Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Women's sport and the media

"As newsroom staffs shrink and eyeballs measure interest, women’s sports coverage is losing ground it once seemed to be gaining."

So, there you have it. We're not just imagining mainstream news outlets don't have room for women's sports,  The Nieman Foundation at Harvard and Marie Hardin from Penn State think so too.  She's written a thought-provoking article on the reasons why newspapers are cutting back on women's sports.

And she draws attention to Women Talk Sports (I'm a proud part of this) as a viable online alternative to the print medium when it comes to building athletes' profiles. Unfortunately she does also say their traffic is still less than say SBNation but it is also newer and building so over the next few years those numbers could change.

Personally I find it irritating that national women's teams can compete, represent their country and not even get two lines on a news bulletin or a few paragraphs in the paper the next day. A few weeks ago the Irish men and the women's rugby teams played on the same weekend; one team was barely mentioned.  Of course, every sport can't be covered all of the time. There is huge pressure on news, often so many things happening abroad and at home that you can imagine editors tearing their hair out trying to fit everything in.

But maybe this is what the online editions of papers should be for - all the news, plus the extra events which costs prevent them from running in print? 

You can read the full report on the Nieman Reports site at A shrinking sports beat:women's teams athletes


Emmet Ryan said...

Well three things.

1. Budget cuts
Niemann's article shows the reduction in coverage of all sports. It's not just minority sports but the middle-ground sports (as in the Golf/Tennis/Athletics) that have been hard hit by newsroom shrinkage. Women's sports, which have less public interest, naturally suffer. This is obviously a bad thing but the bad guy here isn't the media. These are organisations whose actions are dictated by what will appeal to the largest audience.

Budget cuts essentially mean that big sports get BIGGER because it's harder to take risks on small sports. This largely explains the ESPN shrinkage as the WWL has all but culled Olympic and second-tier sports. Talk-shows, which of course focus on the big stuff, are cheap to produce and increase the squeeze even more. This frees up more investment for big rights fees demanded by big sports.

To get more coverage any sport has to basically bump itself ahead in the queue by showing more people care about it.

2. Work the market
As someone who has long-stated views on my belief in the market and on the need for people to stop blaming when it comes to minority sports, of either gender, and to give mainstream media a reason to cover them I'm not going to re-tread my old ground in too much detail here.

The efforts on Action81.com to cover a wider variety of sports extend also to efforts to change the poor mouth attitude of those involved. If you want to get bigger you must give everything and expect nothing.

In a related note, we have a small project forthcoming with a mixed gender sport that I can't discuss but has driven me mental due to the bureaucracy. A mainstream outlet would simply pass if they had to deal with, simple as that.

I may actually get around to writing that long awaited blog post on 'pulling up bootstraps' (which again affects all minority sports) but there are two economy related ones that are ahead of it in the queue when it comes to brain-sapping work.

3. Goal-targetting
In fairness EVERYONE would like to have the type of hits SBNation get, they're freaking kings of the internet. That really isn't a like for like comparison. The BlogsWithBalls network would be more the target for WomenTalkSports (which despite the name is actually quite pro-women and features several female writers).-

niamh said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment in such detail.
Your points are covered in the full report, especially the financial issue. I agree with you that women need to do more to promote our sports but it seems that niche publications (ISW being a case in point)are another way to get around economic cutbacks. Most sports magazines - that I've seen I should say - focus on male or female so maybe it's unrealistic to expect newspapers to cover both these days? But on the other hand, the Evening Echo does a great women's sport supplement once a week and if they can do it ....

Emmet Ryan said...

Well there's a couple of things going in the Echo's favour, which oddly is something the Herald should look at. Cork and Dublin, aside from being big, also have a typically higher concentration of women active/interested in sport than the rest of the country (lots of socioeconomic reasons why).

Despite being tabloids, Ireland's two largest evening papers, which are both heavily regional, are massively reliant on their supplements for sales. The Monday edition of the Evening Herald for example outdoes the rest of the week substantially due to its Junior Soccer section. Targeted supplements, such as the one you cited, certainly can make a difference.

Again there is the issue of cost, it's one thing when the supplement is already established. It's quite another to go out and test the waters. That's why the pressing from the minorities end is vital for any progress. My message to minority sports may sound stark but it is clear: be willing to do anything the media asks and expect nothing in return, that's the most effective way to make progress.

niamh said...

Some more comments here on this post at its home over at Women Talk Sports: http://www.womentalksports.com/items/read/786/910424