STILL A HEADACHE? REFLECTIONS ON WOMEN, SPORT AND MEDIA IN SCOTLAND 2016

Dr Irene Reid – School of Sport, University of Stirling

As International Women’s Day 2016 approached, last week I was drawn once again to Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish, the book by journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch in which she examines contemporary Scotland through issues such as health inequality, land and property ownership, language and culture. A year ago I was intrigued by the chapter about women, particularly the section where Riddoch reflects on the production of The Scotsman newspaper on 8th March 1995. In 1995 Lesley Riddoch, then assistant editor of The Scotsman newspaper, was given the green light to develop an issue to mark International Women’s Day; the paper was renamed The Scotswoman for the day. One sentence in Blossom resonates loudly: ‘Sports coverage was another headache’ (Riddoch 2014: 253).

When I first read this statement and Riddoch’s explanation I was unnerved. Of course I knew I’m untypical of women in Scotland when it comes to participation in sport and being interested in connections between mediated sport and ideas of nationhood. I’ve been immersed in formal organised sport since my teens, and I’ve followed sport on radio and television and in newspapers throughout my life –this it seems is unusual. I read the paper from the back pages to the front, although I’m convinced that’s to do with my left-handedness therefore not so odd. As an undergraduate student, my research considered the relationship between sport and the media in Scotland. These themes have infused my subsequent research, influenced in no small part by newspaper essays by the late Ian Archer and the late William McIlvanney on the national resonance of sport in Scotland. Riddoch’s assessment was discomforting/

It’s helpful therefore to consider the significance of that edition of a national Scottish paper in 1995. The Scotswoman was a world first: a mainstream newspaper written, produced and edited by women it provided an alternative to the ‘unreflectively male-oriented’ perspective of mainstream media (Riddoch 2014: 250). The Scottish first of 1995 was followed by mainstream papers in other countries in subsequent years, but it was not repeated by The Scotsman. That edition on International Women’s Day 1995 was a first, and it was about more than just adjusting the title of the paper for the day, but, as Riddoch explained, this presented a challenge:

We wanted women as actors in the news not passive objects. But the truth was then and still is now, that women just don’t make the ‘news’ as it’s conventionally defined (Riddoch 2014: 253).

Sport wasn’t the only daily fare that provided a headache for The Scotswoman team in 1995. In the spheres of politics, foreign affairs, and the economy for example the images and voices were predominantly male; men were the actors. But in 1995 perhaps the realm of sport more than others really was a problem; in 1995 did sports news mean men’s sport … or more specifically fitba with a wee bit of rugby union thrown in?

In 1995 I was working in England. I didn’t buy a Scottish daily paper back then and I didn’t see The Scotswoman on newsstands and digital versions of Scotland’s newspapers weren’t on the radar. I’ve therefore no first-hand recollection of how the editorial team resolved the conundrum of sports coverage on International Women’s Day 1995. Scotland in 2016 is in some respects different to the nation it was, and the social, cultural and political resonance of sport in Scottish society remains fertile research terrain. Where does women’s sport sit in 2016? Gut instinct tells me women’s sport and women’s contribution to sport in Scotland is still a marginal concern for the mainstream media. Set against this backdrop, with another International Women’s Day imminent, last week I returned to Riddoch’s discussion around The Scotswoman and asked myself if a Scottish newspaper repeated that 1995 initiative: Would sports coverage still be a headache?

Having spent a few days pondering the headache sports coverage presented for Lesley Riddoch and her production team I noted today with interest the news that The Scotswoman will be on our newsstands once again. Twenty-one years after its first appearance, The Scotswoman will return on International Women’s Day 2016 (‘Scotsman symbolically re-branded for Interantional Women’s Day’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/scotsman-symbolically-re-branded-for-international-women-s-day-1-4048251, March 7 2016). I don’t have long to wait to find out: is sports coverage still a headache, or 21 years down the line, will the challenge of shifting the male-oriented content and perspective of one newspaper for one day be interesting reading for Scottish women interested in sport?

 

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