Interview with Dr. Brisbane on How Women Are Perceived in Sports Media. 

by: Janel Murray, Karen Angulo, Leslie Pineda, Lauren Jefferies

Gayle Jansen Brisbane | Cal State Fullerton – Department of Communications | CSUF. 

We had the chance to speak with Dr. Brisbane about her recent research study published in 2023 called “Side-by-Side Sports Reporters: A Between-Subjects Experiment of the Effect of Gender in Reporting on the NFL.”  

Dr. Brisbane was a broadcast sports journalist for 20 years before earning her Ph.D. in Media Research and Practice in 2019. Throughout her doctoral program, she conducted research studies on topics such as the intersection of religion, politics, and how audiences perceive women in television sports media. She has been able to present her research at the International Communication Association (ICA), Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC), and Broadcast Educators Association (BEA). Dr. Brisbane is currently a professor at Cal State Fullerton who teaches multiple journalism classes on campus, including COMM 325 Multimedia Journalism and JRNL 3804 Sports, Media, and Society.  

What drew you to conduct this study?

As mentioned above, Dr. Brisbane worked as a sports reporter for twenty years before becoming a professor at Cal State Fullerton. Within her 20 years of working in a predominantly male industry, she wanted to take a closer look at issues of gender inequality while she was going through her doctoral program. Throughout her 20 years in the sports media industry, she saw the changes in accepting women talking about sports. Although she was able to see these changes throughout her career, she was curious if others would view women as equals in the sports media industry talking about sports; therefore, she conducted the study “Side-by-Side Sports Reporters: A Between-Subjects Experiment of the Effect of Gender in Reporting on the NFL” to find out. 

 How did you prepare for your study? 

Dr. Brisbane had to prepare the procedure for the study in a matter that would be effective and provide accurate results. Since she had previous connections in the sports media industry, she was able to ask both female and male professional television sports reporters to record two videos, one video being a fact-based story and one being opinion based. She also made a point to have all factors be the same, including the outfits and location for both male and female reporters, to ensure that there was no difference in what people saw other than their gender. She also wanted to lay out her objectives while preparing for the study. Overall she was curious to find out if people found women knowledgeable or credible, rather than attractiveness or other aspects that could have been studied. Another aspect of preparing for the study included figuring out what sport the two reporters would discuss. She chose football since it is a male dominant sport rather than gymnastics, where the majority of participants in that sport are female since this factor could impact the participant’s results. Overall Dr. Brisbane took into account each factor that would affect the outcome to prepare for her study and thoughtfully pieced together a procedure to get the most accurate results. 

What problems or limitations did you encounter the most while conducting research? 

Dr. Brisbane mentioned that one of the most challenging parts of conducting her research was getting enough people to participate. In order to get people to participate, she worked with Amazon Turk, where they found a total of 491 participants. Other obstacles included having a good sampling of people that were of a general age range and having a good range of participants of each gender. The participants were 67% male, with an average age of 33.08. Lastly, she mentions that some participants did not fully watch the video therefore, she had to leave out those participants.   

As a woman, have you experienced sexism in your career before, and did this inspire you to conduct this research article?

Dr. Brisbane voiced that she definitely experienced sexism in her career. Since she has been in the sports media business for 20 years, from the mid-90s to 2015, and even though a lot has changed, women today still experience sexism in the sports media field. This has inspired her to speak up and show that women are more than capable of sharing their knowledge with any sports news outlet. The motivation that helped her with the research was not with her experience in particular but more so to see and experiment on how audiences would react to a female sports news reporter versus a male sports news reporter.

Hypothesis 1, 3, 4, and 5, were unsupported by the evidence shown in the study. 4/5 of the hypotheses were unsupported. Do research studies commonly find these obstacles?

For context, the five hypotheses predicted the male journalist would be perceived as more credible and knowledgeable than the female journalist. It was also hypothesized that participants would favor factual reports rather than opinionated reports. Finally, hypothesis number five predicted that male participants would perceive the male journalist as more credible while female participants would perceive the female journalist as more credible. Four of the five hypotheses were disproven. The hypothesis supported by the results of the study was hypothesis number two, in which participants favored factual reports rather than opinionated reports. As for the rest of the hypotheses, the results demonstrated there was no significant difference between the perception of male and female participants in their perceived credibility of the journalists. This is why we were curious to hear Mrs. Brisbane’s response to such an interesting turn of events. In response, Dr. Birsbane stated, “The fact I didn’t support the hypothesis is in and of itself a story so if I had had the hypothesis be different and then it didn’t support it- ” meaning that if they had changed the hypotheses to predict that times have changed, they would have been proven correct. 

Why was there no funding received for this study?

In the article, it stated at the very bottom that no funding was received for the study, hence the question. Dr. Brisbane informed us that the co-author of the study, Mr. Patrick Ferucci, had money in his account reserved for research studies such as this one. Through Ferucci’s research payment, the study was held successfully. In addition to this, Dr. Brisbane also stated, “That’s why [in the article we] state that no funding was used for it because then you could say without a doubt there was no leaning a certain way”. Often, researchers’ studies are discredited because of the suspicion that their source of funding had an influence on the results of the study. Dr. Brisbane said she wanted to be as fair as possible in her research. Earlier, Brisbane clarified she took the extra steps in making the journalists as equal as possible, even by pre-testing their level of visual attractiveness and making sure they were both average. By not seeking funds, Brisbane strengthened her point that she wanted to remain as neutral as possible. 

What was the most rewarding part of doing this study?

Dr. Brisbane conducted the research and experimented along with Patrick Ferrucci and Edson Tandoc, Side-by-Side Sports Reporters: A Between-Subjects Expriement of the Effect of Gender in Reporting on the NFL, and it was her first publication. As a scholar herself, she was honored to be part of the research study. Having to write academically is something new and challenging. She was initially intimidated, but she wanted her research to be more readable and attract all kinds of audiences. The research took a few months to complete but three years to get published, but she was honored to have completed the experiment on sports and communication.

What would your advice be for student researchers or beginners who are conducting their first research study?

Dr. Brisbane stated that the first thing in conducting a research study is to find out “what do you want to know or experiment?” and to keep it fairly focused. Getting data on a particular thing or idea rather than something too general or broad is much easier and more convincing. Factors are important when it comes to conducting research. You want to make sure that the factors are narrow and figure out the right tools to find out the research and make sure it is not too broad because that can cause the factors to get off topic and be misleading. For example, in her research, she had to narrow down the factors of the wardrobe and looks. Both male and female reporters had to wear polo shirts and be on the same level of attractiveness. That way, one factor would not outweigh the other factor in the sports media reporters. When it comes to experiments, it is important to have the right tools, such as interviews and focus groups.

Interview with Dr. Brisbane.

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