Surprised? Canadian newspaper columnists are mostly male, middle-aged

By Dylan C. Robertson

Canada’s newspaper columnists are mostly male and mostly middle-aged, according to a J-Source survey of 339 columnists.

By Dylan C. Robertson

Canada’s newspaper columnists are mostly male and mostly middle-aged, according to a J-Source survey of 339 columnists.

During the past five weeks, J-Source contacted all news and general-interest columnists at Canada’s 76 English-language dailies, as defined by Newspapers Canada. Among the 73 national columnists surveyed, only 27 per cent are female.

Of the 66 per cent of national columnists who either responded or have a birth year listed online, the median age is 58.5.

That makes them quite different from the population as a whole. According to the 2011 census, just over half of Canadians are female, and the median age is 40.6.

“It makes me sad when only a quarter of columnists are female, given that more than half of Canadians are women,” said Romayne Smith Fullerton, ethics editor for J-Source. Smith Fullerton, who has studied newsroom diversity, said she sees a much lower proportion of women working in journalism than in the courses she teaches at Western University in London, Ont.

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“All newsrooms try to tell stories, but sometimes it’s a matter of who is (the) best fit to tell those stories, or whose stories get told,” she said. “For years, newsrooms have had a huge lack of diversity in gender, age, [sexual] orientation and language ability.”

As for age, Smith Fullerton said it makes sense that columnists are older than the national median. “Columnists are made, not graduated. You do time as a reporter or editor and work your way up.”

*Click the image to zoom in

Among the 266 regional columnists surveyed, 27 per cent are female (the same result as with national columnists). Of the 50 per cent of all the regional columnists who responded, the median age range is 50 to 59.

*Click the image to zoom in

The lists of both national columnists and regional columnists approached by J-Source are available online; contact information has been removed, as has age data for regional columnists.

A Gawker survey of American columnists published in December found that “they're old as hell.”  “Newspaper columnists are, statistically speaking, old dudes,” the survey concluded, with a median age of 60 (versus 37.2 for the population) and only 27 per cent who were female.

The youngest columnist surveyed is a Timmins, Ont., high-school student who writes about issues young Canadians face. The oldest columnist is the National Post’s Robert Fulford, who was born in 1932 and writes about everything from the Syrian war to Toronto art exhibitions.

About the survey

This is an incomplete survey that does not meet scientific standards. Robertson visited the website of every daily newspaper as defined by Newspapers Canada and compiled a list of all news or general columnists. About 15 newspapers do not have columnists.

He then sorted the columnists by gender and age. Those without a photograph linked to either their newspaper website or email address were asked to specify their gender.

Each columnist was emailed. Regional columnists were asked to select an age range (e.g., 30-39, 70 and over) while national columnists were asked their year of birth. This is because many national columnists have their information listed online and have a different expectation of privacy.

For national columnists, 34 of 73 replied, including five who declined. For regional columnists, 133 of 266 replied, including six who declined.

Robertson excluded columnists with a main focus on art, health, history, sports, lifestyle and business. Some columnists with a specific beat, like environment or religion, were included if they only appear in the editorial section. He also excluded reporters who have occasional columns, local politicians in small communities and globally syndicated columnists like Gwynne Dyer and David Suzuki.

J-Source has inevitably left out columnists by mistake, as many websites do not list their columnists and we tried in good faith to list all who had regularly contributed in recent months.

All columnists were asked to indicate either their year of birth (national) or their age range sorted by decades (regional), e.g., 20 to 29, 30 to 39, etc. National columnists who did not reply had their birth year included only if it was already available online, often on a Wikipedia page that cites a print source.


Dylan C. Robertson is a Toronto freelance journalist who’s worked at the Toronto Star and Montreal’s The Gazette. He’s covered everything from European elections to fad diets:





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