Women in Sports Journalism
Sweeping the web and making a way into everyone’s heart is the story of 13-year-old Little League pitcher, Mo’ne Davis. Her amazing athleticism, deadly pitch and pure awesomeness have catapulted her story into major headlines across the nation, including the cover of Sports Illustrated. Stories like these make sports journalism coverage interesting human interest pieces and more than what the final score is. While the score can be important too, it seems there isn’t a shortage of sports journalists that are passionate about finding the deeper narrative in the sometimes chaotic sports world.
CBS Sports Network announced this week that it will launch a new sports program this fall titled “We Need to Talk.” The show will be hosted, produced and directed by women; the first-ever cable program to make such a venture.
In a press release, president of CBS Sports David Berson said, “From the moment news of the show spread, the reaction we’ve received has been nothing short of amazing. We’ve been inundated with notes from women across the industry requesting to join the extraordinary women at CBS Sports to create a fun, unique and informative show for all sports fans,” he said.
Taking the panel seats for the show include sports personalities Lesley Visser, Tracy Wolfson, Amy Trask, Dana Jacobson and Allie LaForce. Additional contributors include Swin Cash, Summer Sanders, Andrea Kremer, Lisa Leslie, Dara Torres, Laila Ali and Katrina Adams. Producing the show is Emilie Deutsch, Julie Keryc, Amy Salmanson and director Suzanne Smith, who also additionally directs NFL games for the network.
The format will allow for guest interviews with a rotating panel and deeper analysis of sports topics. But by shutting out men all together, is it creating a line in the sand between the two sexes or helping to foster much needed attention to women in sports? Does gender bias even existent in today’s sports journalism culture?
Helping us to gain a perspective from their own personal sports journalism backgrounds are The Washington Post’s deputy sports editor and blogger, Cindy Boren; managing editor for sports and features at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Celeste Williams; and co-founder of Women Talk Sports, Jane Schonberger.
Boren, who has also covered sports at Kansas City Star, National Sports Daily and New York Daily News before joining WaPo, found her calling in sports journalism during her teens. “I was assigned to cover a football game in high school and never looked back,” she said.
In her 30 years of experience, she still believes there is a stigma in women sports journalists. “It’s just different and less obvious,” she said. “This is, for me, particularly true as it pertains to bloggers. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been questioned about my expertise ‘because I never played the game.’ In fact, it came up just last week. I treat blogging the same way I treat reporting. I check the facts, I make calls; I decide whether or not to run with something,” Boren explained.
Williams’ background of covering sports at 13 newspapers as an editor/designer in her career has given her a unique perspective as well and finds that the stigma relies more heavily on the journalist’s capability. “We have a Cowboys/NFL reporter who’s a women and she’s one of the best in the field. I think readers expect reporters/columnists to be experts in their subjects and once they prove they know their stuff, I think gender is irrelevant to the readers,” she said.
As co-founder of Women Talk Sports, a site dedicated to women sports and athletes, Schonberger also doesn’t believe there is a strong stigma in women journalism. “Most of the women covering mainstream sports for major outlets like Hannah Storm and Michelle Beadle are more than qualified to do their job,” she said.
In terms of their opinion about the new CBS show, it’s a little divided.
“I’m not fond of the idea of an all-female sports talk show,” Boren said. “Why can’t women participate in sports talk shows with men, rather than being relegated to the role of “host” or sideline reporter? In fact, I find the idea of an all-women talk show off-putting. I didn’t fight for so long to be regarded as an equal to slink off to the women’s corner.”
For Williams, the show isn’t of much interest to her comparatively to all talk show formats. “I wish them well,” she said. “I’m quite comfortable with women being in the studio, talking sports topics. I’m sure it will be [as] entertaining as listening to men do the same thing. I don’t usually watch sports talk shows with men or women, but more power to them.”
Schonberger finds that the idea of the show has its merits and could help foster more attention to women in sports as a whole. “It reflects the growing influence women have on sports and although not specifically designed to do so, I’m hoping the show gives women in sports a much needed voice.”
Until this its premiere on Sept. 30, it’ll be hard to predict the success of We Need to Talk on CBS Sports, but there’s no mystery on why covering sports for any gender, is rewarding as much as it is entertaining.
“Like any good story, the narrative unfolds in dramatic and often unexpected ways,” Schonberger said. “Plus, seeing the athletes push their physical limits to new levels is awe-inspiring.”
While Williams doesn’t directly cover sports anymore, she remembers what stood out in sports coverage. “It’s a challenge to come up with a unique way to tell a story and that’s what I always enjoyed the most,” she said.
The unpredictable nature and never-ending coverage is what keeps Boren engaged. “What I love about sports are the personalities, the human interest stories. The fact that, at any moment – something great can occur,” Boren said. “It keeps you on your toes 24/7.”
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