‘Put yourself forward!’: Molly McElwee welcomes Sports Journalism Awards entry and category changes

Telegraph Women’s Sport reporter Molly McElwee has been shortlisted in each of the last three years at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards; she hopes the new assisted-entry scheme and new Women’s Sports Journalist category encourages more entries than ever before…

By Jon Holmes

Molly McElwee is a Telegraph reporter and also the host of ‘Off The Bench’, her own women’s sport podcast (image: Paul Zimmer / ITF)

Four in a row – that’s what the Daily Telegraph chalked up in the Newspaper category at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards last time out.

When the Telegraph landed the first of those wins, it was just a year after the paper had launched its dedicated Women’s Sport section.

The detailed coverage provided by the supplement, website and social channels was a significant factor in the Telegraph’s success in February 2020 and has been at each edition of the awards since, in what is one of the most coveted categories.

Molly McElwee has been with the paper for all of the Telegraph Women’s Sport story so far.

Having studied for an MA in Magazine Journalism before contributing as an intern on the sports desk, she became a full-time reporter in 2019 and has been an integral part of the TWS team ever since.

She was shortlisted in the highly competitive Feature Writing category at the British Sports Journalism Awards 2020; was a runner-up in the Sports News Reporter category the following year; and claimed another silver medal last year, this time in the Ones to Watch – Writing category.

McElwee’s portfolio includes investigative work into abuse in gymnastics, the impact of the #MeToo movement in sport, and issues relating to maternity pay.

Now also podcasting on her own ‘Off The Bench’ show, she says being recognised by the Awards judges has been “incredibly meaningful” to her.

“For that to have happened at an early stage in my career was a huge confidence boost,” she tells us in our latest Q&A.

For the first time this year, an assisted-entry scheme has been introduced for the Awards.

The SJA has undertaken detailed analysis into historical under-representation on shortlists and is now making the entry process even more accessible for women; people who are Black or from diverse ethnic communities; and for people with disabilities.

A category of Women’s Sport Journalist has been added too. Entrants can be writers or broadcasters, or a combination of both.

See the dedicated SJA British Sports Journalism Awards website for all the info you need.

We invited Molly to talk us through her Awards experience to date and give us her thoughts ahead of the entry deadline, which is close of play on Wednesday 17 January, 2024…

Hi Molly, thanks for joining us for a Q&A! What was the effect for you of Telegraph Women’s Sport being included in the Newspaper award citations, and being shortlisted as an individual three times?

Looking back, the recognition really helped me and the rest of the TWS team to see the value in the work that we all do. It definitely spurred us on.

On a personal note, and specialising in women’s sport as I do, being shortlisted felt very validating but it was also just exciting to be there.

Firstly, it’s just about having the opportunity to go to the Awards, and be among peers and people that I admire and whose work I respect.

Then to have been named among some of them has been beyond what I could have imagined at this stage of my career. It encouraged and motivated me to continue doing what I was doing.

The Awards is a great night and it’s truly the showcase for all of the amazing work that’s been produced in sports journalism from the previous 12 months.

It’s incredibly meaningful to be a part of that and to be recognised was a huge confidence boost.

The SJA British Sports Journalism Awards is also a valuable industry networking opportunity

Last year, there were 722 individual entries received across 34 different categories but only 98 of them – or 13% – were from women. That was reflected in the low representation of women on shortlists too (11.7%) and quite rightly, this was widely discussed in the industry.

The SJA has made some changes in a bid to address this, including the option for women to enter for free if their employer is not submitting on their behalf, for whatever reason. What’s your view of these new measures?

I think it’s really great that these have been brought in.

For me, being at the Awards some years, it has been apparent – especially in the written categories – that there isn’t enough diversity in terms of the voices and the people being shortlisted.

The assisted-entry scheme and the dedicated Women’s Sports Journalist category are encouraging to see because in terms of representation, there are so many good things happening behind the scenes in newsrooms, and at sports events and press conferences.

Demonstrating that progress via the Awards is important. We should be encouraging people from all backgrounds to put themselves forward for recognition.

I’m really glad the SJA are taking the initiative on this.

As part of our research into the ‘gender gap’ at the awards, we spoke to several women in the industry and researched other sports journalism and wider media awards events.

We learned that there were multiple reasons as to why people from under-represented groups might not enter the Sports Journalism Awards, including a smaller industry intake from degree courses, gatekeeping, costs, a lack of awareness and visibility, and the categories offered.

What would you say to someone from one of those groups asking for your advice?

My message to anybody who might be hesitant about applying as an individual would be just to go for it, especially now that it’s easier than ever to enter.

I never really thought that I’d be shortlisted and I was lucky enough to have really encouraging editors who wanted me to put myself forward, in particular Anna Kessel, Vicki Hodges and Adam Sills. And they did put me forward themselves, maybe when I doubted it.

The results were great for me and either way, the Awards are an opportunity to reflect on your work as well.

When you’re preparing to apply, you’ve got to look back on your year and it’s always good to see what you’ve achieved and what you’ve worked on.

It’s a good moment of reflection so I would encourage anyone to enter and to remember how important it is to have so many different voices and perspectives reporting on sport. There’s value in everyone’s work.

Entering also gives you the chance to be in the room with so many industry people who are so good at what they do. It really is an inspirational night.

Our thanks to Molly for the Q&A – and be sure to check out her podcast series ‘Off The Bench: The Women’s Sport Podcast’, featuring interviews so far with England cricket legend Katherine Sciver-Brunt, TNT Sports broadcaster Orla Chennaoui, rugby star Shaunagh Brown, and an icon who truly transcends sports – the great Billie Jean King.

To read more about the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards and how to enter one or more of the 30+ categories, click here.

You can also read our Q&A with broadcaster Summaya Mughal, who won Podcast of the Year last time out for her ‘Brown Gal Can’t Swim’ series for BBC Radio Leicester.

The SJA is interested in your sports media industry news and views. Keen to reach an engaged audience, including over 70,000 followers across social media? We welcome your enquiries – contact us here. We also offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

For information on how to apply as a Full or Associate Member of the SJA, plus details of our free-to-enter SJA Academy, click here.