Interview with Amy Bergstrom: A Woman in Sports Journalism
By Lily Gustafson, ASP Editorial Intern Men dominate the sports world in all areas. On TV, men's sports are featured 96% of the time, according to a study by USC and Purdue. Sports fans seem to be drawn to male athleticism. But women's sports can be just as enjoyable, as seen by the popularity of the most recent Women's World Cup. The difference in physicality may never change. But the difference in media attention can.
Amy Bergstrom is someone who knows a little bit about this. Before switching careers to work with international students with FIUTS (Foundations for International Understanding Through Students), she worked for Major League Baseball and the Seattle Times. During the baseball season, she operated the Pitch F/X system, a pitch tracking technology, for the Mariners. During the school year, she collected high school sports scores for the Seattle Times. After three years of that, she got the job at the Times to run the sports section of seattletimes.com.
I had the pleasure to sit down with her to talk about what led her to journalism, her experiences at her various jobs, and her view on the future of women's sports.
Were you into sports as a kid?
I was. I played softball, soccer, and basketball pretty much all growing up, from being five or six years old through high school.
Which one did you like the best?
Softball was my sport. I played basketball until like junior high and then I played soccer until my junior year in high school. And I played softball the whole time. I played for my high school team and I played on a club team.
Do you think that influenced you going into sports journalism?
Absolutely. Especially playing for my softball team...We would go to a national tournament every year. When I was in 9th grade, we did a national tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My mom videoed all of our games...so after the season was over, I took all the videos and made them into a highlight reel. That was sort of the start of doing that kind of thing. I just ended up continuing to do that.
"At the Seattle Times, there were two female sports reporters. For a while, there was one woman on the copy desk. And then me. ]Those were all the women] in the sports department." - Amy Bergstrom
Was it more about graphics or were you interested in writing too?
Both. My journalism degree was in both broadcast journalism and [...] print journalism, so I did both paths.
What do you think drew you to journalism?
I always have loved to read and write. Because I liked sports, one of the way I got information about them was through journalism. I was a really big Mariner's fan growing up. I grew up in the mid- to late-90s, when the Mariners were actually pretty good. In the '95, '96, and '97 seasons...I read the paper every day. I cut out their standings, photos, and I knew their stats and all that sort of thing. I love sports, I love reading and writing. These things go perfectly together.
What did you at the Seattle Times?
I started out taking high school scores. It's scaled back a lot since I did it, but the Seattle Times used to print, in the newspaper, the scores of all the football games and then a lot of volleyball and soccer, basketball, all those kinds of things. There's like 150 teams in the Seattle area so we don't know all those [scores], so coaches call in and report their scores and their stats. I took those phone calls and entered that all into the system. Now it's more focused on the online database.
After three seasons [...] a full-time position working as a sports producer for the website at the Times opened up, so I applied for that and got it and did that for a few more years after that. That was basically running the sports section of seattletimes.com. [Of] all the stories that come through, [it's] selected where they're going to show up on the page, what the headline says, and then doing all the social media, so sharing it on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of what I did was projects. If there's this story coming through, what else can we do to make the web presence work? What interactive things can we do with readers? Or what videos can we add?
Where there a lot of other women that you worked with?
Nope. At the Seattle Times, there were two female sports reporters. For a while, there was one woman on the copy desk. And then me. ]Those were all the women] in the sports department.
"I feel like I worked with a lot of men who didn’t necessarily think that they treated me differently, but they did. The sports department is still very much a guy’s world." - Amy Bergstrom
How did that affect your experience?
Going into sports journalism, I knew there weren't a lot of women. I was very used to that. I worked at my college TV station with a couple other girls. It definitely affects my experience, but that's the reality of it. That was what I knew. I never worked in an area with mostly women, so you definitely adapt. I don't know if [the lack of women] was prominent in the men's minds, but it was definitely prominent in my mind.
Do you think you were treated differently at all, or was it like you were all doing the same job, you're all equals?
I feel like I worked with a lot of men who didn’t necessarily think that they treated me differently, but they did. The sports department is still very much a guy’s world, and I was very comfortable being “one of the guys” and got along well with them. But being one of the guys also means sometimes hearing things that you don’t want to hear. Or having to stand up for yourself or for other women and risking that rapport. They would not think that I was less qualified or anything like that; in fact, I feel like I was known to be a good worker. But I also feel like, in particular with certain other employees, I had to fight hard for some of my ideas, and I had to choose which ideas were important to fight for.
Did you make an effort to cover more women's sports?
Some of it is just having to...bring (women's sports) up when we're in our planning meetings. Some of that I don't have a lot of control over. When I had the chance, I would put effort into things that I could do. It was the 40th anniversary of Title IX, so we were doing a coverage of the anniversary. I sort of headed the web project for that. We built a custom website to put all the stories together and interactive elements. And it was really just about me wanting to do that.
"My frustration with attention to paid to women's sports is that they will only be taken seriously when men take them seriously." - Amy Bergstrom
What advice would you give to a woman going into sports journalism?
I think you have to be willing to be an advocate for yourself and for women's sports. You have to go into it knowing that there are barriers and some of them are coming down, but some of them aren't. It's not all like a crusade either. It's fun and go in knowing you can have fun relationships.
What do you see as the future of women's sports in the media?
My frustration with attention to paid to women's sports is that they will only be taken seriously when men take them seriously. That's like a really disheartening concept. I think there are more men interested in women's sports, so that is helping. It's a surprisingly long journey.
In my interview with Amy, my favorite part was hearing what advice she had for future women sports journalists. Since that's a career I'm considering, I took it to heart. I think it's important for everybody -- not just journalists -- to try to help women's sports get the attention they deserve. Women work just as hard as men at their respective sports. They should be recognized for that work, just like men are, and they can be just as enjoyable to watch. As a basketball player I understand this first-hand.
Like Amy said, journalists can advocate for increased coverage of women's sports. But fans can also make a difference. Just reading or watching women's sports on a regular basis can make a difference. Being knowledgeable about women's sports will allow people to have conversations and debates about the games, just like they would with men's sports. Eventually, if enough people do this, the media will have to react. But like Amy mentioned, it's hard for people to get into women's sports if the media doesn't cover it. That's why I love being a part of the Awesome Sports Project: it allows a women's sports fan like me to bring attention to women's sports and I feel like I'm making a difference - Lily Gustafson
Each month, one of our high school interns will interview a former athlete and current leader in her field. Our mission is to connect our girl athletes to experienced ones, to tell the stories of our women’s sports community, and to inspire her own voice. Interested in joining our Editorial Intern Program next March? Send an email of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.