We recently learned that SBS Zela, an Australian website dedicated to women in sport, will finish up after the Olympics.
The reasons for decisions like this from any publication are far from simple and I’m not going to go into it here.
It’s left me with mixed emotions. Sadness to start with, exasperation next, and finally, fatigue. These feelings aren’t directed at SBS or the reasons the decision was made. It takes courage and conviction to back something like this to start with.
These are feelings I have when I see forum posts asking why women aren’t featured in other publications, when I see a high-quality article on women in sport receive almost zero traction on social media, and when I see skilled writers and photographers work for free because they want to contribute to this gap but can’t build a relationship with enough publications that can pay them for this work. In short, my feelings are in response to the state of media on, by and about women in sport far more broadly, and the actions from audiences in response.
I’ve worked in this space for nine years now, for a range of publications, and often for a few at once. I’ve seen so many people try to make regular, quality coverage on women in sport work.
We just lost one site, but if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose a whole lot more.
Intelligent, diverse, well-communicated coverage on women in sport is something that’s on the cusp of becoming a sustainable enterprise. But that cusp can feel like a knife edge during weeks like this, or a lightly drawn line in the desert on others. There’s no crystal ball or magic compass to know exactly where to head or the most efficient way to get there before all the supplies run out.
Readers say they want this content, but audience numbers in comparison to stories on men’s sport too often tell a different story. Beyond content on and for women in sport simply existing, I feel that readers don’t know what it should look like any more than the people who are creating it. There are so few resources compared to content on men’s sport that it can’t be covered in the same way, and nor should it be. These stories need their own voices, their own shape, and should be as various and multiple as the people who experience them.
Creating content on and for women in sport takes effort. And when success is measured in clicks, when advertising is linked to views, and media professionals need to make ends meet, it can feel like a constant fight to make these stories work.
In writing this I’m so happily aware that there are indeed stories that do work. And by work I mean people click on them, read them, like them and share them. It’s through these actions that social feeds prioritise this content and the stories find their way find their way to broader audiences.
If I turn to cycling over the last month, the announcement of Anna Meares carrying the flag at the Rio Opening ceremony was met with huge applause, as were her incredible efforts on the track. So was Chloe Hosking winning the La Course by Le Tour de France, a victory she’s since backed up with another win, on the way to her road world championships campaign.
My comments in this post aren’t concerned with the exceptions. I’m concerned about the majority. Shifting the majority has a long way to go.
How do we create household names, and emotional, curiosity-driven responses in audiences, for athletes that haven’t had the exposure of four Olympics like Meares? Or who have a trade team that puts budget into press releases and videos after almost every single event, like Hosking’s, building a narrative before one of the most broadcast women’s cycling events on the calendar?
If I scan various social media feeds during the Olympics, it seems like stories about how NOT to report on women in sport are the ones that are going viral. These articles are important, but why aren’t we sharing more of the stories that are doing it well?
This isn’t a whinge post on how hard it is to create good content, or how scarce resources are in media. This is a post to say we – the collective we of journalists everywhere, including men, who want to see this content grow – are trying. We’re trying hard. We’re asking questions, we’re looking at what others are doing, we’re watching how the landscape is changing and we’re constantly seeking out new ways to get these stories out there.
As far as cycling is concerned, I’d like to see the number of stories, images and magazine covers featuring female riders better reflect the percentage of women that participate in the sport. I’d like to see image databases have a healthy selection of recent photos to choose from. I’d like to see professional teams have enough budget to pay athletes as well as a media officer. I’d like to see the efforts of people working to tell these stories in media recognised from within the sport, along with athletes, coaches and clubs, through events such as the annual Cycling Australia awards and from companies and organisations pushing for content and advertising. And I’d like to see more publications paying their contributors a respectful wage. Too many cycling journalists support their work in this industry with a suitcase of passion and other jobs elsewhere.
For any of these shifts to exist, to reach screens, to become part of conversations, and memory, and motivation and thought, we need your support.
So what can you do?
If you think it matters that stories are produced on women in sport, you need to show that it matters.
Don’t just be glad that someone is doing it. Know that every time you click your mouse or tap your touchscreen and engage with an article, you’re casting a small but important vote.
Have a look at the Zela website and see the different shapes these articles can take. And pay attention to other sites doing a good job. Show your support by following them on social media, and experience the range of content that is and can be produced. Get a sense of what this space might look like if this kind of attention was placed on women in sport more often.
Read an article you might not have read and discover something new. Comment if you think it’s been done well or you have something to say. Share it if you think others might be interested in it or, in the current media climate and as part of this digital world we’re living in, it’s likely that no one will ever see that article, and it will die as well.
I’m not saying comment and share if it feels fake or uncomfortable. But know that every click of the mouse, or tap of the touchscreen, is a vote saying this stuff matters. It’s a vote saying you’re glad it exists. And it’s a message to content producers that it’s worth their energy, investment and time.
If you have a spare two minutes, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article, on the Facebook or Twitter post accompanying it, or send me a message here (scroll down). Share a little about what you appreciate, what you’d like to see change and/or what you’d like to see media look like in the future. Some honest feedback or heartwarming motivation go a long way too.
Comment on cycling specifically, which is where my own expertise lies, and I promise I’ll read it and, where possible, work toward that vision too. Comment on any sport and I assure you that other Zela contributors will be doing the same.
We don’t produce this content for ourselves, we do it for a diverse and discerning audience, and we so badly want to know what you want those stories to look like.
If we don’t work it out quickly, it’s not just one site that will finish up, it’s other sites and other articles that will cease to exist too. Or just continue to limp along, in the shadows of what they could be. And that, I feel, is the saddest thing of all.
Header image: Wayne Christensen
This is a really important post. Thank you.
Thanks Lyn! I hope it dates quickly and people wonder why on earth this is even a topical subject.
Well written, Kath, and really inspiring. We see so many great female cyclists at every race, the content is definitely out there. I’ll try to post more pics and stories about them in future. Sometimes it’s hard though, if you do highlight a female rider it’s almost like people are thinking you do it just to look be popular. The tall poppy syndrome doesn’t discriminate.
Thanks Juliana! I always appreciate the content and images you include on female competitors already. Maybe mixing up the approach to content could work at some point? Like an event report that mentions the major podiums, but includes quotes from other types of people that make the events what they are and give them such a special atmosphere?Although it depends on where they’re being published and what your goals are with the press releases etc.
Thanks for the input – I’ve learned to keep the press releases short, but we have a blog format also that I can get more info into.
A cultural change is needed, wherein female athletes are respected as just that. Well said Kath.
Thanks Mich. It’s so much better than ten years ago. I just wish we could fast forward to a better outcome before so many people doing excellent things miss out on being part of that space.
Thanks for this. Important things slip through the cracks and in amongst all the rubbish that’s out there.
Sadly the job of getting women to take up their own cause and have respect for their athletes. Too often successful athletes are I think viewed as honorary men.
I might be wrong.
Thanks for your comment Lili. No, your not wrong at all. But on the plus side I think this is slowly changing too. It’s great to see athletes like Serena Williams and Simone Biles calling out journalists in interviews comparing them to men lately.
I only started watching competitive cycling a couple of years ago. Then, I didn’t even realise that there was a womens’ pro cycling circuit and it was never covered on TV. Still a long way to go, but it has changed hugely. And the sheer enthusiasm I saw finally persuaded me to take the plunge and learn how to cycle. Anything that people were so passionate about had to be worth a try, right? I’ll never be a racer, but without all the publicity I wouldn’t even have a bike.
That’s so rad to read that the coverage that is out there means you’ve caught the cycling bug Maureen. I think the Tour de France coverage has that effect on a lot of people too. Enjoy every pedal stroke! Most people identify more as riders than racers, so you’re not alone there. There’s been a shift in media to reflect that better through different types of stories and destination content. I hope that’s something that continues to grow too.
Great article Kath! You’re doing excellent work so keep it up! It seems a cultural change is needed and I hope it happens sooner than later because there are some amazing women in sport at the moment and the dynamics of sport as performed by women can make the spectating so much more interesting if people care to pay attention.
Thanks so much Natalie! Yes, I love the different dynamics and tactics that make women’s sport what it is too. I think part of the shift is helping audiences to understand more about what and who they’re watching. It makes such a difference when people who are or have been part of this scene (ex-pro women for example) join the commentary team for cycling events and share their insights while the races are unfolding.
I read your articles on a number of different sites & find them informative, interesting and always so well written.
While I prefer to go out and ride myself than to watch others doing it, it’s important that women in sport receive more coverage than is currently the case so if clicks and shares can help, count me in.
Keep up the awesome work.
Thanks so much for your comments Danielle. I feel so buoyed up and re-energised from the responses to this article here and on various social outlets. It’s especially heartening to see how much these things matter to so many others. Enjoy all the riding! And thanks for all the clicking, digesting and being an important part of helping this space grow too. 🙂
I love how this is so informative but in a non-directive manner. Women are not recognized in the same way men are, but the people who are promoting need more support from readers and viewers to reinforce the fact that we do want to read about it when they post it.
I hope this is an issue that is soon forgottan as it becomes normal to promote women the same as men. I dont want them to stop sharing on the male side of sport because i still enjoy reading/watching that side of the sport to.