I love being a sports journalist but where are the women?
At 14-years-old I knew I wanted to be a sports journalist. Without a doubt. I was a tom boy who played rugby, hockey, tennis, cricket and all that was going in the heart of central Southland. There was no plan B, I was going to be a sports reporter.
I’m now double that age and have finally made it in to the sports department, just six months ago for Stuff. When I got this job I was over the moon and still am. Who wouldn’t want to write about their favourite thing day in and day out?
It’s funny though, whenever I tell people what I do for a living they often ask if I have any female colleagues. I don’t. At least not in the sport department - not even nationally.
I’m certainly not complaining about the every day aspect of that. It makes for a fun atmosphere and I don’t have to think twice about wearing Shneens (sneakers and jeans) to work as nobody cares.
But in realising I am in fact the only female sports journalist for the Fairfax sports contingent across the country, apart from being proud, it is a tad alarming. It worries me that New Zealand media may not be doing women’s sport justice. And it puzzles me why we don’t have more females reporting on what I would like to think is a gender neutral part of Kiwi life.
New Zealand does of course have a few well-known female faces in sports broadcasting. We have TVNZ’s Toni Street and Jenny May Coffin. SkyTV’s talent includes Hayley Holt, rugby’s Melodie Robinson and Laura McGoldrick rolls in every cricket season covering the Black Caps. Formerly of Radiosport and now SkyTV, Rikki Swannell is one of the most knowledgeable sports journalists in the country.
However, if we can list these women reporters in print, television and radio from the last five to 10 years that easy, there is most definitely a ‘‘lady drought’’ in sports journalism.
The optimist in me would like to think us Kiwi women have as much zest for sport as men. After all we are just as exposed to sport as it is so ingrained into the social fabric of Kiwi society - particularly our media. I don’t know many other countries with the exception of the US that dedicates an even share of the news to sport. The question comes to beg however, how much of that sport news is dedicated to women’s sport?
Could it be the lack of female interest in becoming sports reporters is actually our own doing? Do the media (me, my employers and competitors) cover well enough the sports our ‘‘Kiwi girls’’ want to hear and read about? Female instinct says definitely not. Research shows that in over 30 years women have featured in the sport section at a rate of only 10 per cent, with very little shift in that time.
However, before we go and blame the media for the lack of female sport in our pages, I have since seen with my own eyes some very solid reasons for this. Number one is readership. When we print an All Blacks story, papers are bought and people are clicking online. In reverse, even when the Black Ferns won the Women’s Rugby World Cup last month readership didn’t exactly break any software.
Perhaps another reason men’s sport is covered more thoroughly in the media is that male sport is often the more exciting spectacle to watch.
Yes I have said it. I as much as anyone else want female sport to get its time in the sun, but if I had to choose between a Federer vs Cilic final and a Williams vs Muguruza Wimbledon final I would watch the Swiss king take another title any day of the week.
International research shows I am not alone on this and that having more females in sports media does not necessarily mean more or better coverage to women’s sport - because female journalists too want to cover those pinnacle events and land some kudos with our male colleagues and most importantly our readers.
Although our sports media is predominantly male and there is no easy fix for better coverage of women’s sport, it is something that can change over time.
Readership and resources means women may never have a 50/50 share in the sporting world but it is time media outlets take a new approach to women’s sport and shift the scale just a little in the direction of our sporting women.
Male sports stars get the lion’s share of coverage in part because the likes of Roger Federer undoubtedly provide a great spectacle.