home Women in Sport Media Kicking goals: the changing landscape for women in sports media

Kicking goals: the changing landscape for women in sports media

We’ve seen welcome changes in sports media recently. Gemma Bastiani and Kirby Fenwick spoke to some of the women in sports media leading those changes.

The Far Post launched in 2020, it’s now affiliated with ESPN. Image: supplied.

Marissa Lordanic describes her pathway into sports media as a story of “stubborn persistence”. 

“There’s definitely been times where I’ve thought to myself ‘what am I doing? I’m writing for places that won’t pay me, I’m working jobs outside of sports media because I need to make money. What am I doing? Why am I doing this?’

“It’s only in the last kind of couple of years that I suppose that blind persistence has kind of paid off. And I think I’m very fortunate in the sense that other people I know have also made inroads in their careers and they’ve been kind enough and in positions to kind of throw that ladder down and let me climb up there with them, maybe not to the same level, but they’ve at least opened that door for me.” 

Marissa’s story is not out of the ordinary. But for those who have been watching, the sports media landscape has made some positive steps in the direction of inclusivity and equity with major media and sports organisations embracing new and emerging talent. 

In 2022, Marissa will work on two podcasts for ESPN, The Far Post (which she launched as an independent podcast with Samantha Lewis, Anna Harrington and Angela Christian-Wilkes in August 2020) and The Footy Podcast which is an existing ESPN product that will have an AFLW presence for the first time this year. In addition, she’ll be writing on both football and AFLW for ESPN, and covering women’s football for Optus Sport, The Roar and The Matildas website. 

“I’ve got fingers in lots of pies but it’s good and it’s fun and it’s interesting and it’s nice to kind of be across everything and everywhere,” she told Siren. 

Marissa Lordanic is covering AFLW and women’s football for a range of outlets, including ESPN’s The Far Post—a podcast she co-founded in 2020. Image: Supplied.

After freelancing for a few years and writing for a range of Australian media outlets about women’s football, including The Guardian, ESPN, SBS, Siren Sport, the ABC and Optus Sport, Samantha Lewis is now a digital sports journalist with the ABC. Along with Marissa, Sam is one of the founders of The Far Post, which is now a part of ESPN. 

While Sam says she feels lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the interest in women’s football in Australia post the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, her story is also one of “hard work”. 

“A lot, a lot, a lot of hard work. A lot of pitching, a lot of saying yes to things, a lot of unpaid work, basically,” she said. 

Sam says that the role with the ABC has allowed her the “space and the opportunity to go really in depth on issues that are affecting the sport that I really care about, and the sport that I sort of come from.” It’s an opportunity she relishes because “there are so few opportunities for women in sport, and particularly for women focusing on women’s sport, to be able to really explore those kinds of ideas, and stories in depth in a full time capacity.” 

Another woman to join the ESPN team recently is Marnie Vinall, who made the shift to her dream of covering sport in late 2020. Prior to this, Marnie was a journalist writing about various other issues, but with the ultimate goal of becoming a sports journalist. 

In 2021, Marnie spent time as a researcher for Channel 7’s Olympic coverage. She has been published by the ABC, The Guardian, Siren Sport and The Age, and is a regular fixture on ESPN’s AFLW coverage in 2022 with a weekly column and as a co-host of The ESPN Footy Podcast.

Marnie says that the women in sport community has been “crucial” to her elevation to mainstream platforms.

“It sounds really hyperbolic, but I would not be where I am without the other women. That’s in terms of opportunities, and people putting my name forward, and even reaching out to me to let me know that these opportunities exist because they’re not always advertised,” Marnie explained.

“The other thing, which is equally important, is the support because it’s incredibly hard some days. There are always people to lean on, and people that will help you out.”

Julia Montesano is the Digital and Content Coordinator for the NBL1 league. She made her debut as a play-by-play commentator in December, calling a WNBL clash between Townsville and Canberra for Kayo.

As someone who relishes learning, Julia credits “a lot of volunteering” when examining how she got to her current position. She still spends time volunteering in various roles today, despite having a stable job in sports media. 

That persistence and willingness to sacrifice a lot of time for little to no pay, while juggling other paid work is a common story among many women in sport media who are now starting to get a taste of regular, paid work.

Programs like Making the Call, led by Emma and Lucy Race and Siren’s own Emerging Sports Writer Program, are designed to provide opportunities and networks for women in or wanting to be in sports media—creating the change we all want to see. Julia, Marnie and Marissa are all graduates of Making the Call which is an example of the kind of door opening and ladder unfurling that the four women in this story credit with helping them get to where they are. 

Last year the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia released their fifth report on women in the media. Their data revealed, unsurprisingly, that sports journalism continues to be a field dominated by men and overwhelmingly about men. However, a sign perhaps of the changes that are happening, the 2021 data also revealed that while women had only 12 percent of sports bylines in 2019, in 2021 that number was 24 per cent. 

So what has changed? Marissa suggests a combination of a greater willingness of media organisations to “open the doors for people” alongside a realisation by some mainstream media outlets that they can and should be doing more.  

“There are more and more women and I think it’s really important as well, that we’re seeing more women of colour get opportunities and I’m thinking of obviously the cricket coverage in this country is very fortunate to have the likes of Mel Jones and Lisa Sthalekar and over in the UK, they’ve got Alex Scott, hosting a whole bunch of football programs and doing commentary and things like that,” she said. 

Julia agrees that women are becoming more prevalent in mainstream women’s sport coverage.

“Mainstream news outlets are now starting to get on board by giving women more opportunities to produce content about women’s sport. Right now, a lot of the content comes from women who are freelancing but it would be good to see more of those talented people transition into full-time roles.”

Sam agrees with the greater willingness to open doors and let women into spaces too often reserved for men but she also links the changing landscape for women in sports media to that of women’s sport. 

“I’ve noticed that there seems to have been a bit of a dynamic shift where instead of women journalists banging down the door, it’s starting to become editors opening the door, and inviting women writers into that space,” she said. 

“I think that’s been sort of the major, two pronged kind of shift: a growth of the number of women covering sport and a growth in the coverage of women’s sport, in major media companies as well. So that’s been fabulous, because it’s a sort of rising tide lifts all boats kind of moment. And the more momentum it generates, the more opportunities it generates.”

After years of freelancing, Sam Lewis is now working full time for the ABC, covering not just women’s football but a range of sports. Image: supplied.

For Marnie, while the last two years have provided plenty of challenges, the shift in the sports media landscape has been encouraging to see and to be a part of. 

“It’s interesting because I feel like these past couple of years have been so dire for so many people, but for women in sport—and there have absolutely been challenges—there have also been all these positives,” she explained.

“There has been a shift. Publications and networks are starting to really take notice that they absolutely have to cover women’s sport, it’s not an option anymore. They have to do it, and they have to do it well.”

The work that Marissa, Julia, Sam and Marnie are doing are emblematic of the encouraging steps being made toward a more equitable and inclusive sports media. But what could the future look like? 

“I want there to be 50-50 everywhere. Not just in terms of coverage, but also in terms of the writers and the way that they identify,” Sam said. 

“I think that that’s sort of the larger goal of I guess the women’s sport movement is to really rectify the historical imbalances that have led to conversations like this one, where we’re talking about what can we change? What do we want to see? How do we want to see things improved?

“Because men’s sport has had the vast majority of history to get a head start on women’s sport and women athletes and women writers. And so now it’s our opportunity to try and redress that and to rectify those imbalances and to try and tap into the potential that women’s sport and women’s sport writers have always had but have never been given the opportunity to actually flourish and to realise it.”

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