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Survey: Women's Sports Coverage Shortchanged. A Look at Four Major Newspapers Finds Women's Sports Underreported

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Survey: Women's Sports Coverage Shortchanged. A Look at Four Major Newspapers Finds Women's Sports Underreported

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Survey: Women's sports coverage shortchanged

A survey of four major newspapers found that women's sports "are extraordinarily underreported," a Los Angeles athletic foundation disclosed.

"This situation is wrong and must change," the organization said. "Sportswriters have a professional obligation to report the facts as journalists . . . There is an entire world of women's sports that is excluded from the sports pages we examined.

The organization, the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, which was created from Southern California's share of the surplus from the 1984 Olympics, drew its findings from the Boston Globe, Orange County Register, Dallas Morning News and USA Today. The papers were selected because they were named by the Associated Press Sports Editors last year as among the top daily sections in the country, AAf reported.

AAF said the survey results closely resembled those of an earlier study, "Gender Stereotyping in Televised Sports," which dealt with the amount and qualitative content of tv coverage of women's sports.

In the newspaper research, the four dailies' Monday-through-Friday editions were examined beginning with July 2, 1990, and ending with Sept. 28 of last year.

Stories were categorized by number, length, column inches devoted to men and women's sports, front-page stories for both genders, page placement of men's sports and photo accompaniment.

The research investigators reported that:

* "Stories focusing exclusively on men's sports outnumbered stories addressing only women" sports by a ratio of 23-1.

"Even when all men's baseball and football stories were eliminated from the total number of men's stories, men's stories still outnumbered women's stories by an 8.7 to 1 margin."

* Women-only sports stories accounted for 3.5% of all stories; men's stories made up 81% of the total.

"Front-page stories covering only women's sports were even more scarce, comprising 3.2% of Page One articles, compared with 85.3% devoted exclusively to men's coverage."

* "There were 218.8 times as many column inches devoted to men-only sports stories as there were to women-only sports stories.

* Photographs of male athletes outnumbered those of female athletes 13 to 1; "92.3% of all photographs were . . . of men."

In each newspaper, the researchers said, fewer than 5% of all stories dealt with women only. It added that USA Today provided a slightly higher number of women's stories and photographs than the others.

Of the 301 women-only stories in all four papers, 43.5% appeared in USA Today, the report noted. In placement, 74% of USA Today's front-page articles featured men exclusively compared with more than 90% for the other three.

In the three-month period, it was noted, golf and tennis, sports in which women "have a long tradition of world-class competition," were in their high season. The Goodwill Games and the U.S. Olympic Festival featuring hundreds of female athletes also were within the survey's time frame, the report went on.

"Yet only 301 women-only articles appeared in four newspapers during the three months," it said.

The study, AFF contends, raises such key questions as how sports editors define their roles, how they decide what to cover, and how budgetary and staff constraints affect editorial decisions.

"How do sports editors resolve the conflict between their professional journalistic responsibility to cover the news fully and the pressure to sell newspapers?" the report asks.

AAF also asks if editors rely on formal market research, instinct, or other factors to determine what they believe interests readers.

In addition, the group poses this question: "How, if at all, do editors' personal attitudes about women and women's sports affect the coverage which appears in their sports sections? …

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