‘Refinery 29’ and ‘Yahoo!’ Report False Data on Women in Country

An article posted in the two major publications claims listeners will hear 44 men on country radio before they hear a woman. But the real number was supposed to be 4.4.

On Friday, April 26th, a new study conducted by the University of Ottawa’s Jada E. Watson was released that once again underscored the lack of representation for women on country radio. Analyzing 19 years of Mediabase data, the study pegs the overall representation of women on country radio at 19.6%, or a 3.9 to 1 ratio men to women since 2000. The new study includes a lot of other deeper data analysis, and also underscores how the lack of representation on radio is adversely affecting the careers of country’s women, and continues to get worse over time. Over the life of the study, representation for women went from 33.3% in 2000, to 11.3% in 2018 according to the research.

As alarming as these findings might be, they’re not nearly as bad as the websites Refinery 29 or Yahoo! characterized in a recent article posted on the study. As Saving Country Music was working on an article about the new findings (which will hopefully will be published soon), it came upon an article written by Courtney E. Smith published on both the Refinery 29 and Yahoo! platforms entitled, “Want To Hear A Woman On Country Radio? You’ll Have To Sit Through 44 Songs By Men First.”

The article goes on to regurgitate data from the study in a completely slipshod manner, either accidentally or intentionally falsifying the findings, and rearranging a decimal point to come to its outlandish and incorrect conclusion.

“The rate of play went from 33.3% to 11.3%, hitting its lowest point in 2014, when women earned only 7.3% of airtime,” Courtney E. Smith reports in the article. “That means, their study found, songs performed by men are played at 44:1. You’ll hear 44 men before you hear one woman on country radio.”

This information published by Refinery 29 and Yahoo! is patently incorrect. And even if it was correct, it still wouldn’t result in country listeners having to listen to 44 men before they would hear a woman. Even if “7.3% of airtime in 2014” was right (which it isn’t), this would still mean that even at the worst moment on country radio in the last 19 years, you would still hear 13.7 men before you heard one woman, not 44. This also would represent what you would hear in 2014, not currently. But the 7.3% number in 2014 isn’t even correct. Instead, this appears to be a misplaced data point not pertaining to the percentage of women on country radio overall, but the amount of songs representing women on the 2014 year end report taking into consideration the very top songs of the entire year.

As for the “men are played at a 44:1. You’ll hear 44 men before you hear one woman on country radio” statement, this seems to be the result of a misplaced a decimal point. The only number that appears to coincide with the “44:1” statistic from the data is a “4.4 to 1” ratio of men to women being played on country radio over the 19-year duration of the study. In other words, over the span of the study, you would hear an average of 4.4 men before you heard 1 woman, not 44.

Even during 2018, the ratio of men to women according to the new study was still 9.7 men for every one woman played. That number itself is pretty shocking in how poorly women are being represented in the format, but it’s nowhere close to the 44 to 1 fallacy emblazoned in the title of the article published on Yahoo! and Refinery 29.

The article also falsely claims, “The conversation around (not) playing women on country radio started with a blog post in 2015, when a consultant told radio programmers that if their playlist is a salad, women should be the tomatoes.” First, it was not a “blog post,” but an interview with self-proclaimed radio consultant Keith Hill, who was being asked about the issue because it was already a hot topic within the country music community. Second, this was far from the beginning of the women in country music conversation. Saving Country Music had been covering the topic since 2012, as had other outlets during the decline of female representation on radio brought about by the rise of the Bro-Country era.

The next question is how did a title and an article this egregiously false get published in two major American periodicals? Is it just absolute journalistic negligence, or is there an agenda behind this mischaracterization, either to stimulate clicks, or to somehow impugn the country music industry for rampant sexism with numbers that are wildly embellished?

As Saving Country Music reported in the midst of the Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” controversy, downright false reporting and incorrect facts are being employed to embellish stories about the lack of diversity in country music. Both The New York Times and The Guardian falsely cited a notorious Twitter troll named Shane Morris as a “former country music executive,” when he was never an executive at all, and instead was well-known throughout the music community for threatening the children of musicians, music fans, and posting reams of discriminatory remarks on Twitter and other platforms for years. Morris had falsely claimed in a viral Twitter thread that the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart had not one African American artist crest the chart in over 40 years, when Charley Pride alone had achieved 29 #1 songs during the period.

Pitchfork, Salon, and other outlets also purposely moved the timeline of Lil Nas X’s removal on the country charts to falsely characterize Saving Country Music as stimulating the action. Despite publishing clear evidence of the incorrect information posted in these periodicals, no corrections have been made by any of these outlets.

In all of these cases, the reporting on country music is being done by journalists who do not cover country primarily, while the same falsehoods often get parroted out though media echo chambers, especially persistent on Twitter. The 1.32 million followers of Refinery 29 on Twitter were exposed to the false information of this recent article, which was then repeated and retweeted because of the shocking implications of the charge, similar to the false assertions made by Shane Morris. The “too shocking to believe” aspect is what often fuels the spread of this misinformation.

The issue of representation of women in country music is a serious one, and the new study presents a lot of important talking points. But the continued unchecked false reporting by multiple media sources is not only a distraction from these important topics, it’s damning of the entire media industry, especially when the falsehoods go uncorrected.

Saving Country Music will have more coverage on the new study soon.