Buried treasures and missed opportunities in Victorian sports reporting

Big data analysis of gender portrayal in print media in Victoria, Australia from 2014 to 2019

Authored by: Iris Bohnet and Jeni Klugman

Country: Australia
Year: 2020

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Executive Summary

Social norms shape opportunities for women and girls in a range of settings. Importantly, such norms can also limit choices, even in settings like Victoria, where explicit barriers to equality have been removed and government is committed to a vision in which all Victorians are visible and represented, not only at work, but also in communities, sport and media.

The last five years have been a time of change in Victoria, with women making high profile inroads into traditionally male domains, such as Australian Rules Football and even the Melbourne Cup. And with major media corporations stating commitment to more equitable coverage.

How was this being reflected in the newspaper text coverage of sports in Victoria during this time? As part of our contribution to a more systematic understanding of gender bias in Victoria, we used a big data analysis, made possible by improvements in data availability and computational techniques. The goal was to systematically document the extent and nature of bias in sports reporting, to inform more conscious management and staff decisions about gender balance in coverage. Working together with colleagues from Swinburne University, we processed five years of data to analyze 241,781 written articles and 123 million words.

Key findings of this study

1. Content analysis revealed comparable and unbiased portrayal of men and women in sports reporting. For example, references to appearance, the use of gendered language and other measurable gender biases are infrequent in sports articles about both men and women.

2. Opportunities to read articles about women in sport are scarce and do not match the levels of female participation in sports, or the demand for articles about female sports. The vast majority of newspaper sports articles centre on men.

3. Female journalists are more likely to write about women in sport, but only account for 12 per cent of sports articles. The share of women writing sports articles fell from 18 per cent to 12 per cent over the five-year study period.