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The gendering of sports news: An investigation into the production, content and reception of sports photographs of athletes in New Zealand newspapers.

This study investigates the selection, content, meaning and reception of photographs of sportswomen featured in New Zealand newspapers, in order to establish the relationship between media representations and cultural understandings of sportswomen and women’s sport. The study adopts a feminist cultural studies perspective and questions how photographs of sportswomen are constructed and perceived through dominant discourses of gender, sport and nationalism by media decision-makers and audiences alike, within contexts that are shaped by gender power relations and hierarchies. The first component of this tripartite study comprises two periods of participant observation and interviews conducted at a New Zealand media organization. The insights gained reveal how discourses of (sports) journalism impact on the choices media workers make about what constitutes sports news. Media practices, newsroom dynamics, organizational protocols, freedoms and constraints, and taken-for-granted work routines were all found to inform media workers’ decision making. Thus, journalistic discourses play a decisive role in constructing perceptions of newsworthiness that privilege a few professional men’s sports whilst marginalizing women’s sports and sportswomen, who are frequently stereotyped in representations where physical appearance and aesthetic beauty are emphasized rather than athleticism. The second component of this research comprises a systematic analysis of 2,787 sports photographs featured in four New Zealand newspapers during two distinct sample periods. The three main themes that emerged demonstrate that: ◙ Sports media reinforce an articulation of sport and masculinity; ◙ When sportswomen are featured, the media reinforce an articulation of sportswomen and femininity; and ◙ When major international sporting events occur, dominant discourses affirming an articulation of sports are momentarily disrupted, as the articulation of sport and nationalism creates space for greater coverage of sportswomen. However, despite the increased focus on sportswomen during the context of a major international sporting event, the content of photographs continues to reinforce discourses of femininity, emphasizing potential or actual medal winners and/or their physical attractiveness as sportswomen. A number of representative photographs of sportswomen are subjected to further in-depth evaluation using Peircean semiotic analysis, to establish how sports photographs convey gender differences. This analysis demonstrates how media draw attention to gender by using close-up photographs of sportswomen in tight fitting, body-hugging sportswear that is culturally defined as gender appropriate for women, which accentuates their physical attractiveness and femininity. The third component of this study involves in-depth interviews with seven elite New Zealand sportswomen, who describe their engagement with sports photographs and the challenges faced in determining what it means to be an athlete and a woman. Participants’ comments highlight how they often perceive photographs of themselves negatively, and in relation to the powerful discursive messages media convey about athleticism and gender, which associate sport with men and masculinity. Moreover, these media messages further result in sportswomen featuring in ambivalent and ambiguous ways, due to perceived contradictions in the articulation of sports with women and femininity. Conclusions are drawn on the powerful role discourses of sport play in media workers’ and audiences’ perceptions of sports newsworthiness, which are predominantly gender-based and gender-biased. Although discourses of nationalism encourage greater attention to medal winning sportswomen during major international sporting events, this focus continues to be constrained within discourses of femininity, and thus highlights those sports deemed appropriate for women, with emphasis given to sportswomen who embody idealized modes of femininity. Moreover, the findings of this research highlight the necessity for sports media studies to incorporate the voices of media workers and audiences, as their actions, reactions and perceptions reveal the real issues that they experience and what is important to them in producing and consuming sports news. This study therefore takes a step forward in highlighting crucial questions about the role of gender in shaping sporting representations as they are constructed and consumed in New Zealand.
Type of thesis
Scott-Chapman, S. (2012). The gendering of sports news: An investigation into the production, content and reception of sports photographs of athletes in New Zealand newspapers. (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6998
University of Waikato
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