SBD/September 11, 2013/Events and Attractions

'13 Game Changers: How The Media Covers Women's Sports

Panelists disagreed on how ESPN should present its espnW content
NBC Sports Group Senior VP/Production & Senior Coordinating Producer Dan Steir immediately knew that it was news when WNBA Shock G Riquna Williams scored a league-record 51 points on Sunday, but he had nagging doubts about how the network covered the milestone. “I’m not sure we gave it enough exposure,” he said during the '13 Game Changers Conference in N.Y. “I kept on saying to myself, 'What if this was Kobe? What would we be doing the next day?'” Steir was part of a panel discussing how the media covers women’s sports. He was joined by Roopstigo Founder and former SI writer Selena Roberts, USA Today Managing Sports Editor Mary Byrne and ESPN.com Editor-in-Chief Patrick Stiegman. Roberts wondered what it takes for women’s sports to make the homepage of a mainstream sports media outlet. She said, “If you don’t get on the homepage without scoring 51 points, that says something, too.”

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND? Another hot topic yesterday was ESPN’s female-focused vertical, espnW, which is promoted as “a destination for women who are passionate sports fans and athletes.” Stiegman responded to criticism that his network had created a “digital ghetto” for women’s sports programming. “I’ve heard that complaint from time to time and I entirely reject it,” he said, pointing to ESPN’s well-received "Nine for IX" documentary series. “It’s a commitment to sports journalism that’s about women’s sports and women’s sports fans.” Roberts, who praised ESPN’s overall efforts in covering women’s sports, said that they nevertheless deserve a permanent place on the ESPN home page. Roberts: “It feels like segregation, like you’re marginalizing it to a page.” Stiegman countered that the website surfaces content from espnW across its many digital properties. He said that ESPN sees women’s sports programming as a growth opportunity similar to soccer, which enjoyed increased exposure on the network as ESPN works to tap into its global popularity.

DIVERSITY PAYS OFF: A diverse editorial staff is perhaps as important as dedicating resources to covering women’s sports. “The more diverse my staff is, the better stories I have,” Byrne said. “Diversity leads to better stories, and those stories help broaden your base. And that’s not gender-specific.” The broad consensus among panelists was that great stories are genderless. “There’s no doubt that ESPN is committed to advocacy for women’s sports,” Stiegman said. “What I’m committed to is the storytelling.” Added Byrne: “If you make news, you’ll make a headline.”
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