You can’t be what you can’t see: Female representation in Australian sports journalism.
The sports industry across the world is undertaking an impressive drive towards the levelling of the playing field for female sports. With this push for female representation, it is expected that the sports media industry will follow suit. However, Medianet’s deep dive into Australian digital sports media through the month of January found a sports journalism industry that is far behind the industry standard for gender representation.
The phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” is commonly used when discussing gender disparities. It was this phrase that became the driving force behind Medianet’s report into the representation of women in the sports journalism industry. With the ever-increasing investment into women’s sport across the globe, Medianet took a deep dive into how Australia stacks up. This report aimed to identify and take a statistical ‘snapshot’ of this gap, measuring both the volume of representation of females in sport as subjects, and as authors.
To do this, the team selected nine major Australian digital media outlets to analyse. These included newspapers, dedicated sports outlets and official code outlets. The codes chosen were both solo and team sports that the team felt were representative of the Australian sports media landscape. These were Australian rules football, rugby league, cricket and tennis. The team analysed a total of 1154 articles published over the month of January 2023 and recorded both the gender of the journalist reporting and the subject of the article (i.e. was it about male sport, female sport or just sport in general).
Overall, only 17% of sports journalists were female. Almost matching that, it was found that only 15% of the articles published were written by a female author.
In terms of the article subject, male sport was also dominant. 72% of the articles analysed were written about male sports, and only 20% were about female sports.
The findings of the research reveal a large disparity between the sports journalism field and the media industry overall. The 2023 Women In Media Report found that 43% of all bylines were written by female journalists, putting the sports field 28% below the industry average.
NRL vs AFL
Some particularly interesting disparities were found between the NRL and AFL codes. Of all the articles written about rugby league, only 2% had a focus on the NRLW. This is opposed to 15% of articles about AFL focussed on the AFLW.
However at the official code outlets, only 17% of articles from afl.com.au were written by a female journalist. As opposed to nrl.com.au, which had 60% of articles written by a female journalist. Of all outlets analysed, nrl.com.au was the only outlet with more female than male journalists.
Game… Set… Match
The Australian Open ran through the month of January, featuring an almost even number of male and female competitors. Despite equal representation among athletes, only 24% of all tennis articles were focused on the female game. Furthermore, only 25% of reporters at the official tennis.com.au outlet identified as female. Overall, tennis had the lowest percentage of articles written by female journalists, at only 8%.
Who’s writing about what?
Female sports reporters wrote about male and female sports in roughly equal measure. 50% of the articles written by female journalists had a specific focus on female sports. However, female journalists only wrote 8% of all articles that focused on both male and female sports (or just general sports news articles). Finally, 62% of articles that had female sports as the subject were written by a male author.
Best and Worst Performers:
NRL.com.au, AFL.com.au and ABC News were among the top performers for the overall percentage of female journalists at the outlets. Among the worst performers in this area was Fox Sports, with only 8% of journalists being female.
NRL.com.au and Cricket.com.au had the highest percentage of articles written by female journalists. While the Sydney Morning Herald was the worst-performing outlet for publishing female journalists, with only 4% of articles written by a female journalist.
Despite huge strides being taken within the sports world to increase female representation, the sports media industry is still falling behind, with the results of this investigation showing an indisputable lean towards a male dominated sports media industry.
Fortunately, it isn’t all bad news. Through the research process, the team discovered a number of trailblazing women who are working towards increasing the visibility of females in the industry. Medianet spoke to some of these journalists and outlets, who are working to provide a space for female voices and female stories in a male dominated industry. These women all agree, you can’t be what you can’t see.