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Is Sports Journalism Dominated by White Males and, If so, How Does This Influence the Representation of Other Ethnic Groups?

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Is sports journalism dominated by white males and, if so, how does this influence the representation of other ethnic groups?

Introduction

The world of sports journalism has long been seen as the domain of the white, middle-class male (Farrington, Kilvington, Price & Saeed, 2012). For several decades the status quo remained the same: white male journalists reporting on white male athletes to a white male audience. However during the 1990s the emergence of black footballers, both domestic and foreign, within the British game began to change the overall dynamic. In addition to this sport became big business, moving from the back pages to the front (Boyle, 2006), and occasions such as the Olympic Games are now massive worldwide events that receive similarly massive attention from the world’s media.

It is clear that sport has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, as has the diversity of the athletes who appear in our newspapers, on our television screens and on our radios. With reference to these points I intend to investigate whether sports journalism is still dominated by white males, and if so, how does this cultural bias influence how other ethnic groups are represented in the sporting media. Due to word constraints the essay shall focus on Northern Europe, specifically Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Diversity in the newsroom

Diversity in a news organisation can bring many benefits, including a broader spectrum of opinion, varied specialist knowledge and both personal and professional development amongst staff (Stepp, 1989). This essay will look at two different social groups and the progress they have made in recent decades in sports journalism: women, and those from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds.

Female sports journalists

The first point I wish to determine is whether or not sports journalism is still overwhelmingly male in population. According to a 2006 UK Sports Journalist Association (SJA) survey less than 10 per cent of British sports journalists were women. Of this 10 per cent half were employed in public relations and other fields, with the remainder working within the media.
The SJA is currently made up of approximately 800 members meaning that, should the percentage of female sports journalists be the same today, around 80 of these members are women, with only 40 working in frontline media. These figures reveal that there is still an overwhelming male presence in sports journalism in the UK.

However, if we look at Sweden the case seems to be slightly different. As an example I have taken the sports desk (Sportbladet) of Sweden’s largest newspaper, Aftonbladet. During my time as a praktikant at Aftonbladet’s Sportbladet Show I noticed a marked difference in how many female writers were employed in comparison to the percentage in the British sporting press. Out of the 24 writers and bloggers at Sportbladet five are women, almost 21 per cent (Aftonbladet.se). This can hardly be described as equality, but the situation for female sports writers in Sweden does appear to be healthier than that of their British counterparts.
It should however be noted that this is, of course, only one newspaper and must be taking into consideration that this percentage may not reflect the average across the Swedish sporting press.[1]

Black and Minority Ethnic sports journalists

Many media outlets have, in recent years, attempted to counter the lack of diversity within their organisation by implementing policies to encourage and recruit those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds (Hultén, 2009), yet available figures and empirical evidence seems to prove that these policies are not working.

Although, as mentioned, the presence of female journalists within the UK’s SJA is small, it is still far greater than the organisation’s BME membership. Steven Downes, Secretary of the SJA, admits that there are very few BME members, in fact as few as one or two (cited in Farrington et al., 2012). The diversity of colour within sports journalism is indeed extremely worrying, and is made all the more apparent in certain sporting settings when contrasting those competing on the track or field and those reporting the results. Farrington et al. (2012) highlight the disparity within athletics as, “a sport with many black and Asian competitors, yet the press box is almost exclusively white journalists” (p36).

The case seems to be the same in Sweden. Although I have not been able to acquire official figures on the number of BME sports journalists in Sweden conclusions can be drawn from other available evidence. As an example I have, again, taken Sportbladet. From the 24 writers and bloggers only one, Kalle Karlsson, is of a BME background. In addition to this I analysed SVT’s on-screen talent for the 2012 Olympic Games in London (svt.se). Of the 59 journalists and experts who covered the Games four were of BME background, yet only one of those four was a qualified journalist, David Fjäll. Hultén (2009) believes that even though efforts have been made to increase the number of BME journalists in both Sweden and the UK the media organisations involved have found “difficulties in building diversity into the newsroom processes” (p1), a situation that has also been witnessed in the United States and the Netherlands.

Representation of race in the sporting media

If the evidence above proves that sports journalism is indeed still an overwhelmingly white, male environment how does this manifest itself within the reporting of ethnic minority groups?

Van Dijk (2009) believes there are several intrinsic aspects of western news production that continue a deep-rooted theme that contributes to “part of the problem of racism, rather than its solution” (p199). Below are four principal elements of his findings.

He argues that:

• events involving ‘Us’ (i.e. those of a white, western origin) are attributed more news value than events involving other ethnic groups;

• there is a prevailing tendency to take a white ethnocentric perspective on news events;

• white media has a propensity to quote, and depend on, what he refers to as “elite white sources”;

• the description of those in the news from an ethnic background is typically negative;

Whilst van Dijk’s claims pertain to news reporting in general it is possible to still find evidence of certain aspects of his research in sports journalism. Boyle (2006) concurs that the absence of ethnic minorities in news reporting fuels a continuation of negative clichés surrounding race:

“There is no doubt that the perpetuation of particular stereotypes around race that can find articulation in the discourses produced by sports journalism is, in part, enhanced by a relative lack of diversity among the collective bodies of sports journalists.” (p156)

Farrington et al. (2012) state that although there are certain codes of conduct in place to ensure ethical and responsible reporting within the British press this does not necessarily mean that a story will be free from potentially racist comment. A journalist may not personally pass negative comment about an athlete from an ethnic minority background, but may however report the views of an expert within the field that could be construed as racist, intentional or not. Below is an example involving the former English Premier League manager Dave Bassett:

“The Asian build is not that of a footballer. It may well be that Asian ingredients in food, or the nutrition they take, is not ideal for building up physical frame.” (BBC TV, 1995, cited in Fleming, 2001, p114)

Although there are several factors that may explain why there is a dearth of Asian footballers within the European game, it is suggested by an authority figure within the sport that the reason is simply down to genetic makeup. Farrington et al. (2012) believe a comment such as that made by Bassett not only standardises a vast ethnic group (in this case Asians) as a single community instead of a group of communities, but more importantly lacks both scientific foundation and evidence. Employing van Dijk’s analysis above, it is clear that the elements of perspective, source and description within western news can be observed in Bassett’s comment.

Statements of this manner can also, notably, influence the beliefs of the media consumer, which in turn drives and perpetuates the hypothesis that there is a biological difference between races. The statement may also help to further damage the participation of the Asian players as the views of these elite figures may influence others with the game such as managers, coaches and scouts, and ultimately influence the mind-set of young Asian footballers.

Conclusions

Drawing on the evidence and research contained in this essay it can be said that, although some small progress has been made regarding women in sports journalism, the industry is still dominated by white males, specifically white, middle-class males. In my capacity as a freelance producer for CNN’s World Sport show I have attend dozens of press conferences covering several different sports. Taking into account my personal experiences I concur with the above evidence that the lack of diversity of colour, and, within the UK at least, lack of female journalists at these events is both disappointing and somewhat shocking.

As for the representation of Black and Ethnic Minorities in the press evidence does appear to show that there is some form of negative reporting of non-white communities, but I am unable to confirm whether or not this negativity is as apparent in sports journalism as it may be in news on the whole. More research focussing on sports journalism in particular would be needed to come to such a conclusion and due to word and time constraints I feel that was unable to adequately answer this facet of my question. With hindsight this essay would have achieved more success had I chosen just one aspect of my question. The two parts of my question each require, and deserve, the allotted word count.
Literature list

Andrews J. (2005): Sports Journalism: A Practical Introduction. Sage. London.

Boyle R. (2006): Sports Journalism: Context and Issues. Sage. London.

Farrington N, Kilvington D, Price J & Saeed A. (2012): Race, Racism and Sports Journalism. Routledge. Abingdon.

Fleming S. (2001): Racial science and South Asian and black physicality. In Carrington & McDonald (eds) Race, Sport and British Society. Routledge. London.

Hulten G. (2011): Diversity Disorders. Ethnicity and Newsroom Cultures. In Graf (ed) Diversity in Theory and Practice. News Journalists in Sweden and Germany. Nordicom.

Stepp C S. (1989): Editing for Today's Newsroom: A Guide for Success in a Changing Profession. Routledge. Abingdon.

Sportbladet. (no date) Available at [://www.aftonbladet.se/sportbladet/]. (Last accessed 14/02/04).

SVT Nyheter OS London 2012. (no date): SVT:s trupp i London. Available at [http://www.svt.se/os/svt-s-trupp-i-london]. (Last accessed 14/02/04).

van Dijk T. (1991): Racism and the Press. Routledge. London.

van Dijk T. (2009): News, Discourse and Ideology. In Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzch (eds) The Handbook of Journalism Studies. Routledge. London.

-----------------------
[1] Although contacted, I am still awaiting figures for the number of female and BME members of Svenska sportjournalisterförbundet.

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