Journalist Laura Banks cut her teeth as the sports reporter for several publications in Melbourne, working as a TV presenter, and writer both online and in newspaper.
During her time working in sports, she carved out a reputation as a knowledgable and trustworthy source across everything from AFL to horse racing.
She was also the first person to cross my mind this morning as we tossed the topic of Chris Gayle’s ill-fated interview around the office.
I was lucky enough to be seated next to Laura at a dinner party late last year, and was enthralled by her stories behind enemy lines in the world of testosterone-soaked sports. At barely 5’5, Laura told me about the battles she faced working in a job she loved – but a job that men didn’t love her doing.
I got in touch with Laura to have a chat about what it’s really like being a female sports reporter.
MM: Hi Laura, thanks for the chat. Before we get started, tell me a bit about what you do.
LB: I worked as a racing writer and presenter in Melbourne for a year before moving to The Daily Telegraph in a crime reporter role. While I do not specifically cover sport any more, I still do sports yarns on occasion – on New Years Day I was at Kirribilli with the Australian and West Indies teams when they met the Prime Minister.
MM: So you must have had feelings about the Chris Gayle drama. What’s your take on it?
LB: I don’t think Gayle should have been forced to make an apology this morning as he was. Mel McLaughlin put him back in his box by her response, and humiliated the guy on live TV. I think that was enough.
What troubled me more was the sniggers from the commentary box that were audible. I do think it has been blow out of proportion – now when you Google Mel’s name instead of seeing the great work she does, it will be filled with #GayleGate, which is a shame, because she is very good at what she does.
You can watch the interview between Mel McLaughlin and Chris Gayle below. (Post continues after video)
MM: Have you had a similar awkward encounter in your time as a sports reporter?
LB: I did meet the West Indies test team on Saturday, and you could say they were all quite friendly. But I didn’t take any of their comments offensively. They weren’t rude, their tone and the context of the comments were not offensive, similar to Gayle. I don’t think he meant any malice.
MM: Looking at the sports industry overall, did you encounter sexism and misogyny on a regular basis?
LB: I did, yes. Like all male-dominated sports, there is an out-dated mindset that because men are playing that sport, or they are the highest participants in that sport, women cannot do the same job as a man.
There has been a shift in racing on the track, female jockeys are getting more rides and more opportunities, but you only have to take a look around the press room at a metro meeting on a Saturday and you will struggle to find a female journalist, particularly young female journalists.
MM: Why do you think young women are avoiding the industry?
LB: There were dozens of times when the trainer or hoop would make a passing comment about how I was dressed or how I looked that day, even to other members of the media.
They are the big names in racing, so to retort or ask them to refrain could potentially damage your professional relationship in the future – so you’re compelled to smile and laugh it off.
I also had management who believed I could not do a good job because of my gender, at times even made remarks about how it would be difficult to manage a female to everyone in the (90 per cent male) newsroom. And as much as I love the sport, it was that which saw me leave the industry.
MM: So what does it take to be a female sports reporter?
LB: It is a man’s world you are operating in. You need that drive to succeed. But not only succeed but to be better than your male counterparts.
To be a successful female sports reporter, women must work harder than men. You must me more committed, driven, and wear a thicker skin. Women also need to weigh-up family life and when or if they would like to have children. But that is the same for all professional females striving to make it in a man’s world.
MM: What has been your toughest challenge as a female sports reporter?
LB: Backwards mentality of management who believed females could not do the same job as a male. There are some wonderful people in the racing industry who are supportive and who have belief in your ability, but there would be half that make your job particularly difficult.