Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A sinister conspiracy?

The New York Times today published a remarkably content-free story on a Princeton undergrad who, as her senior thesis, produced an analytical survey of fiction published in The New Yorker from 1992-2001. One of the study’s primary conclusions? That “male editors generally publish male authors who write about male characters who are supported by female characters.”

No shit.

Of course, Katherine Milkman (the undergrad who produced the survey) may have missed the real scoop by cutting off her data in 2001, which meant that her efforts compared the tenures of two male fiction editors, Charles McGrath and Bill Buford. The New Yorker's current fiction editor, Deborah Triesman, took over the position from Mr. Buford at the beginning of 2003.

Has a female editor made a difference? Not as much as one might think. My own informal survey of fiction published in The New Yorker since my subscription began on August 4, 2003 revealed that Ms. Triesman had published 27 stories by male writers to 15 stories by female writers. 64% may be a bit of a drop from the peak of 70% male authorship under Mr. Buford, but it's certainly nowhere near parity. (And it's substantially higher than the 57% male authorship under Mr. McGrath.)

Has Ms. Milkman’s work opened any eyes? Ms. Triesman had this to say:

"Do I walk away [after having read Ms. Milkman’s study] thinking 'Now I have to think about gender and race and location in selecting stories?' No."

Kind of makes all the work worthwhile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Content-free is exactly the word for it. Although it'd be interesting to compare the project with the story: I wonder how many variables the undergrad sorted out. I remember sex and children being listed as two others along with gender, but the NYT article rolled them all up into one ball. What I came away with is that even the most sophisticated statistical analyses are dull as hell if you don't really know what you're looking for.