Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The media and UConn's winning streak: Another take

I've been reading -- with great interest -- the commentary around the UConn women's basketball team, which will very likely tonight break the longest winning streak in D-I basketball (set by the UCLA men's team under John Wooden).
Much of the commentary isn't on UConn's winning record, but is instead on what to make of coverage of UConn's phenomenal streak. If you've been paying attention to the story, you know that UConn coach Geno Auriemma himself weighed in on the coverage in a news conference after the team's game on Sunday.
He, along with others including sports columnist Christine Brennan and others who study women's sports coverage blame sports media for not giving the story more attention.
I certainly understand this argument. We have scores and scores of research that tells us two things: that institutions covering sports are dominated by men; and that women's sports don't get nearly the attention that men's sports get.
But behind the blame on sports journalists, editors and producers is this assumption: That somehow, those who cover sports are different from those who follow sports. They're "out of touch" with what we (sports fans, Americans, whatever) really want.
In short, it's the (cliched) "build it and they will come" assumption, mixed with imagery of an (evil) wizard behind the curtain pulling the strings contrary to the wishes of the hordes of consumers who would have it otherwise. It reminds me of the title of a book: Why TV Is Not Our Fault, which essentially argues that viewers have little influence over what they watch. It's someone else's fault.
No doubt, there are serious issues of political economy and masculine hegemony/power in the sports/media complex, to borrow the academic concepts that underpin these "media=bad" arguments.
But I'm convinced that at the end of the day, blaming the media for lack of coverage or for the wrong kind of coverage is failing to see the bigger problem.
It really is us. (Gulp.) It is our fault.
What I mean is this: The problem is embedded in the way we see women, men, and gender roles. It's in the way we define sports. It's in the small things we take for granted as "normal" in our everyday lives about the performance of gender. (Women wear skirts, men don't. Etc.) And in what all of these small things say about bodies and power.
These norms aren't without consequence.
They result in a culture that is less interested in women's sports as spectator activities because of the ways these performances challenge our everyday gendered lives.
Those who go to work for media are products of that culture. They aren't so different from the rest of us.
Not that things can't or won't change. But they happen slowly. Forty years out from Title IX is like 40 days in the big scheme of things. We're talking about a generation --maybe two, I think. Beyond our lifetimes to see real change.
In the meantime: I like what Megan Hueter,in her blog "Because I Played Sports," said about the UConn streak. She talked about the power of community and about the way progressive sports fans have found ways to connect, to create media, and to celebrate women's sports.
The real changes in our connection and celebration of women's sports won't start with big media -- they'll start with us.

-- Marie Hardin

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The sports beat: How much has it really changed?

The latest issue of Nieman Reports looks at the beat structure in news reporting and includes a special focus on sports departments. In a piece about the influence of new media on sports reporting, Curley Center Director Malcolm Moran writes that "competitive pressures are rewriting the rules" by challenging traditional practice in regard to verifying sources and ensuring accuracy. Lindsay Jones, a beat writer for The Denver Post, talks about how she aims to adhere to high journalistic standards even as she races to be the first on the story -- with her thumbs on her phone keypad -- via Twitter.
Not all has changed, however. In a story I wrote about the beat structure in sports departments, I argue that the infinite news hole created by new media hasn't really expanded coverage of women's sports, mostly because beat structures in sports departments haven't changed to allow it. In other words, the technologies may be new, and the challenges to reporters to get the story fast may be more intense, but the types of sports covered and the types of stories consumers get from media sources haven't really changed that much.
The bottom line: It'll take a lot more than technology to see substantive changes in sports media content.
--Marie Hardin