New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan addressed the issue of the lack of coverage for women compared to the men in their respective NCAA basketball tournaments. Several women readers voiced their complaints.
The readers have a valid point about coverage so far: The women’s coverage has been minimal. Let’s look back over the weekend’s offerings.
Saturday: Coverage of the men’s tournament included one section-front article, and seven inside feature stories, a men’s roundup article and a notebook. There was nothing on the women’s tournament, which was to begin later that day. (By contrast, there was plenty of preview coverage of the men’s tournament.)
Sunday: Coverage of the men’s tournament included two section-front articles and a full-page photo display inside, along with two inside articles. For the women: an Associated Press roundup article and “agate” – the small-print game results.
Monday: For the men, one front-page article, four inside articles and a roundup, all written by Times staff members. For the women, an Associated Press roundup and the women’s agate. (A feature article on both men’s and women’s tournament travel was on the front page but did not involve substantial coverage of athletes, teams or games.)
Sullivan asked Times deputy sports editor Sam Dolnick for a response. Dolnick said:
By any and every measure, the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament attracts less general interest than the men’s tournament. If our job is in large part to gauge newsworthiness, then it wouldn’t make sense to allocate the same resources to both tournaments. That’s not to say that we ignore the women’s tournament — far from it. This year we will have five reporters fanned out across the country, including some of our best and most senior writers. That’s probably more coverage than we’ve ever had before.
Dolnick also added there are occasions when the Times actually gives more coverage to women’s sports over men. Namely in the Olympics where the women events are more compelling and have a larger following.
A side point — the N.C.A.A. tournament shouldn’t be used as a barometer for our interest in women’s sports in general. There have been times when we cover women’s tennis, and women’s World Cup soccer, and women’s figure skating, and women’s gymnastics, more closely than we cover the men. That’s simply because we found the women’s competitions there to be more compelling — and that’s the measure we always use in assigning coverage.
But I also believe that there’s something circular here that is important and should be acknowledged: Intense media coverage of sports is one of the reasons that there is so much popular interest.
Does The Times need to bring the same resources to the women’s tournament as it does to the men’s? No, I don’t think so. But the level of interest has been disappointing so far. As a former high school and college hoops player myself (I sat the bench with considerable skill on Georgetown’s junior varsity team), I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing women’s coverage ramp up soon.
Sullivan has a point about coverage driving more interest in a sport. Clearly, though, there is a much greater following for the men’s game, even among women.
Would more coverage for the women’s tournament change that? Probably not.