By Hamish Mackay
A controversial after-dinner speech at the Scottish Football Writers’ Association (SFWA) annual awards event in Glasgow on 8 May has produced a storm of criticism from some of Scotland’s leading women journalists, despite an abject apology from the SFWA. The controversy has arisen following ‘jokes’ (sic) in a speech by Bill Copeland, a former criminal lawyer who works on the after-dinner speaking circuit, and which prompted a walkout in protest by a number of guests.
According to Mail Online, Copeland has now been dropped by the booking agency after alleged ‘sexist, racist and homophobic’ material in his act. Mail Online’s report claimed Copeland made ‘sickening’ remarks about women, race and homosexuality.
The abject apology read: ‘The Scottish Football Writers’ Association apologises to anyone offended or upset by material from one of our after-dinner speakers at last night’s annual awards dinner. We have agreed unanimously that this will act as a catalyst to review and improve the format of our future events to make it an enjoyable and inspirational event for all’.
BBC and Sky Sports presenter, Eilidh Barbour, who was at one of the two tables of guests who staged a walk out, had immediately tweeted: ‘Never felt so unwelcome in the industry I work in than sitting at the Scottish Football Writers’ Awards. A huge reminder there is still so much to do in making our game an equal place’.
Journalist Gabriella Bennett, co-chair of Women in Journalism Scotland (WiJS), told BBC Radio Scotland that she had heard misogynistic comments at previous SFWA events, but that the 8 May speech had reached ‘the next level’. She said: ‘I walked out after about five minutes of maybe a 20-minute speech, and within those five minutes it was rammed with sexist jokes’. She had finally decided to leave after hearing an ‘offensive racial slur’.
Bennett added: ‘But it’s also worth pointing out there were lots of people laughing at these jokes. We were two tables in an enormous room and lots of people found it really funny. So there’s lots of work that we still need to do in really changing people’s minds about what is acceptable. I am no longer shocked or surprised by these kind of offensive remarks masquerading as banter… but I am sickened – by normalising this kind of thing, by minimising these kind of remarks… it’s incredibly insidious’.
Kick it Out, a campaign against racism in football, and the Women in Football body issued a joint statement describing Copeland’s remarks as ‘sexist, racist and homophobic’. The statement read: ‘Women face sexism and misogyny in society and this is often exacerbated when they play a role in football or other sports – whether as a player, a pundit or a fan. That must change. Racism and homophobia continue to be a stain on the game and we must continue to challenge it and eradicate it. There is no place for any form of discrimination – in sport or anywhere else.
‘Events that celebrate talent in our game should be a time to focus on the positives and all the people who have played their part in pushing football forward. It should not be used as a platform to share derogatory and discriminatory comments, and make groups and communities feel excluded and insulted. We expect better and we demand better.
‘The fact we have been made aware by those in attendance that they felt unwelcome in an industry in which they work is unacceptable, and we stand with them. We acknowledge the apology issued by the SFWA and look forward to their promised review of future events. In the meantime, we will be reaching out to understand the full details and offer our support to those affected.’
The awards row has led to renewed calls to tackle gender inequality on regional and national newspaper sports desks in Scotland. WiJS has demanded action after research commissioned from two Strathclyde University students revealed only three out of 95 sports journalism jobs on Scottish-based newspapers are filled by women.
Responses to the research included a sports journalism lecturer confirming there had only been eight female students during the 13-year run of a sports journalism training course.
Catriona MacPhee, co-chair of WiJS, declared: ‘This is a watershed moment for the media in Scotland. We need more women’s voices and perspectives in sports coverage and as an industry we need to work together to make sure women have access to this sector and are not pushed out. One way of doing that is calling out sexist behaviour but there are practical solutions here too and we call on our peers across the industry to help us drive this much-needed change’.
The Daily Mirror’s political editor, Pippa Crerar, is to join The Guardian as its new political editor. Edinburgh-born Pippa, 45, has delivered a string of remarkable political exclusives at the Daily Mirror and won several awards including Scoop of the Year at the British Journalism Awards for her 2020 revelation, jointly with The Guardian’s Matthew Weaver, that the Prime Minister’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, had broken Covid-19 lockdown rules. She was also named Political Reporter of the Year at the 2020 Society of Editors’ Press Awards.
From November 2021 onwards, Crerar has broken a splendid stream of stories about alleged Covid-19 lockdown parties held in Downing Street and Whitehall in what has come to be known as the Partygate scandal, and which has already led to 100 fixed penalties being imposed by the Metropolitan Police.
Crerar’s initiation in newspapers, prior to studying at City University as a Scott Trust Bursar for a journalism postgraduate degree, was as an editorial assistant at Scotland on Sunday. Post-City University, she spent time in The Scotsman newsroom before joining the Daily Mirror.
She subsequently joined the Press Association’s Westminster lobby team in 2002 before moving to the Daily Record. In 2006 she joined London’s Evening Standard where she remained for just over a decade – covering London and Westminster politics, before moving on to become deputy political editor of The Guardian and ultimately political editor of the Daily Mirror in 2018. She was chair of the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 2020/21.
In March, the British Journalism Review said of Crerar: ‘Our profession should ultimately be about only one thing: fearless truth-telling and truthful reporting, regardless of the consequences. She’s shown how the job should be done, and in the process played a major role in turning the Mirror back into a paper of which its legendary campaigning boss Hugh Cudlipp could feel proud’.
Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief, Guardian News & Media, told Scottish Review: ‘I am thrilled that we have hired one of Britain’s best journalists to lead our political coverage. Pippa’s remarkable track record of exclusives over the past few years has set the political agenda time and again, and I know she will be an unmissable source for The Guardian readers’.
Former Edinburgh Evening News trainee journalist, Shona Elliott, has received the Trainee News Journalism top award at the presentation ceremony for the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) annual Awards for Excellence.
Argyllshire-born Shona joined the BBC Breakfast programme news team in January and is now working out of MediaCityUK in Manchester.
A record-breaking 481 entries were received across the 17 categories for candidates sitting in the 2020-21 academic year. The equality, diversity and inclusion award, sponsored by the Financial Times, was won by Jem Collins, founder of social enterprise Journo Resources, which has helped many people take their first steps into journalism.
And Karen Ballam, the NCTJ’s chief examiner for shorthand, was honoured for her outstanding contribution to journalism training and education with the NCTJ Chairman’s award. Karen has been a member of the NCTJ’s shorthand examinations board for many years and became chief examiner in 2015.
The Sunday Mail’s award-winning chief reporter, Gordon Blackstock, is moving to BBC Radio Scotland where he will join the Good Morning Scotland news programme team.
Gordon joined the Sunday Mail in 2020 after a two-year spell freelancing. Prior to that he had spent 13 years at The Sunday Post where in 2018 he had won a hat-trick of prizes at the Scottish Press Awards: named Journalist of the Year and Reporter of the Year, as well as lifting the Scoop of the Year award.
Posting on Twitter, Gordon wrote: ‘Alas, my race at the Sunday Mail has come to an end. Grateful to [Sunday Mail editor] Lorna Hughes for her support and appointing me chief reporter. It’s been a privilege’.Women in Journalism Scotland (WiJ Scot) is launching a campaign to tackle gender inequality in Scottish sports journalism. We’re doing this for many reasons but one is that we’ve gathered info on the current gender split in Scottish print titles and out of around 95 permanent staff positions, just three are held by women. While the balance is better in broadcast there is still work to be done there too. During the pandemic when cuts were made across some journalism sectors, it became clear that sports journalism often offers the most stable, secure, well-paid work and talented, hard working women are missing out on this.
Sexist abuse, pay disparity, macho culture, male-dominated meetings and management structures, lack of opportunity, tokenism, lack of flexibility, barriers to a career path are all reasons cited by our members as deterrents to sports journalism, and frustratingly, as reasons for leaving by those few women who make it into the sector.
There are numerous causes and negative consequences of this gender imbalance but from speaking to our members we realise it’s pervasive, systemic and perpetual. For this campaign we are interested in solutions.
The first part of our campaign was to ring-fence five sports journalism mentorships with WiJ Scotland’s 2022 scheme. These pairings are proving successful and it’s clear that mentoring is an area which has tangible benefits for up-and-coming female sports journalists, and something we hope to expand on.
Online community and support
We have also set up an online community for our mentors, mentees, and sports journalism members and students for the sharing of opportunities, advice, links and to highlight work done by members.
Jobs, work experience, shadowing, training
In order to level the playing field, we want to share as many opportunities with female sports journalists as possible. We are actively seeking these opportunities with media partners and approach editors directly to ask for support, but while we source these roles, if you are working in this field and would like to help our campaign by offering an opportunity then please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Past attendees from our broadcast training workshops have told us of their success in sports broadcasting as a direct result, therefore we are organising further sessions with media outlets to boost confidence, train for interviews and familiarise the next crop of sports commentators with studios, cameras, microphones and broadcast etiquette. If you are a potential collaborator, we want to hear from you.
Stemming the tide – working with schools and sports clubs
Our members and research have told us that the problem needs to be addressed earlier than university and college level. If young women who are interested in sports don’t see journalism as a viable career (and a possible alternative to professional sports), they will not choose that path. We want to promote sports journalism as a career option by engaging with youth sports clubs and schools and holding presentations to show that women are needed and indeed, do excel in this field. We are working with several partners to pilot a presentation. More on that soon.
Our campaign has benefited greatly from input by two Masters students from the University of Strathclyde. Hannah Nicol and Rowan Clark have carried out interviews with student journalists and those working in the industry to quantify the barriers and inform solutions. Their fascinating findings will be posted here shortly.
We are pleased to partner with several women in other key sectors who are helping us to shape and inform this campaign.
Catriona MacPhee – Co-chair, Women in Journalism Scotland
Anna Burnside – Treasurer, Women in Journalism Scotland
Professor Karen Boyle – Head of Gender Studies at Strathclyde University
Maureen McGonigle – Founder of Scottish Women in Sport
Elizabeth McLaughlin – Senior Lecturer in Sports Journalism, University of West Scotland
Claire Thomson – Sports Editor at Glasgow Guardian, WiJS 2022 mentee
Gabby Pieraccinni – Athletics Journalist and WiJS 2021 mentee
Moira Gordon – Sports writer for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Edinburgh Evening News.
Fiona McKay – Journalism Course Leader, Robert Gordon University