Panel discusses lack of women's sports coverage

Speakers from ESPN, NBC Sports Group, Fox Sports, USA TODAY Sports, CBS News came to share their experiences and thoughts on the difficulties of sports reporting at the Sports Matters panel discussion.

Vera Jones believes the sheer lack of women's sports coverage has a direct correlation — money.

Jones, a Big Ten Network analyst, was one of several speakers who came to the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in late February as a part of a day of panels dubbed Sports Matters. The various speakers hailed from institutions like ESPN, NBC Sports Group and Fox Sports — among them Josh Barnett of USA TODAY Sports, Laurie Orlando of CBS News and Jim Axelrod of 60 Minutes Sports. Syracuse University students and faculty joined in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium and engaged in a variety of topics, two being the coverage of women's sports and the difficulty journalists face in wearing multiple hats on the job.

“Until we see men step in and advocate for women’s sports, we won’t see a change.”
Vera Jones, Big Ten Network analyst

In discussing the lull when it comes to press coverage women's sports receives, Jones suggested finding a way to make that direct relation to revenue.

“Everything seems to revolve around the dollar,” Jones said. “You have to figure out why it's marketable from a bottom line perspective.”

Josh Barnett, director of content for USA TODAY Sports, mentioned while there is a disproportionate amount of sports coverage at the professional level, girls’ and boys’ coverage at the high-school level is equal. Jones followed up by making a conclusive argument about the dichotomy between sexes in both sports and sports coverage.

“Until we see men step in and advocate for women’s sports, we won’t see a change,” said Jones. “It’s that way with sexism and it's that way with racism. Until someone steps in and says, 'This is just unfair, and I being in this position of power, am committed to change it' — if someone like myself doesn’t do it, it just doesn’t change.”

In the final panel, an array of guest speakers talked about the demands of being a 21st-century journalist, and what it takes to be an analyst and a reporter. The conversation took a turn toward reporting ethics, and how writers deal with athlete relationships.

Chris Broussard, analyst and sports writer for ESPN and ABC, said there is a fine line reporters walk between making friends with athletes and getting the story without any biases.

“Yes, I develop relationships with athletes, but I have to report things objectively,” Broussard said. “You are encouraged by ESPN to develop relationships with the athlete so that you can get the full story.”

While reporters can be friendly with athletes, their obligation is both to the public and to remaining objective, Broussard said. But the same isn’t expected of analysts — while analysts might dispel their opinions, a reporter’s sole purpose is to relay the facts.

For people who carry both titles — like Broussard — that balance is important, said Jim Axelrod, anchor and correspondent for CBS News and 60 Minutes Sports.

“Chris is a brand — he is both a reporter and an analyst,” Axelrod said. “If the reader feels that he is sitting on a story because he is conflicted, he loses credibility."

The panelists also discussed breaking news, and whether it is more important to be first or to be right. Axelrod offered his advice — bring your focus back to you, your job and your career, and make sure you're making the right call.

“You need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Axelrod said. “What hats you’re wearing and what you’re doing. You always have to be guided by why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

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