Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Pam Whaley, Writer for CODE Sports
Pam Whaley is currently working as a full-time writer for CODE Sports. She reports mostly on Rugby League and is a passionate advocate for women in sports. She has been in the industry for over 15 years in positions such as NRL Editor at Fox Sports and Sports Journalist at AAP. Medianet sat down with Pam to discuss the female sports industry and her experience as a woman in sports journalism.
You’re currently working as a full-time writer for CODE Sports, what does a normal day look like for you?
I don’t think there’s such a thing as a normal day, which is part of what I think is so good about journalism, particularly sports journalism. Sometimes it can be really standard 9 to 5 in the office, but other days it can be going out to Parramatta, doing a media opportunity and then filing in your car in a Maccas’ car park. I also try to get to at least one game over the weekend, which leads to a lot of late nights waiting around in the sheds for players and things like that.
Have you always wanted to be a sports journalist?
I think from about 17 I knew this was what I wanted to do. Before that, I had heaps of different ideas. I wanted to be a chef, I wanted to be a teacher - I didn’t really know. I had always loved writing and English, and I loved sport as well, so I thought I'd just marry the two and do sports journalism, which turned out to be perfect for me.
How has the sports journalism industry changed since you began your career?
So much. The biggest thing that has changed has been the rise of digital journalism. When I first started, I was working at a regional paper in Wagga called the Daily Advertiser as a Sports Cadet. You used to write a story, hold onto it, then it would appear in the paper. That just doesn't happen these days, people see it online immediately and it appears on a thousand different websites, social media, everywhere!
Have you noticed any differences in your audience demographics with the rise of women’s sport?
Yeah I have, particularly with NRLW. The audience is definitely growing, not only with women but also with men, which I think is an important thing to embrace. We can see the demographics of who reads our stories and NRLW is really starting to pick up with men in the age group of about 20 to 35, which is really really cool to see.
Do you think it’s important to have platforms that focus specifically on women’s sports news? Do you see that having any effects on the sports industry?
It’s a hard one because I think that has been trialled so often. I think what needs to change is the decision-making of editors at the top. They don’t necessarily need their own space, it should just be one space for an audience that is interested in sport regardless of whether it's men’s or women’s sport. If women’s sport is moved to a separate platform, or it’s not sharing the same space, then it’s kind of seen as a bit of an afterthought. It should be that decision-makers really put emphasis on women’s sport and hold it in the same regard as men’s sport because they deserve it.
Where do you see the future of women’s sports and sports journalism in Australia, since it is such an emerging industry?
It’s rapidly changing at the moment. If we even just look at NRLW, it has grown from four teams when I first started, to this season there’s ten. The interest in the game itself has just gone absolutely through the roof. It really excites me to see what women’s sport, in particular NRLW, is capable of in the next couple of years. In terms of the journalism surrounding the game, I think we will start to see more and more people specialising in NRLW and NRLW media managers, things like that. So I think anything is possible for the women’s game at the moment!
Do you see any particular impacts when women’s voices in sports, whether that’s journalists or athletes, are amplified? That could be at the grassroots level through to the industry itself.
Definitely, it normalises women’s sports to viewers. When we see more and more women’s stories and we see them on websites, in the newspaper or on social media, wherever those stories are platformed, it normalises it for an audience who might be hesitant about watching women’s sports or haven’t really given it much thought. Over time it sort of says “ok it's here, people keep talking about it, let's tune in”.
Then there's also the impact at the grassroots level for little girls. When I was growing up, my hero was Susie O’Neil. I was a horrible swimmer but I still wanted to be one because of her. I can’t think of any women who were around that were playing rugby league, so the only way to get involved was to write about it. I think that it’s so special to have this new generation of kids that can have different role models that get to say “I can do that too”.
Do you find that you need to make a particular effort to report on women’s sports? Is it more difficult to find the information to report on?
One-hundred percent. There’s not nearly as much documented history on women’s sports as there is on men’s. There were games played in the 80’s and 90’s, but there’s no records on them. Even when you’re speaking to some of these former Jillaroo players, or writing stories about them, you literally have to ask them, “how many games did you play in that world cup?” Sometimes they can’t even remember because there’s nowhere to go to double-check. These things are improving, and retrospectively people are going back and documenting these things, but it can be really hard because the focus has not been on them for a long time.
Have you faced any particular challenges or obstacles as a female journalist in the sports industry?
Yeah definitely. When I first started, I was covering local rugby and there was so much scepticism around whether I understood the game and what I was doing there, from fans and even family members. When you look back at these things they obviously are a barrier, it makes you a little bit more timid, and a bit unsure of yourself, but I just thought, “I’m gonna prove them wrong”.
In the last 10 years since I moved to Sydney, I’ve been surrounded by so many amazing women working in this industry and this game, that seeing women in the industry is totally normal to me. Occasionally a random thing will happen where someone will ask “do you even understand the rules?” or something like that, real casual misogyny. But for the most part, I have been extremely lucky to be surrounded by and supported by so many amazing men and women.
Do you have any advice for women wanting to pursue a career in the sports journalism industry but they might be intimidated by the fact that it is such a male-dominated industry?
To just stick with it, it is changing and it is not as male-dominated as it once was. By the time that you get through your cadetship, your uni, whatever it is that you’re doing to put yourself in a position to work, things will have changed even more. There are so many supportive women and men that will wrap their arms around you. It's not as scary as people may think and if you love it, it’ll be fun, so don’t be scared.