Reigniting Trust

"What Chance Do Female Reporters Have?"

Roxane Coche is an expert on women’s sports. Her next study: the impact of gender on trust in media.

A decade ago, academics studied the impact of race and gender on sports coverage. The results showed that male readers found male reporters more trustworthy on men’s sports like football. Female reporters were trusted only on women’s sports.

Roxane Coche
Roxane Coche

“That got me intrigued,” said Roxane Coche, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Telecommunication at the University of Florida. “From everything I could find, that is the only study that looks at this. One study is not enough to establish proof of anything. So my idea is to dig a little bit.”

Working with the Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology, Coche hopes to replicate and modernize the study, using video rather than print material and broadening the parameters to discover more about how race and gender impact trust in sports reporting.

| Click here to read a Q&A with Roxane Coche. |

It’s no small matter. On Spofity, more than 800,000 hours of sports content is streamed each day. Collectively, Americans watched more than 1 trillion minutes—that’s a staggering 1.9 million years—of sports programming in 2018, dwarfing other forms of news and entertainment, according to Rick Porter, who covers television for the Hollywood Reporter.

Women’s sports traditionally account for only a small percentage (studies show single digits) of sports that gain television coverage. If Coche’s pending study shows that gender remains an indicator of trust, the implications for women who cover sports could be dramatic.

“If you put that into the context of the lack of coverage in women’s sports, then what chance do female reporters have?” she said.

“Try Out for a Dream”

Coche has spent the last decade studying sports and the media coverage trained upon it. Her research includes the impact of soccer rivalries on immigrants, how Mexican-American sports fans adopted and adapted tailgating, the methodology of Olympic medal awards, what women’s soccer fans want and television coverage of all kinds.

Her interest stems from a childhood spent in France, where she dreamed of being a professional athlete. But that wasn’t a realistic expectation in a world that was largely toxic to professional women’s sports.

“Growing up, my dream was to be a soccer player,” she said. “Young girls should be allowed to try out for a dream.”

Coche became a sports journalist instead, gravitating to broadcast television. Later, she came to the United States to study sports and communication. Gender in sports was a natural fit.

“You cannot find a solution to anything if you have not defined the problem first,” she said. “I started doing content analyses of media coverage around women’s sports. I delved into what happens to female sports reporters.”

“A Chance to Prove Themselves”

Coche says that, despite progress in recent years, women in sports continue to run uphill, largely because of a long history of being locked out of the industry. After World War I, for example, women were banned from soccer leagues in England and many other countries followed suit. In some cases, those bans lasted until the 1970s.

“What happened between 1921 and 1971 was that a whole global market for men’s soccer was created,” she said. “By the time the 1970s came around, women had been banned for 50 years.”

That history, pervasive in all of sports, has an impact on today’s leagues, Coche said, including the low media interest in women’s teams.

“Broadcasters are willing to bet on men’s sports because it is a proven product, but that is because they had a chance to prove themselves,” she said. “The NBA, the NFL, the NHL all lost money for several decades before becoming solvent, but men kept investing in it.”

Coche is heartened to see the National Women’s Soccer League grant a coalition of women investors, including some celebrities like actor Natalie Portman and tennis great Serena Williams, the right to bring an expansion team to Los Angeles. The team is expected to launch in 2022.

But there is more work ahead, Coche said, to understand and eliminate gender-based inequities.

“We are really starting to understand why the market is the way it is,” she said. “But we are going to have to look to find solutions.”