Inequality in our sports coverage

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By Jesse Osbourne

Believe it or not, we strive to do our jobs well here at The Springfield Sun. My goal each time I walk into the building is to provide fair news coverage for the readers of this newspaper.

A phone call last week prompted me to verify my approach.
A gentleman called early last week, curious about the lack of coverage on the North Washington Middle School girls’ basketball team. They beat Spencer County Middle School in the conference championship recently at Marion County High School, and didn’t make the pages of our paper. More on our coverage of middle school athletics in a moment.
I must say, the caller was very articulate and not rude at all. I appreciate his civil approach.
He also wanted to know why our coverage of girls’ athletics was lacking compared to boys’ athletics. He specifically cited Little League baseball and softball. He also specifically cited the number of photos published for each gender.
The complaint has been made at almost every newspaper I’ve worked for that a bias exists in the sports section. Males get the nod, while females get ignored.
I told the gentleman that I didn’t believe that bias existed here, but I would certainly keep an eye on the claim when Little League started back up in the spring.
I also told him that I thought we did a pretty good job at being fair and being visible at Little League athletic events.
We talked a little longer, I thanked him for his civil approach and sat at my computer, ready to continue the task I was working on.
I couldn’t focus on what I was supposed to be doing, though. I wanted to find out if there was a bias in coverage in the 11 months I’ve been here.
My curiosity piqued, I flipped through the archives. I started with the sports sections from May 18, 2011 until July 6, 2011.
The Little League seasons began the week of our May 18 edition. The season ended for the softball all-star team on the week of our July 6 edition. Any photos of the boys were not counted after that week, as they advanced to the state tournament and the girls’ team did not.
During that time frame, 11 photos of boys that played Little League were published while seven photos of girls were published.
The number of photos were equal until the July 6 edition, when four additional photos of the boys’ all-star team were published.
However, I decided to look further. I decided to count the number of photos published in the sports section from Dec. 8, 2010 (my first edition as sports writer) and Oct. 26, 2011 (my last edition as sports writer).
I counted only the photos taken by myself, someone else on our staff or someone else in our company. Submitted photos weren’t counted, nor were photos of athletes at St. Catharine.
In that time period, 182 pictures of male athletes were published, while 145 photos of female athletes were published.
I’m not proud of those numbers. It seems my effort to be fair wasn’t good enough.
Shorty Lassiter, our general manager / ad manager, said she has always noticed the bias in sports coverage at our paper and other papers. She said that if my daughter grows up to play sports, I’ll notice it, too.
I hope to help make us a more balanced newspaper in the coming year. For those who have felt slighted by this bias in the past, hold me accountable.
Coverage of middle    school athletics
I have received a few other phone calls regarding the North Washington Middle School girls’ basketball team.
It is unfortunate, but we don’t have the resources to cover middle school athletics. If we attend one event at one school, but not another at a different school, then we are not successfully balancing our coverage.
In my very short time here, I have covered two middle school athletic issues. The first was the merging of the middle school football program. The second was the player eligibility issues at St. Dominic earlier this year.
Any results from any middle school athletic event has been submitted.
Now, there is a way for middle school and youth league teams to get coverage. Results and pictures are absolutely welcomed. We run submitted photos all the time. Results, however, oftentimes don’t make it into our office.
I’m telling you now, in print, that if you can get results to us, we will work hard to find a place to put them.
I would encourage anyone with results to send them in. Send us final scores, individual point totals for players and any other pertinent stats. Send us your photos, too.
In an ideal world, we would have enough staff to cover every ball that ever bounced in the county. However, take a look at this list of sports to consider in the county, which doesn’t even include St. Catharine College athletics.
A quick count reveals over 40 teams in the county at the high school and middle school level. With a news staff of two people, one that is producing news and sports content, it would be a tall, tall task to provide fair coverage to all of those teams.
So, while I do hope to even out the coverage given to female athletics, I don’t anticipate a change in our coverage policy towards middle school athletics.