How do we get more women’s sport in the media? And how should we tell stories about women in sport?
This is my presentation of my story to the Women & Sport Symposium at Griffith University
I’ve been working in the women’s sport media space for over 10 years and I’ve never seen such interest in the mainstream media as the last 6-12 months — this is a very exciting time. And the important thing now is to keep the momentum going.
A little bit about how I got here. Over 10 years ago in 2005 I started a website called Sporting Sheilas. I like my alliteration.
I was inspired to do this by a friend of mine, Bronnie Mackintosh, who at the time was playing league and union for Australia. She was fundraising to buy uniforms for the team so they had green and gold to wear while representing their country.
I was also really into my football and it was practically impossible to find news about the Matildas but what little I did find, I cobbled together on my site. My focus was teams so Diamonds, Hockeyroos, Southern Stars also all featured.
This is before Twitter and Facebook. My Space was the social media platform of choice. Getting news directly from the sports was difficult. I’m sure they were thinking – Who is this upstart? Blogging was certainly something people understood but independent media wasn’t the powerhouse it is today. I occasionally get results sent to me but more often than not, it came from the athletes themselves. And it wasn’t easy.
Twitter is my co-pilot
It all changed dramatically around about 2010. It wasn’t Facebook as you might imagine, but Twitter. Once female athletes became active on Twitter they suddenly became immediately accessible to me. And as I was someone who had been on Twitter for 4 years and built up a network of trust – athletes were open to talking to me. It’s not that they weren’t accessible before but now I could bypass the gatekeepers.
And sportswomen were posting their own content. I could amplify their voices.
By the end of that year, I had built up the largest women’s sport network in the country.
Sport for women
I then began working on an initiative called ‘Sport for Women’ and their content and community manager. The content I was producing was primarily profiles of elite sportswomen.
And in my time there I was a finalist in the ASC awards for reporting on women in sport during the London Olympics and Paralympics. I did this, just me, camped out in my lounge room – on London time and sleeping in front of the TV.
Bring a woman with you
What I didn’t realise at the time was the work I was doing, out there on my own, was giving other women ideas. One of those women is Ann Odong and she started The Women’s Game in 2008 to report on the Matildas and the newly formed W-League. I went on to work with Ann on that site, which has now been going for 10 years and she is widely recognised as the go-to expert for women’s football. A position that I don’t think it would have been possible for her to obtain working within the confines of the existing main stream media space.
But how do you change that space? We want more women’s sport coverage – how do we realistically achieve that?
I’ve always been a bit of a disrupter, a troublemaker if you like. I think if you want to change a space, you need people on the inside and people on the outside. I’m an outside person. So my answer to that question was to create my own media. That’s the answer that a lot of other women arrived at as well and now there’s this network of women’s sport content producers across the country telling the stories that the mainstream wouldn’t or couldn’t.
This brings me to SBS and Zela. I was the managing editor of SBS’s dedicated women sport website which ran from December 2015 to September 2016.
This was a unique opportunity for me to build a website from the ground up with the resources of a national broadcaster. I could set the editorial direction, and build my own team to report on women in sport. I was able to set my own guidelines and tone for how we would talk about women in sport. And I was ruthless. The issues Dr Kelly alluded to with sexualisation of female athletes were nowhere to be seen on Zela. It wasn’t easy though, on my first day on the job, the head of digital at SBS told me ‘sex sells’. I may not have told him where to go but it was close.
So, what does sell? What works? View my presentation of what worked on Zela.
What can you do to support women’s sport media?
You can support the women creating content and telling the stories of women in sport – I’ll be sending out a list of websites, podcasts and books, so you should all sign up to my mailing list.
Can we get 50% reporting on women in sport at the Commonwealth Games?
I want to throw down a challenge to the media – at this upcoming Commonwealth Games, for the first time at a major sporting event 50% of medals will be available to women – so my challenge to the mainstream media is this: I want to see 50/50 reporting on male and female athletes.
Honestly, there really is no excuse.