Ashley Stanley signs off from her debut role in sports journalism, for LockerRoom, with this shoutout to women athletes, backers of opportunities for women writers and to one, special editor
After two years with LockerRoom, this is the hardest introduction I’ve had to try to formulate.
Even with the countless hours of feedback, lessons on different ways to open an article, and tips and tricks on adding more details with fewer words, how do I ‘pull in the reader’ when writing about a definitive period in my life?
Because that’s what my time at Newsroom, specifically LockerRoom and with editor Suzanne McFadden, has been. Life-changing in many ways: learning a new craft from scratch, meeting and working with different people in a foreign industry, and to now being in a position where hopefully more doors will open to explore.
And even though my full-time LockerRoom role is coming to an end this week, I know there will be more to reflect on and uncover, long after I leave.
For now, when I look back on what has been accomplished, nothing about my time at LockerRoom has gone exactly to plan. But I’m pleased the jagged detour provided better views, especially when not a lot of people have been fortunate to say the same during this period.
Jumping over to sports journalism
On paper the timing and call was off when I decided to leave a secure 10-year career at AUT University for a new scholarship in sports journalism in late 2019.
Because as we all know now, in early 2020, the Covid-19 global pandemic smothered the world and our way of living changed, moving at a rate most of us were not prepared for.
I’d gone from posting excitedly on social media in late January about heading to Auckland International Airport on my first day on the job to interview a Black Ferns sevens rookie heading to her first world circuit event in Sydney, to worrying about whether I’d even have a job in March, after the Piha Pro – my first ever media accreditation event – was cancelled (the first major New Zealand competition canned in what would be a domino effect seen around the world).
But unlike the newsrooms who unfortunately had to let go or drastically change their sports departments, LockerRoom ramped up in the first Level 4 lockdown because everyone, including athletes, were at home.
It was my first taste of learning about different types of sports journalism and what makes LockerRoom so special and unique.
We didn’t need live matches to write about how sportswomen were coping with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics or what athletes were doing at home to keep fit and motivated during lockdown. The topics we cover, who we focus on and how we cover them at LockerRoom is refreshingly different.
It also helped that the scholarship I received was part of Newsroom and Sky Sports’ two-year partnership, an initiative aimed at getting more women into sports journalism. So, thankfully, my role was safe.
To get an idea on the significance of the scholarship, I want to list a snapshot of some of the work we’ve covered during the partnership.
We completed several LockerRoom series – topics ranging from athlete development for young girls and women, to Muslim women in sport and the barriers they face and the solutions they know will make a difference. We also filmed a video series at Eden Park with the four Kiwi women leading the four major sporting events coming to Aotearoa New Zealand over the next two years.
I reported on my first Olympics and Paralympics… from the comfort of my couch. Learning about a range of sports I wasn’t too familiar with on the go, working to file around different time zones, and figuring out how to ‘cut content’ for social media too.
I was asked to present at a regional girls summit around women in sports media coverage, body image pressures, and the importance of health and wellbeing for young women. That I could share the purpose of LockerRoom and the stories around the women we cover – who come in all shapes, ages and sizes – was a massive reminder on how our words can influence people’s lives.
I also wrote columns on topics I felt needed extra light or different opinions than those already in the media. Like how women in sport are treated is reflective of our wider societal issues around gender ‘norms’, the need to call time on racism, and how conversations around athletes’ mental wellbeing needs to start much earlier than high performance environments.
Lessons not learnings
While reflecting on the range of work we covered, I also want to share three main parts that have really shaped my experience over the last two years.
Suzanne ‘The Suze’ McFadden
Without question, the biggest one has been Suze. It became very obvious early on that everyone needs a mentor, their very own ‘Suze’. I’ll be forever grateful to have had and learnt from ‘The Suze’.
To put things into perspective, Suze is an award winning journalist and author with over 30 years experience. Her latest achievement being named the 2021 Voyager NZ sports journalist of the year.
So, this opportunity would not have been as rewarding and enriching if I did not have her guiding me through EVERYTHING. The one-on-one mentorship she provided was priceless; the countless hours Suze dedicated and poured into me and my thousand questions (on top of having to do her own work) is something I would not have received anywhere else.
From learning what a ‘cobble’ and a ‘nutgraf’ are, how to structure quotes properly, and all the grammatical minefields I need to watch out for in between (I can’t stop picking up when people say ‘learnings’ now when it should be ‘lessons’).
I learnt the level of care and layers of roles she fulfilled to explain the ins-and-outs of sports journalism and the media industry is very rare nowadays, so this scholarship model has proved to be beneficial in many ways.
But it’s her actions she continually chose to give regardless of the time of day, that showed me what kind of person she is. And that will always mean more to me than all the technical advice she shared. Thank you will never be enough, Suze. You already know.
The power and privilege of platforms
Being a journalist comes with the power and privilege of platforms. How journalists choose to use that is frighteningly up to them (and their editors). I say that because even ‘objectivity’ in reporting can be seen as subjective based on journalists’ own biases and beliefs. And if the majority of journalists have similar life experiences and views, it limits the range of what is served to the general public.
I felt powerful knowing the way I see the world would be reflected in the way that I write and structure my LockerRoom stories. But also slightly pressured because of that. I wanted to make sure I used this platform to share small parts of athletes’ and administrators’ lives in a way that was reflective of our conversations and relatable for readers. That power and privilege in shaping and framing stories is unbelievable and never left me while writing.
For my babies
Every piece I wrote for LockerRoom, I did with my two children (and one on the way) in mind. Are these the topics and people I want them to read about? Have we redirected the light to people who are usually in the dark? Will they learn there are different ways of seeing and being in the world?
LockerRoom allowed me to contribute a small slice of what I hope the world can be for my babies. When they’re older, I hope they are proud of what we have achieved through this scholarship.
The articles may not be pushing policy changes, yet, but the difference to everyday people’s lives has been shared with us on the daily. The narrative around women in sport is changing.
And being able to alter people’s perspectives on topics, or give light to people who are usually hidden, is what LockerRoom is about, and why it’s been a privilege to be a fraction of its purpose.
So, thank you for reading, sharing, liking and commenting on our articles. It truly does make a difference, especially when we’re only scratching the surface.
Thank you to Tim Murphy, Mark Jennings and the wider Newsroom team for showing me the power of investigative journalism and always making me feel welcome… on the days I did make it into the office (shout-out to flexible working arrangements).
And a big thank you to Sky Sport, especially Sue, Chris and Sophie, for committing to getting more women into sports media. Without your support, this invaluable scholarship would not be possible. I know the next person who’s given the opportunity to work with ‘The Suze’ will make the role their own and carry on the much needed work, without skipping a beat.
Fa’afetai tele lava, Faka aue lahi (thank you very much in Samoan and Niuean).
Believe me, it’s just as difficult for me to write the outro to this story. Ashley has brought her beautiful, unique style to LockerRoom’s storytelling – always authentic, inquisitive, perceptive and compassionate. She grew as LockerRoom grew, became New Zealand’s Student Journalist of the Year and a highly-regarded writer on sport, on people and issues equally.
I’ve learned so much from Ashley, too (still coming to grips with Instagram!) and I’ve gained a friend for life. We hope she’ll continue to lend her voice to sports journalism – especially contributing to LockerRoom.
So now we’re looking for another writer, a graduate starting out in sports journalism, to fill the next two-year role. Someone who’s just as deeply passionate about bringing women’s sport to the forefront of New Zealand media, as we head into the two most important years in women’s sport in this country.
If you think you fit the bill, you can contact us for further information at email@example.com by October 13.