Telum Talks To: Zoë George from Stuff

Telum Talks To: Zoë George from Stuff

By Cindy Paskalina Kweesar

International Women's Day 2024, themed "Invest in Women", advocates for the United Nations' gender equality sustainable development goal to be met by 2030. In light of this campaign, Telum spoke to
Zoë George, Senior Sports Journalist at Stuff, about how she started her career and gender inequality in the industry.

What inspired you to start a career in journalism?
I wanted to be a journalist at 12. By 16, I had my first story published on the front page of the local paper and was working with a local TV network. At that time, there weren't many women in sports journalism (there still aren't many!), but I saw one when I was young and decided I wanted to be like her. It took 18 years of my career to be a sports journalist.

All these years on, I still love journalism. For me, it's always been about getting to the heart of a good story, uncovering the truth, holding those in power to account, and lifting the voices of those who have so often been sidelined in sports and society. Their stories have merit too.

What are some of the stories you are most proud of?
Sports journalism isn't just about results and what happens on the field. Often, the most interesting things happen off it. It's the people who make sport what it is.

I uncovered abusive practices, wrote about sexism, misogyny and inequity, focused on some big issues - including access to sport for all, not just for some - and even documented my path into becoming a "runner". 

Who do you believe has shaped or influenced journalism for the better in Aotearoa?
There are so many! Former RNZ Saturday Morning Host Kim Hill has had a huge influence on many of us. Every show was a masterclass. Her sharp intellect and eye for detail, along with the art of asking probing questions at the right time, have helped inspire and drive many of us. I'm also so glad Susie Ferguson has taken over the Saturday Morning reigns.

Then, there's former Stuff #Metoo Editor Ali Mau, investigative journalist Paula Penfold, and Pou Tiaki Matua Carmen Parahi. They are wahine toa. Their leadership, grit, and determination have helped shape my journalism and Aotearoa for the better.

There are those behind the scenes whose names are sometimes, but not often, on bylines. The news directors, assistant editors, and editors who support us and help shape our work.

Finally, there are a growing number of male allies who appreciate the diversity of thought and experience, and walk beside many of us as we navigate, at times, difficult waters associated with our jobs.

How do you believe gender inequality manifests itself / exists in the industry, and why does women's inclusion matter?
Particularly in sports, representation and inclusion of women, both in by-lines and in coverage, is not great. The inclusion of women in our newsrooms brings a diversity of thought and experience, broadening our offerings to our audiences and workplaces. Gender equity can boost organisational morale and culture, help attract and retain talent, and help break down traditional stereotypes that impact women (and men) negatively.

While Aotearoa might be a global leader when it comes to women's sports coverage, we still have a long way to go. Only about 10 percent of sports stories are written by women, and only about a quarter of our sports stories are about women (according to the latest Sport NZ data), down from 28 percent in 2022. The U.S has just hit 15 percent.

In Aotearoa, men's rugby still dominates, often driven by live reporting. Women still have fewer opportunities to play sports, meaning less game time, and fewer chances for live coverage. Diversification of storytelling is needed until sports bodies give women equal opportunity, and when we do cover women in sports, we commit to giving them prominence. Their contributions to sport are just as important as men's. This is also led by the engagement of the traditional (male) sports audience, but this audience is changing.

While there is still a place for men's rugby (and other sports), research shows committing to women's sports has benefits. The latest research from the Women's Sports Trust found that 47 million people watched the FIFA Women's World Cup on TV in the U.K alone. 15 million of them had never watched women's sports before, and 43 percent of the new audience went on to engage with even more women's sports. Build it, and they will come.

Then there's commerciality. Deloitte is predicting women's sport globally will be a multi-billion dollar industry very soon, and Football Australia's recently released Legacy 23 report found the Matildas' impact during the FIFA Women's World Cup injected more than AU$1 billion into the Australian economy, reduced overall healthcare costs for the nation as more people were inspired to get active, and the side generated a media value of AU$2.78 billion. Why would you not want to be part of this?

Sport is for all, not just for some, and if you can't see it, you can't be it. Now's the time to make a firm, measurable commitment to inclusion and coverage of women in sports for the betterment of not only our organisations and our commercial bottom lines, but for society as a whole.

When we lift women, everyone benefits.

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