Why we really need female sports journalists

The discussion regarding women in sports media is always a little head-scratching to me. News organizations executives are quick to preach the importance of diversity in the media industry, but they never actually say why. They pat themselves on the back for hiring women, but they reduce those women down to statistics rather than the valuable voices they are. Having more women in sports media is important, but sometimes I question those executives’ intentions. Sports media organizations have been making efforts towards being more inclusive, but are they hiring women for good reasons, or just so they can label their organizations as diverse? In fact, it’s tough to find any mention of the actual benefits of hiring female sports journalists (If you are interested in the numbers, however, here are a few studies from Poynter and the Women’s Media Center).

For that reason, I’d like to highlight the reasons why women truly help the sports media industry — other than fulfilling some vague claim of diversification. One of the biggest ways that women succeed in sports journalism is by using their unique eye for human interest stories. Melissa Ludtke, the former Sports Illustrated writer I spoke to, gave me her thoughts on this idea.

“I really brought to — what was then the leading sports magazine in the country, Sports Illustrated — very fresh ideas,” she explained. “I would see things through different eyes, and I’d look at things with different questions than I think were typically brought into the conversation by what had been a previously all-male press corps.”

Ludtke used the example of a story she wrote in 1978, which ended up as the feature of the SI baseball preview issue (what she called “prime real estate”). She spent a full season interviewing catchers and umpire crews in the MBL to craft a story detailing the experiences of catchers and their interactions with home plate umpires. She credits idea for the story to her ability to observe and be perceptive.

“I think one reason that I saw it was I picked up on conversations that probably weren’t of great interest because they were much more subtle, and involved the relationships that existed between these two human beings brought together in a strategic way,” she said.

“Within the coverage of the games themselves, women can see different things and ask different questions,” Ludtke added. “Their interests are somewhat different, and what they’ve been trained to see, or nurtured to see, or acclimated to see from their perspectives as women are very different.”

Take a look at the excellent and thoughtful piece here. Ludtke’s in-depth reporting is evident, as she successfully captures the intricate rapport between her subjects through dialogue and description.

Another reason that Ludtke brought up, which is something I have mentioned in an earlier post, is that women seem to lead the charge in hard-hitting coverage on domestic assault.

“You now have women calling out athletes for behavior that, for years, they were getting away with,” she said.

Rachel Nichols, for example, has been known to use some of her best journalistic skills when covering domestic violence, like her interview with Roger Goodell, who came under fire for the NFL’s handling of domestic abuse cases. Nichols refused to back down in the interview. I didn’t hear of any male journalist putting that type of pressure on the commissioner.

Ludtke acknowledged that not all women stick to human interest-type stories and that plenty of females offer excellent analysis and commentary on the games themselves, but she offered an interesting comment that seems to encompass women’s success in sports really well.

“Society has raised [women] to see the world much more relationally than men are expected to,” she said. “So it just makes the difference. A game, a team, is really a collection of relationships, and those relationships matter to how well the team functions. So, when you think about women coming in and covering a team over a season, they’re going to be looking at different aspects of it.”

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