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In our sports-mad nation, all things are not equal when it comes to sports coverage. Despite more women than men now participating in sport and physical activity, coverage of women’s sport rarely rises above 10% of total sports coverage on any given day in Australia. Globally, a mere 4% of sports media content is dedicated to women’s sport.
Even on International Women’s Day 2020 when the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Final was played between Australia and India in front of a record-breaking crowd at the MCG, less than one-third (31.5%) of Australian sport media coverage that day was devoted to women’s sport.
‘Even when women’s sport is in the spotlight, we still don’t see that reflected in the media,’ says Dr Kim Toffoletti, Associate Professor of Sociology at Deakin University and a member of Deakin’s Centre for Sport Research.
Why is there such a huge disparity between the genders? Consider this: even though women make up roughly half of Aussie reporters, a measly 10% of sports reporters are women. That means 90% of new reports about sport are written or broadcast by men.
Herein lies the problem, says Dr Toffoletti. ‘We have a sports media industry that’s predominantly male, and in this male-dominated sports industry we don’t get the voices or perspectives of women who are writing about sport and consuming sport,’ she says.
‘We don’t see enough female sports reporters, photographers and content creators. So, we don’t tend to see a focus on women athletes or women’s sports stories.’
So what’s one simple way to increase coverage of women’s sport? Employ more women in sports journalism.
First, let’s address a common myth: that the sports-consuming public prefers men’s sport. In fact, research shows almost half of Australians would watch more women’s sport if it was available. This was evident during the launch of the hugely popular AFLW. Similar findings are reported in the UK, with more than half of sports fans wanting to see more women’s sport on TV.
'We don't see enough female sports reporters, photographers and content creators. So, we don't tend to see a focus on women athletes or women's sports stories.'
Dr Kim Toffoletti,
Deakin University Centre for the Sport Research
Employing more women in sports journalism is a lot like employing more people of diverse cultural backgrounds, ages or sexual orientation in any workplace. Study after study shows diverse teams achieve greater success than teams where everyone is the same. Why? Because they bring a diverse perspective and, as a result, attract a broader customer base.
As such, female sports journalists bring a different viewpoint and can help to change the conversation about women’s sport, says Dr Kasey Simons, co-founder of Siren Sport, a collective of Australian women’s sports advocates and content creators.
‘There are so many different ways to tell stories,’ she says. ‘We don’t need to tell the same sports stories that we’ve been telling for the last 100 years. We can be creative, we can be innovative, and we can generate really powerful content when we reach out to different voices and talk to different people about their experiences in sport.’
Dr Toffoletti says female sports journalists are a vital part of the evolving media landscape. ‘They cover women’s sport and women athletes in a way that the mainstream – or “male-stream” – media industry simply doesn’t.’
Organisations like Siren are working to create pathways for soon-to-be female journalism graduates to gain experience as sports reporters and content creators so they’re ready to land jobs in sport.
Through an innovative partnership with Deakin, students undertake an internship at Siren, explains Dr Toffoletti. ‘This internship program is making the kind of structural change to the sports media landscape that we have been calling for, for years,’ she says. ‘It builds students’ portfolios, and it makes them job and workplace ready to go out and get those jobs in sports media.
‘And in doing so, it also develops skills to be able to report on women’s sport in ways that elevate women’s achievements and avoid gender bias.’
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