LockerRoom’s founding editor, Suzanne McFadden, is relinquishing the administrative chair for a return to writing – including regular stories for her creation, the home of women’s sport.
From the age of eight, Suzanne McFadden was writing and editing her own newspapers in her school holidays.
“Mum’s still got them. I even drew my own photos to go with my stories,” she laughs.
“I’ve never imagined doing anything else in my life.”
The holiday projects blossomed to writing for her local newspaper, and in her teenage years she decided all she wanted to write about was sport. And that’s what she’s done for over three decades across New Zealand and global media, winning accolades – like the 2021 Voyager Sports Journalist of the Year – along the way.
In the past five years, she’s devoted herself exclusively to women’s sport as editor of LockerRoom.
When LockerRoom started in 2018, on the first anniversary of Newsroom, the coverage of women’s sport in the media in New Zealand was sitting around 11 percent. Now it’s at 25 percent.
“In five years, we’ve helped swing the dial wildly in favour of more women’s sport coverage in New Zealand,” says McFadden. “I’m just so proud.”
Today is her last day as editor.
Five years ago, when McFadden read a headline quoting former New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO, Kereyn Smith, describe media coverage of women as “horrifyingly bad”, it kicked her into action to email Newsroom co-editors Tim Murphy and Mark Jennings. “I just said ‘We could do better’,” she says.
“A few weeks later, we were writing the first story and LockerRoom was born.”
Murphy says the overall focus of Newsroom was to look to fill gaps in the major existing media outlets, whether it was, for example, in politics or the environment and focus their attention there.
“LockerRoom fitted perfectly into our ethos because we didn’t just want to do something averagely. We wanted to do something exceptional,” he says.
Since it began, LockerRoom has produced over 2000 exceptional stories exclusively on women and girls in sport.
“We couldn’t have envisaged it becoming what it is,” says Murphy. “We hoped we could have made a dent in the landscape, but it has surpassed all we expected.”
More than the numbers, it’s the type and range of stories that LockerRoom has provided for readers – in-depth profiles, issues in women’s sport that have hardly seen the light of day but are hugely prevalent, like RED-S and fertility in athletes. And it’s not only been about athletes, but so many different women who are contributing to New Zealand sport.
“We’ve tried to include every sport that we know of,” McFadden says. “Underwater hockey, power lifting, beach handball, ice hockey and so many more have featured – and had an interested audience.”
And Murphy notes it’s the way in which LockerRoom stories have been told that’s created a point of difference.
“Very few journalists and editors have the kind of empathy that Suzanne has for people. She encourages people to open up and the readers have had something different because of it,” he says.
What McFadden has been most proud of during her tenure has been fostering new female voices in sports media. Especially working with LockerRoom’s full-time writers, Ashley Stanley and Merryn Anderson.
“To see them grow as writers and as people has been an amazing privilege for me to be part of. I’m so proud of where they are, who they are and where they can go from here,” McFadden says.
“It’s so important for New Zealand’s media to have more women writing about sport, whether they’re columnists or contributing writers.”
Thanks to Sky TV’s investment in LockerRoom, Stanley and Anderson have been recipients of two-year scholarships to be mentored by McFadden and get a solid grounding early in their journalistic careers.
For Stanley, who’s gone on to work at the Rugby World Cup and as a presenter on the Coconut Wireless, working with McFadden was “life changing.”
“For two years I had so much one-on-one time with Suze and got to get all of her goodness,” says Stanley.
“My time at LockerRoom opened up so many doors and access to people that I never would have otherwise had in the sports media industry and it’s altered the direction of my life.”
The visibility of seeing a pathway in sports journalism as a woman is not lost on Anderson.
“There’s just not many people we see as full-time sports journalists, so Suze really is a gamechanger,” reflects Anderson.
“Everybody loves Suze. She is incredibly well-respected and she has an encyclopedia of a brain I’ll miss.”
Personally, having the opportunity to write for LockerRoom and learn from McFadden has opened up professional opportunities and personal connections.
LockerRoom is about whanaungatanga and manaakitanga – respecting someone’s mana regardless of whether they have won medals, whether they play rugby or do karate, an athlete or an administrator. It has connected women in sport in Aotearoa, but also connected men with women’s sport.
As editor of a startup, it has not been without its challenges (note: not ‘learnings’ as there’s no such word in the LockerRoom dictionary, thanks Suze).
When asked to identify the biggest challenge, McFadden is quick to point out it’s not the lack of stories or writers being able to tell them.
“The hard part is turning away stories or knowing that they’re always these wonderful stories out there but we just don’t have the capacity to cover everything,” she says.
“For us, it’s not about clicks, it’s not about how many people come to our site. Where we can make a difference and where we can inspire more, that’s what LockerRoom will cover.”
What’s been a challenge is the relentless nature of being an editor – growing and nurturing this baby has taken a lot out of McFadden. “I’ve truly loved it, for the most part. But it is exhausting,” she says.
McFadden will remain at LockerRoom as a contributor and continue mentoring Anderson, with Murphy taking over the section’s organisational reins directly in the interim.
When asked why there’s such a lack of females in sports media, and particularly in senior positions such as editors, Murphy notes it’s a real industry issue that requires training to resolve.
McFadden is more direct in her wero to mainstream media owners: “Open your doors wider to female writers. They’re out there. You need to let them step through that doorway and have the opportunity.”
In the early days of her career McFadden was the sole female in the New Zealand Herald sports department for a decade. Sadly, those ratios haven’t shifted a lot throughout her career.
“Until women are in the position of making editorial decisions it will be hard to shift the dial further on coverage of women’s sport,” she says.
With a deep breath McFadden says it’s time for her to look after her health and wellbeing, and spend more with her growing whānau, as a mother and nana. (A further note: the words ‘going forward’ are also a big no-no with Suze).
She’s quick to credit her award-winning journalist husband Eugene Bingham as being the biggest influence on her life and career for keeping her “enthusiastic and honest”.
In addition to the positive vibes, she will often email him the first stanzas of her stories to critique. “I put two kisses on it, so he’ll reply straight away,” she laughs.
While (‘whilst’ is another word on McFadden’s banned list) she’ll now have weekends off with whānau, McFadden is looking forward to telling some other types of stories again, too. Her passion is profiling people, from all walks of life.
“We’re phenomenally proud of Suzanne in so many ways,” says Murphy, who acknowledges the ‘LockerRoom load’ has been gigantic.
Her byline will remain, LockerRoom will continue but ‘Suze’ will be sorely missed as the reigning Queen.