The May edition of the Legislative Office on the Economic Status of Women (OESW) newsletter focused on equity in news reporting in women’s and men’s sports. Comparing four news publications — Sports Illustrated, Star Tribune, Duluth News Tribune and the MSR — their research showed that only one of the publications — the MSR — covered women in sports as often as men, at 41 percent each. The remaining eight percent were stories that featured both genders.
MSR’s current sports writers include Mitchell McDonald who covers prep; Larry Fitzgerald, who covers major leagues; and Staff Writer Charles Hallman who covers everything in between. The columnist with the longest tenure at the MSR, Fitzgerald, was honored by the recognition. “The dedication of our writers and editorial commitment to news shines through,” he says.
The research was done during the month of March — the busiest month of the year for both men and women’s sports. Though Hallman says his busy writing schedule makes it hard to remember what he did yesterday, he recalls some of the topics he covered during March. “Looking back, I spent a lot of time talking about women’s hockey, talking about women swimming, talking about the WNBA draft that’s coming up. I talked about the women’s final four.”
Hallman says the challenge to writing about sports in a weekly publication is providing fresh news to readers when something new happens daily. He works hard to give readers something they have not already read in daily publications, so he avoids stories focusing heavily on scores or a particular game.
The MSR is the only weekly in the Twin Cities that covers prep, college, local and national sports on a consistent basis. Nationally, very few Black news publications cover more than prep. So Hallman says of the OESW acknowledgment, “It reaffirmed how much we do… That just shows you, as a small weekly newspaper, what we can do as opposed to more resources that those publications have. Why can’t they do the same? That is the question that needs to be asked.”
Why the large gap at other publications? Hallman says much of the blame can be placed on the editors. Years ago he interviewed an editor at the Star Tribune who told him that until women draw as big a crowd as men, he has little interest in covering them.
“Well, guess who won championships in the last five years,” Hallman asks. “The Lynx won three in five years; the Gopher women’s program won three in five years, including back to back. The winningest teams in this town are women’s teams.”
Hallman says editors are the gatekeepers in all aspects of news. In a conversation he once had with former Fox News anchor Robyne Robinson, she told him that if she was not in the newsroom by 9 am, there were news stories that she considered important that would have never made it to viewers. “How many [writers] at the Star Tribune or the Duluth paper or Sports Illustrated are really getting their voices heard who want to see women’s sports covered?” he asks. “I am very encouraged because I have editors who have not discouraged us from covering women’s sports as much as we do.”
During the final four, while Sports Illustrated dedicated nine pages to stories and information about the men’s championship, there were two and a half pages on women. Buried beneath several Major League Baseball stories in the Star Tribune’s most recent Sunday, June 11 issue was one story focused exclusively on a female athlete — Jelena Ostapenko, winner of the French Open final — an Associated Press article among the 25 articles written. The most recent MSR issue on June 8 offered a story on the Lynx among the four written.
Hallman says it’s not so much about being equal, it’s about being fair: “There is a difference — a clear difference — between men and women athletes. But they both work hard, they both sweat, they both try to win.”
Prep writer Mitchell McDonald, says, “This recognition is special because it acknowledges the dedication that MSR has in recognizing the contributions and accomplishments of women athletes. It was my father Kwame McDonald who helped me understand the significant contributions women athletes were making when I was starting out as a sports writer.
“He always stressed to me that they deserved equal coverage. This recognition would make him extremely proud if he were alive today.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes readers’ response to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related story: The MSR — leading the pack in women’s sports coverage