sports gazette

Martha Kelner on sexism in British Cycling and sports reporting

Martha Kelner exposed British Cycling following an interview with Jess Varnish
Published: 1 Dec 2016

After exposing sexism in British Cycling with the Jess Varnish story Martha Kelner talks about being shortlisted for Sports Journalist of Year Award.

Next week, Martha Kelner, athletics correspondent and sportswriter for the Daily Mail will find out if she is to be crowned Sports Journalist of the Year for her exclusive reports on sexism in British Cycling.  

Her interview with cyclist Jessica Varnish in April 2016, which revealed a 'macho' culture in British Cycling, reignited the debate about sexism in sport and rocked cycling on the eve of the Rio Olympics. 

It was a story with far reaching consequences, which underlines that Kelner is a rising star in sports journalism and an important role model for young women trying to break into the industry. 

At the 2012 British Sports Journalism Awards, Kelner won Young Sports Writer of the Year. More recently, she was nominated for a specialist sports correspondent award and now she is in the running for Sports Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards on Tuesday 6th December at Stationer's Hall, London.

She said: “Obviously it’s very nice to be nominated. It’s an honour because it’s on a list of very good journalists that are very experienced. I wasn’t surprised but it’s always nice to be on that list. Maybe I was a little surprised but generally quite pleased.”

On the impact of the Varnish revelations, she added: “I though it justified a place on the list just because it was all to do with two different enquires, one by British cycling and one by an independent body.”

“I wasn’t massively surprised because of the impact the story had."

She said: “You don’t think about awards at that stage, well at least I don’t. When I entered, I hoped I had a good chance of being on the shortlist. But the Press Gazette awards are open to broadcasters as well, so I knew it was going to be tough competition.”

Kelner enjoys writing investigative news stories, the variety of the job, not working set hours and the fact that no day is the same. 

She said: “Getting my teeth into a meaty subject is what I enjoy most.”

She understands that the long hours can impact her social life but she enjoys that. 

She added: “It can be a negative if you’re doing really long hours on a story, but on the flip side of that, if you do tend to be doing long hours it’s a good thing because you’re busy and you’ve got a good story hopefully at the end of it.

"It generally feels worth it for that sort of adrenaline rush when you think you’ve got a good story.”

Acknowledging the challenges that may arise at work, she said that it can be tough when you’re trying to interview someone. 

She said: “I think probably the toughest thing is when you know something and you’re trying to convince someone to speak to you and they won't.

“Then you have to look at different avenues, because sometimes people just don’t want to talk and that can be tough. I guess you face challenges every single day and I guess it’s quite difficult.”

Being a woman in a sports world, it can often be difficult, but this is something that Kelner thinks can also be an advantage.

She added: “Sometimes I suppose being a woman, people prefer to speak to a man but sometimes it can be a story where being a woman is an advantage because you can be seen as perhaps more empathetic or more approachable to female sports people. But there are definite challenges.”

If she wasn’t writing, she had a keen interest in her mind for the business world, as she studied Business Studies for one of her A Levels.

She said: “I like the idea of negotiating and trying to get a good deal. I used to watch Junior Apprentice and thought I’d quite like to do that.”

Her father and her uncle were journalists though, so she grew up reading the papers and had a good understanding of the profession.

She added: “With journalism there are quite a lot of transferable skills, I always considered going into business, and obviously you can use your skills of negotiation in journalism similarly to how you would in business.”

She made her choice when she studied Journalism at Sheffield University. After working for the student newspaper, she applied for the Daily Mail trainee scheme and has been there for five years now.

For aspiring female sports journalists Kelner said she doesn’t think gender is a barrier.

She added: “I’ve found that it can be used as a positive because it is something that makes you stand out. Editors are open to having female staff, so, I would definitely not be discouraged by the fact that you are a woman.”

Kelner also had some advice for every aspiring reporter: 

“That is that you have to be tenacious, don’t give up, write as much as you can. Don’t forget the principles of journalism,” she said. “Which are make phone calls and get to meet people. Don’t rely on the internet too much, but know how you can use it to your advantage. People are the key thing in journalism, so meet as many people as you can.”

Kelner will be going along to the awards but doesn’t think she will win.

She said: “I don’t expect to win in the slightest but I will wear a nice dress. It will be a good excuse to dress up and have a good night.”

It will be well deserved if she does win and a huge boost to every aspiring female sports journalism out there.

The 2016 BJA Sports Journalist of the Year Award is sponsored by St Mary's University. The winner will receive their award from Greg Dyke, currently a Visiting Professor at St. Mary's and Olympic Gold Medalist, Susannah Townsend, currently a student on the MA in Sports Journalism.  

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