A busy cafe was the perfect place to speak to Sky Sports News presenter Emma Paton to discuss her views on women in sport, her journey to becoming a presenter and the time she met her sporting idol, Alison Felix.
Sitting at the table with coffees in hand, we discussed her beginnings and how she started her sports journalism career.
Why did you decide to go into sports journalism?
“I’m someone who just loves sport. Having an athletic background — national level 400m metre runner — that’s where it all came from.
“That’s a reason I got into journalism. If I’m not the athlete, why not be able to speak to the athletes.”
“It was really when I was doing my undergraduate degree at Loughborough, I was doing more reading, more writing, doing more actual watching stuff. And to be honest with you and at that time when I finished, there weren’t that many courses around that I would go onto after.
“There weren’t many postgraduate courses, there weren’t many that did NCTJ qualifications, I was lucky to find the one that I did.”
What’s your favourite thing about the job?
“At the moment, I work on a production team the majority of the time, which entails putting together the whole of the first programme.
“I work at three in the morning, which is not my favourite part of the job at all. You put together the script, you edit the material, story treatment and put the graphics together. Everything’s made from scratch. You’ve got to think of the ideas, go out, shoot, speak to people, research and then produce it from Sky Sports News.
“But then another part of my job which I’m kind of moving forward with, more recently in the two years, is the presenting side and the reporting side.
“Recently, I went to New York to cover a WWE event which was incredible, and it was the first all-women’s pay per view. It was three very intense days interviewing the competitors, doing some live feeds and news at the appropriate time. My dream is to be a world class reporter, a world class journalist.”
It sounds like a hectic lifestyle. So, was one of your goals as a sports journalist to travel?
“Well, the thing is — not that I didn’t think it was possible — but I was quite closed minded and thought I really want to work at Sky Sports News and that’s based in London so I have to be in London.
“It’s just opened my mind so much, to work in America at the WWE event.”
Were there any journalists or sports people in general that inspired you? Who’s your sporting hero?
“When I started, there weren’t that many women on screen full stop. For me, Gabby Logan is one because she presents a lot of athletics. There are women at work that I look up to.”
“I am also inspired by athletes, but Alison Felix is my complete hero. I interviewed her last year because she was competing in the Manchester Games.
“I was professional, but she was the ultimate professional. She was really unassuming, she’s won ridiculous amount of medals, more medals worldly than Usain Bolt, but if you walked passed her on the street you wouldn’t know her. Getting to interview your hero, and keeping calm was quite cool.”
What are your views on women and diversity in the sports media?
“We’re just not there yet. That’s my overall thought, we’re just not there. It’s kind of an overriding thing. Obviously I can only speak on my experiences at Sky Sports News — where over the past few years we’re starting to see more women on screen — but there’s still work to be done.
“At the World Cup in summer, the fact it was the first time we had female pundits, people like Eni Aluko, on screen, it was incredible to see, but it shouldn’t be something it’s talked about.
“There were a lot of people writing articles about it, but that just shouldn’t be a thing. The only way to not make it a thing is by making it a norm and you want the younger generation to not differentiate. We’re trying to do that work. It’s moving forward.”
Would you say there were any challenges being a female reporter in male dominant sports?
“It’s not just women on screen, there’s women in production and in other areas of Sky Sports News. There still need to be more. There’s still more men, but in terms of on screen, I think you need more female voices on these male dominant sports, and make it not a thing.
“The wrestling had their first female commentator in a full time role. You need these voices.
“Sports that are pretty much split — like athletics — have more female voices. Even on Super Sunday games we have Alex Scott now. It’s so hard, some of these people would have scraped and clashed to get to their job.
“The challenges are still there in a way, but it’s much better than it was before. I think a lot of females want to be sports presenters and there’s a big pool out there, it’s just giving them the opportunity.”
Things are definitely changing, but there’s always the stigma that women don’t know as much about football as men. Because of this, do you get nervous interviewing sportspeople and presenting? Who are the most famous people you’ve interviewed?
“That’s really the case of the more you do things, the better it gets, but when you really care you always get nervous. I’d say just be more comfortable in yourself and just to be yourself. You can’t go wrong if you are you!
“David Beckham, at work. You see Gary Neville and Thierry Henry around Sky because they work there too.
“During the 2012 London Olympics, I ended up doing a work placement with Team GB. I got to report on the 100m final, 200m final and the relay where Usain Bolt won three golds. He took ages coming through the mixed zone because everyone wanted to talk to him. Of course, he’s Usain Bolt!
“But I followed him around with my little dictaphone and went to the press conferences after and listened to him talk for an hour which was cool being an athletics geek.”
And what do you hope to be doing in the future?
“I want to stay at Sky. My ultimate goal is to be the face of Sky Sports News, but it’s getting the opportunity, will I get there? Not because I’m a female, just the path.
“I want to be part of the future and shape it all, shape the output. Breaking barriers and getting more women in front and behind the camera and influence women, that’d be great. I think we’re moving forward for sure, so as long as I’m moving forward, then I’ll be happy.”
Finally, what advice would you give those wanting to succeed in the industry?
“What I would say is get as much experience as you can. Search opportunities yourself, and always know your worth.
“Grab opportunities that are going to benefit you. Don’t ever be scared, there are no stupid questions ever. So always ask questions. Introduce yourself to people.
“Don’t feel stupid going up to someone and talking to them. I’d say network, and take opportunities.”
Featured photogtaph/Emma Paton