A Look at Print Media Coverage Acoss Four Olympiads

By Shields, Sharon; Gilbert, Liz et al. | Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

A Look at Print Media Coverage Acoss Four Olympiads


Shields, Sharon, Gilbert, Liz, Shen, Xuejun, Said, Hamdan, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal


Although women and girls are competing in sports in ever increasing numbers from local youth recreational leagues to the Olympics, many studies show that they have been, and remain, shortchanged in both the quantity and quality of sport media coverage.

Relative to the quantity of sport media coverage, work by Graydon (1983) indicated that 90 percent of all sports reporting was devoted to men's sports. Similarly, research by McKay and Row (1987) revealed that in city newspapers, 98 percent of the available sports coverage space was devoted to men's sports. In 1991, Duncan, Messner, and Williams (1991) analyzed the coverage of women's sports in four daily newspapers: USA Today, the Boston Globe, the Orange County Register and the Dallas Morning News. They found "[s]tories focusing exclusively on men's sports outnumbered stories addressing only women's sports by a ratio of 23:1" (p. 3). Further, their research showed that even when men's baseball and football stories were removed from the mix "... men's stories still outnumbered women's stories by an 8.7:1 margin" (p.3).

A 1998 study by Kinnick, that reviewed the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Atlanta Constitution, and the LA Times, revealed gender based disparities in sport media coverage that reached as high as 62%:38%. Similarly, Evarts (1996) reported men's dominance in sport media column inch allocations in four Midwestern daily newspapers.

A 1996 sports media study by Shields, Gilbert, and Finkelstein found that in the Tennessean, the New York Times, and USA Today, women's sports received 11.1 percent of the print media coverage compared with 82.1 percent allocated to the men's sports. This same study found 19 percent of the men's sports articles had accompanying photographs, while only 4 percent of the women's sports articles did.

In addition to a quantitative advantage, Duncan et al. (1991) found that men's sport stories received better section placement and received more and better accompanying photo coverage. According to Sage (1990), sport media coverage for women has often focused more on personal aspects of sex-appeal, feminine characteristics, and/orstereotypicalrole perceptions, than on athletic ability and performance.

In 1990, based on study findings, Duncan, Messner, Williams, and Jensen stated, "The weight of the evidence clearly suggests that women's sports are under-reported and that what coverage does exist is inferior to that afforded men's sports" (p. 1). A 1994 follow-up study by Duncan and Messner, showed persistent evidence that female athletes were described as less competent than their male counterparts.

According to the 1994-1995 Women's Sports Foundation report Words to Watch, "When women athletes are the subject of reports and commentary they are sometimes referred to in words that treat them differently than men, often in ways which downplay of trivialize their achievements" (p. 3). The report went on to say that identifying female athletes as "girls" or "ladies", using first names instead of last names, and descriptions that emphasize physical appearance or skills not related to performance, are all examples ways women in sport are marginalized as inferior to men in sport (Women's Sports Foundation, 1995).

Studies conducted outside the United States have revealed similar sport media disparities. Hall (1997) commented extensively on a sport media study of newspapers, sports magazines, national television broadcasts and radio stations conducted by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC). The ASC study revealed an overall increase in women's sport media coverage from 2 percent in 1980 to 10.7 percent in 1996. Even so, the men's sport media coverage loomed considerably larger, at 79.1 percent in 1996.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

A more recent study by Eastman and Billings (2000) looked at sports-casting on ESPN and CNN, and print media reporting in USA Today and the New York Times. …

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