Authored by Christine Eschenfelder, Middle Tennessee State University


The purpose of this qualitative study of current and former women television news directors is to understand how the organizational culture of television news supports or fails to support women as news managers. Through in-depth interviews with women who are or have been news directors in local television markets, this study seeks to explore the issues that contribute to the relatively low percentage of women in news director roles in the industry. By revealing the lived experiences of some of these women, this study seeks to describe existing barriers and opportunities in management. The results of this research have the potential to empower women in television news and invigorate the recruitment and retention of women news directors. Diversity in the newsroom, among both staff and management, is essential to practicing responsible journalism that truly reflects and benefits the audience.


The numbers are not revolutionary. A 2015 RTDNA study finds 31% of all local television news directors are women, a statistic identified as a new record (Papper, 2015). The same study reports that in television markets 101-150 only 20.5% of news directors are women, while in markets 51-100 the number is 28.4%. A decade ago, the RTNDA survey reported 21.3% of all television news directors were women; a less than ten percent increase over ten years.

Current research in the gendered experience of television news management is limited. Phalen (2000) conducted a qualitative study of women managers in broadcasting, finding that women have different experiences than their male counterparts. One reason, she argues, is an organizational culture that creates barriers for women. Phalen also reports that some women managers in her study made personal decisions that may differ from male managers; one participant tells Phalen, “My discretionary time is spent eating, sleeping, and being with my kids” (p. 238).” Burks and Stone (1998) find significant variance in home and family issues between male and female news directors. Family researcher Bianchi (2011) asserts women will give up more leisure time for family needs.

Management matters. Geisler (2006) writes, “People don’t leave organizations; they leave managers” (p. 55). Some research suggests that in journalism, retention of women overall may be affected by management. When exploring reasons why women are more likely than men to leave journalism, Everbach (2012) relays findings that include “a lack of opportunity for career advancement” and “they felt their work was not meaningful because their definitions of news differed from male managers” (p. 19).

Content and gatekeeping is also a concern. Berkowitz’s (1990) study of television newsrooms reveals final decisions on news coverage are most often made by managers. Everbach and Flournoy (2007) assert gender does play a role in journalistic decision-making, that men and women “consider different topics, angles, sources and ethics to be important” (p. 53).

Finally, studies like these continue the crucial conversation of women in leadership roles in the broadcast news industry and in this country. Sandberg (2013) asserts, “Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voice to their needs and concerns” (p. 7).


A qualitative approach is essential in order to achieve the depth of understanding necessary to explore this phenomenon. A rich description of the culture and the experience of each participant can be attained through in-depth interviews. Further, Creswell (2013) suggests, thick description “allows readers to make decisions regarding transferability” (p. 252). The researcher proposes conducting one to two hour interviews with six to eight women who are local television news directors. The participants will be recruited by utilizing existing contact information for women television news directors in all local markets. The researcher will send an email to all women identified requesting their participation in the study. Subsequent emails will be sent if the initial response is low. If after three emails the desired sample size is not reached, the researcher will telephone potential participants. Additionally, the researcher will contact six to eight former women news directors who have left the industry. The researcher has existing current contact information for potential participants in this category and will identify additional participants through referrals and research into industry publications. The purpose of this group is to discover why some women ultimately leave the industry and to identify areas for improvement in retention of women news directors.
McCracken (1988) argues that eight participants are sufficient for qualitative studies as “less is more” (p. 17) when the goal is depth of detail. It is through depth that the meaning of the experiences of these women can be ascribed. Further, Guest, Bunce, and Johnson (2006) note new themes in data emerge infrequently after twelve participants.