boys club

Sport Journalism Remains a Difficult Environment for Female Journalists

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Jenny Dell, Sideline reporter for New England Sports Network.

flickr / Keith Allison under Creative Commons

Jenny Dell, Sideline reporter for New England Sports Network.

“It’s a terrible boys’ club. That’s how it is going to be, be it good or bad, until more girls start participating, whenever that will be,” says Edda Sif Pálsdóttir, a former sports journalist for RÚV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.

Nordic countries have well-developed media systems and correspondingly high degrees of press freedom. Most of them rank among the highest nations in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, and women also enjoy high levels of literacy. However, based on the “Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media,” published by the International Women’s Media Foundation in 2011, only in the occupational levels relating to sales, finance and administration do women represent a majority in the media industry of the Nordic region.

Sports are no exception. Despite the considerable increase in girls’ and women’s participation in sports and a growing audience interested in women’s elite sports, there are still huge differences in media coverage of women’s and men’s sports.

Little change in a dynamic field

According to“Gender Equality in Sport,” studies of newspapers and television broadcasts show a positive correlation between the number of women sports journalists and editors and the quantity of women’s sports coverage. Women sports reporters are less likely to cover women athletes in disrespectful ways and are more likely to advocate expanding coverage of women’s sports. Stories by female reporters are seen as more likely to challenge stereotypes and less likely to reinforce them, compared with those produced by male journalists.

A study conducted in Denmark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden suggests that with few exceptions, the amount of media coverage of women in sports has not substantially changed since the 1970s.

Also, women are a minority in the sports newsroom, in news boardrooms and as working reporters. The average working environment in sports media is particularly difficult for female journalists. They need to overcome general barriers but face particular opposition from male journalists and athletes.

“It is that way that the boys stick together,” says Pálsdóttir. “Although I can’t say it was hard entering the field as a woman, I could feel it—that I was the only girl in a men’s class.”

Attitude matters

In an environment where men seem to have the upper hand, female practitioners believe it’s a matter of attitude. Claudia Luna Bisconti, a reporter following the handball team KIF Kolding København in Denmark, says that as soon as she dared to take the initiative, “just do it” and believe in her work, she was accepted by her co-workers.

Describing the working environment in Iceland, Pálsdóttir says it is still a pretty big step for a woman to become a sports journalist there. “As it is now, you have to dare to stand up for yourself, take initiative and be ready to fight in the game.”

Quality is what stands out, says Bisconti. As soon as the players and fellow workers see that, gender makes no difference at all. She believes that female reporters’ attitude is key to their career success.

Worrying too much about how people are going to respond to you does not help. “I didn’t do that, and I don’t think I could have gotten this far if I would have,” Bisconti says. You need to get your own ideas and try to follow them it through, she notes. “Never be afraid to stand outside the box.

She adds, “Guys probably have more of that ‘go get it’ attitude,” and women might spend a lot of time overthinking whether the field will accept them, while “guys tend to go more after what they want.”

Tough choice: family or career?

It’s not just the male-dominated world that seems to keep women away from the sports business. The inconvenient working hours for family caretakers have a part in the equation, but that’s not all. Perhaps the reason originated in an attitude that women are raised with: to step back and think twice before acting.

Family has a poor reputation for hurting the careers of many women. Research shows that many female reporters do not return to work after starting a family, due to time and energy demands in their careers.

Whether or not you have a family, the long and demanding work shifts in sports journalism make it hard to live a normal life, Pálsdóttir says. “I was always missing out birthdays, graduations, weddings and dinner parties because I was always at work.” Games are at all hours, often late at night, and as she describes her workplace, you couldn’t count on getting a night off on vacation days.

“Even if you didn’t have a shift, you’d just be handed another task,” mostly because games and events are happening around the clock. “This lifestyle becomes very tiring, and you can’t do it forever, not to mention if there are kids to think about. Missing out on major life events was the reason I changed my work, even though I loved my job,” says Pálsdóttir.

She refuses to believe she is the only woman who wanted to become a sports journalist in Iceland. “Though it can be difficult, someone will have to take the first step again, without any support from fellow female workers.” In her opinion, sports coverage will definitely achieve better standards and become more appealing if a more varied group of people take up the task of delivering it.

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