired. He was white.

Later, the Journal offered me a part-time reporting job in Hong Kong, which I took to get a foot in the door. But it was a struggle to achieve pay parity from such a lowly start, even after winning awards and a shared Pulitzer. "You're asking for a 70 percent pay raise! That's never been given before," I heard from an editor during salary negotiations. How hilarious, I thought at the time, that The Journal should expect its reporters to understand the financial intricacies of large corporations while swallowing this kind of flimflam. But the joke was on us.

Last year, the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees reported a persistent wage gap between men and women employed by Dow Jones, The Journal's parent company. The report found that full-time female employees make on average less than 85 percent of what their male counterparts earn, even when accounting for differences in age and location.

And there is a distinct and persistent gap between pay for men and for women, even when they hold the same job title and have worked the same amount of time. Dow Jones female employees in New York - hardly a cheap place to live - made $10,000 less than their male counterparts, and $13,000 less in Washington. Multiply that difference over the span of a career and that's the home you can never buy, or several children's college educations.

None of this is, of course, unique to media: The gender pay gap is an unfortunate feature of many industries, from banking to Hollywood to even female-dominated industries, such as cleaning and teaching. But this particular pay gap affects our crucial understanding of China's rise, one of the biggest news stories of our time.

Foreign correspondents of Carrie Gracie's caliber, who are fluent in the language and have several decades of experience, are rare. Spanning 10 years, her stories on a rural farming community's transformation into a huge city is one of the definitive narratives of China's urbanization process.

Foreign correspondents of her caliber who are women, who have spent their careers underpaid and faced challenges their male peers never had to, are rarer still. While there's no accurate data comparing the numbers of male and female foreign correspondents, it's quite likely that the figures mirror or surpass those of general newsrooms, which are two-thirds male. Such imbalances are certainly reflected in journalism prizes, as Pulitzers for international reporting and even the Martha Gellhorn Prize - named for a female correspondent - go overwhelmingly to men.

The writer is a former China correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

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