Times have changed — our new women’s reporting team will change things ever more

Reach this week announced its intention to cover every Women’s Super League football match this season, hiring a seven-strong team to provide coverage similar to that enjoyed by the men’s game for decades. It will be headed up by Alice McKeegan, who has blazed a trail in regional sports journalism as head of football at the Manchester Evening News, leading one of the biggest sports desks in local journalism. Writing today for Behind Local News, Alice looks back on what’s happened so far — and what should happen next:

Alice McKeegan interviews Nemanja Vidic

Shortly after starting my role on the Manchester Evening News newsdesk, I arranged an interview with the Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic through health contacts.

Following newsroom protocol, I informed the sports desk of the interview and I was told it would be passed on to one of the football reporters.

Rather than yield, I stressed the interview had been allocated to me and that my experience in journalism and interest in football made me eminently qualified to conduct the chat.

After more needless bartering, the sports desk accepted the interview should be done by me. Vidic was recovering from rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, provided engaging copy on his recovery and the interview received national exposure after we went to print.

It is easy for an ‘outsider’ — I was the only woman on the MEN football desk at the time (writing one day a week and spending the other four on newsdesk ) — to feel cowed when they are attempting to make headway in the football journalism industry, but perceptions and attitudes have changed.

I experienced no trepidation in accepting the task of editing the football desk in March 2016, initially on an interim basis, as I have loved the sport and followed Manchester football avidly since I was a child.

I had been warming up for it for some time. My reporting background, editorial nous honed on a brilliant newsdesk and knowledge of the game gave me the confidence I could adapt to a unique challenge.

Still, walking a few paces further along the newsroom to a different desk comprising entirely of males was a culture shock. It was a unique time, as Pep Guardiola had already agreed to take over as City manager in the summer and the MEN had written extensively about the likelihood of Jose Mourinho becoming United manager. Overseeing the coverage of City and United was, and still is, a privilege.

Man-management is one of the skills I value the most, a specialty of my mother when she was a school teacher. She had the ability to gain the support of a classroom and, having observed her natural approach, I would like to think I have subconsciously developed that trait.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than unearthing a raw recruit who goes onto thrive in their career and I will always have that approach as long as I remain in football journalism.

Assuming the position of steering the MEN’s football coverage has allowed me to recruit a diverse range of talents over the last six-and-a-half years and football is, despite its insular nature at times, an evolving sport. The growth of the women’s game is also creating new opportunities, such as Reach’s new football roles, and I’m incredibly excited to help launch a new team to provide more in-depth coverage of the WSL and Women’s Championship.

Underrepresented groups are gaining greater exposure in football journalism and they have to become more prevalent. We have seen in this country how the game can enrapture communities, children and young adults and the buzz around the women’s game following England’s success at the Euros is proof that football is for all. Our coverage must reflect our readership and our reporting teams must also be diverse and representative of the wider community.

Providing a pathway for journalists to enter the football reporting industry, whatever their background, is a unique challenge and one I am dedicated to championing. Hopefully I’m an example that anyone can make the move to sports journalism, regardless of background.

  • In 2022, Behind Local News aims to celebrate local journalism in all its forms through our 365 Acts of Local Journalism Project. Lets us know what you think should be included. You can email us here or contact us via Twitter on BehindLocalNews or on Facebook here.

>> See the series so far, here

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Behind Local News

Behind Local News

A place to share the stories behind the stories