There is no room for “who’s who” in women’s basketball writing

Sue Favor of and LT Willis of TG Sports TV talk with Sparks coach Brian Agler after the first day of training camp in April. Photo by Los Angeles Sparks media relations.
Sue Favor of and LT Willis of TG Sports TV talk with Sparks coach Brian Agler after the first day of training camp in April. Photo by Los Angeles Sparks media relations.

Being a writer these days is complicated and challenging.

Many have assumed not only that writing about women’s basketball is my full time job, but that I make a lot of money doing it.

Not only is that untrue for myself, but it is not the case for any of the other writers for independent publications that I know or know about. Many who write about the WNBA in the summertime and college basketball in the winter do so for no money; it is done for the love of the game and those who play it. Most writers who do earn funds aren’t seeing much.

A couple of website publications used to pay $25 per story. I know a few writers who work for a site that pays $17.50 per piece. Two independent sites pay $100 or more per story, but those are the exceptions.

The most common refrains from independent women’s basketball writers are, “I write to do what I can to grow the game,” and “it’s a good way to build my clips file for something in the future,” which is code for Something That Pays. Fun and networking are the other two common reasons for doing this job that pays so little.

Major sports publications will pay sometimes, but it’s probably easier to get into Harvard than to have a pitch accepted that will pay. One entity pays for stories in the print version, but not the online version, and print stories are limited. Another publication writes so little about women that they may accept a pitch every five years or so. Literally.

Writing about women’s basketball – most women’s sports, actually – is a hard row to hoe. Truth be told, there are probably only two writers who make any significant money covering women’s hoops on a regular basis: Mechelle Voepel of ESPN and Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press. Two full time women’s basketball writers in the entire country, while in the meantime, 20 ESPN writers last spring predicted who they thought would make the NBA playoffs.

Of course, there are still beat writers at local newspapers in smaller and mid-sized cities who report on women’s basketball. The State in Columbia, S.C. does a great job covering the South Carolina Gamecocks, and the Star Tribune covers the Minnesota Lynx very well, to name two examples. Such writers were the way the game was covered until the explosion of the Internet over the last decade or so, especially.

The proliferation of information and writings of all kinds on the booming Internet has lead to the current state of poverty for writers today. Sports and news website editors alike don’t see the need to pay journalists when there are so many writings, blog posts and stories available online for free. Recently, a major news publication told me they weren’t accepting paid story pitches, but I was welcome to be one of their blog contributors. I said no thanks.

In the meantime, WNBA and NBA executives have complained that the WNBA “gets no media coverage.” I pointed out last year that they do – they just need to publicize the coverage that they get. Voepel said the same thing.

This season I figured it out: the WNBA mostly recognizes stories written by its own staff. They tweet out ESPN and Sports Illustrated story links, but that’s about it. Apparently stories don’t count if they’re not written by one of those large entities. This has caused pain for myself and writers I know over the years.

The United States is a celebrity-worshiping country that puts undue importance on status and affiliation. But there is no room for “who’s who” in women’s basketball writing. A fledgling league like the WNBA in a grassroots sport like women’s basketball can’t have scruples about who is giving them reputable coverage. They need to celebrate and publicize every piece that tells the story of the WNBA and its teams and players in a professional and journalistic manner. That includes local newspapers, which are usually in smaller cities and towns.

Major media outlets do provide fine coverage. But so do I, and so do many others who write for smaller publications. Mel Greenberg, Rob Knox, Joe Veyera, Colin Davenport, Eric Nemchock and Lindsay Gibbs are just a few of those good writers. We may not work for ESPN or SI, but we produce quality stories about women’s basketball on a consistent basis.

My qualifications are solid. I have always been keen on words and writing. I wrote out my first letters when I was four years old, and I shocked my kindergarten teacher when I wrote notes to her on the blackboard. I was writing short stories and essays by first grade, and more than 40 years later, I am still writing. My father got me hooked on women’s basketball in junior high, and I became addicted to athletics and working out at the same time. After graduating from college, I worked as a full time reporter/journalist for many years, during which time I won awards for my writing.

I have covered women’s college and WNBA basketball independently for eight years. My passion for the game and those who play and coach it is immense, and some of that is due to being an athlete myself, as I know what it takes. I have been the only reporter at news conferences and on press row (the picture with this story shows the only two media representatives present on the first day of Sparks training camp 2016). I can’t think of anyone else who has covered the local teams that I do for as long as I have. I am an exceptional writer and a great observer, with keen insight and wisdom from having lived a long and interesting life.

Mel, Rob and others could tell similar stories of love and dedication to writing about women’s basketball.

The WNBA needs to fully realize that they already have a great news corps. Most of us write not for checks, but for love. If the league promoted all of the stories written about them more, and gave writers some of their love back, I’d bet that more would step forward to write about women’s hoops. Not to mention retaining the ones who already cover the game.

A little appreciation and respect go a long way, and everyone deserves it – not just the “stars.”