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A Bonza Chloe Saltau!
22 / 09 / 2015
Earlier this year Chloe Saltau became the first woman to be named as sports editor of The Age. She joined The Age as a trainee in 1998 and spent several years writing for general news (chiefly as a social policy reporter covering welfare and family issues) before moving to sport. Since this time she has covered events such as the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Ashes series in both England and Australia, the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games and the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. As Chief Cricket Writer for The Age she provided news, comment and analysis on international cricket. This interview was conducted by fellow sports fanatic and friend of the Trust, Kate Kearns.
Kate Kearns (KK): What came first – love of writing or love of sport?
Chloe Saltau (CS): It’s hard to remember what came first. I remember always loving cricket. I played cricket as youngster and even tried out for the Aberfeldie Primary School’s boy’s cricket team. Our PE teacher was a former Australian Women’s Cricketer, Marg Jennings (Marg captained the Australian Women’s cricket team and went on to become a selector). She was a big reason why I became interested in cricket. I didn’t actually get a game for the boy’s team so I played rounders, which was a bit of fun. I always played cricket with my Dad. I was the West Indies and he was Australia. Our house was next to a big park and I remember that Dad would always let me win. From age thirteen I played for the local women’s team.
But I always loved writing. My parents were both teachers. Mum taught literature and english so I always loved reading and writing and she instilled that in me. I did a cadetship at The Age in 1998 and it was sort of by accident that I got into sports writing. Most the cricket writers at the time had young families and were keen not to do so much travel so I was really thrown into it a couple of years after my cadetship.
KK: When you started at The Age in 1998 you you were chiefly a social policy reporter covering welfare and family issues. Do you continue to take an interest in this area?
CS: Definitely. I’ve always been interested in social justice and education. At the time I was covering social affairs there was a heroin epidemic so it was the major issue that I focused on. It was a steep learning curve for me. I was a young reporter and I remember going out on the road with the then state minister for community development (Christine Campbell) and paramedics and being on the beat. I also did night police rounds so if anything happened between 4pm and midnight I had to cover it. That was an interesting time. I had some really harrowing nights but it was also great training for a young reporter
KK: In terms of sports reporting, was Cricket always the sport you wanted to cover?
CS: I grew up as an Essendon supporter, I’m now a disillusioned Essendon supporter, but cricket has always been my first love. I never barracked for the Australian Cricket team like I barracked for the Bombers. I sort of came at it from a different angle. I’ve always been interested in the game of cricket, for it being an absorbing contest and some of the politics behind cricket particularly world cricket.
KK: It’s an interesting time for world cricket with pressure from the “minnow” countries wanting a greater say and involvement in decision making?
CS: I find it bizarre that a sport that wants to be a world sport seeks to narrow itself. Particularly in regards to World Cups where we’re about to see a reduction of teams from 14 to 10. This is largely bourn out of commercial self interest and I guess, in a way, India wanting to command the lion’s share of the dollars that come into the game by virtue of the fact that they bring in the lion’s share of those dollars. I think it’s foolish for a sport to run itself like that and have such a narrow focus in the long term. By the same token I don’t necessarily see India as the big, bad dog in all of this. It takes England and Australia to be complicit in all of this and for that matter most countries have rolled over and given India what they want when tours have been on the line and a need to bring in broadcast dollars. Everyone is guilty in that sense.
Also, I’ve toured India a number of times. I love the place. I have great friends that are Indian journos and I believe some of the finest cricket writers I have come across come from the sub-continent. One of my favourite cricketers is Rahul Dravid who encourages people to think about India not in terms of cliches but to really embrace the country for everything it represents. This is not an easy thing too do.
KK: What’s the future of cricket – is test cricket doomed?
CS: I would be so sad if it was. I love test cricket. I’m encouraged that we’re trying new things like the day/night test. Test cricket really hasn’t changed for 100 years so it’s a really big deal that it is going to be played under lights with a pink ball. I get that some people are skeptical but you can’t afford to stand still. I’m not convinced that the people coming to the T20 form of the game will end up being test cricket aficionados. A lot of people don’t talk about T20 as sport, they talk about it as entertainment. Cricket Australia will therefore need create a bridge between the two. And they’ll need to this if they want the traditional forms of the game to thrive.
Perhaps test cricket ends up being played by the big three in South Africa, which would be really sad. This is why I’m so heartened by the progress that New Zealand has made in the past two years. It doesn’t have the resources that the big three have, punches above its weight and plays the game the right way.
KK: Do you like the Australian Cricket team?
CS: I do, but I’ve never barracked for the Australian Cricket team. I came to really like a number of the players but they do need to be really careful about how they’re perceived because it really does matter.
KK: You spoke earlier about having many good friends that are great cricket writers. How many of them are women?
CS: Very few in Australia. One of my best friends in India, Sharda Ugra, is a senior writer for Cricinfo and she is outstanding. On the sub-continent there are more female correspondents then there are in England and Australia. I don’t really know why this is. There are definitely more women writing about football in Australia then there are writing about cricket. One thing I think is changing for women in cricket in Australia and England is the national teams becoming a lot more mainstream with the growth of T20 cricket and some really recognisable female cricketers on TV. They are becoming part of the conversation. One of my big things as sports editor of The Age is to cover serious women’s sport properly and for it not to be remotely tokenistic. When you’re covering those successful teams (Matilda’s, Diamonds etc) you cover it the same way you would any other team.
KK: Despite the regular success of Australian women in domestic and international competition, media coverage of female athletes compared to that for male athletes remains wildly unequal in Australia (Women feature in only 7% of sports programming in Australia). As the sports editor of The Age do you feel a responsibility to elevate the coverage of women’s sport in the print media?
CS: I do feel a sense of responsibility in terms of coverage but I think it needs to come in small steps. There was a weekend a few months ago when the Diamonds won the World Cup, and there was a women’s AFL exhibition match between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs which was on TV and drew a big audience. So that weekend the Diamonds were on the front and back of the paper and we had this stunning picture of Tayla Harris kicking a football which drew comparisons to some of the game’s greats. Not long before that, there was the women’s soccer World Cup where the Matildas exceeded the performances of any Australian men’s team in a World Cup. Fairfax sent a reporter to cover the tournament and that was a real statement by our organisation that they care about women’s sport. On the other had I’m under no illusions that we live in a footy town where the conversation is taken up by footy and come summer that will be men’s cricket. I think it would be counter productive to sacrifice our coverage of those mainstream mens sports for women’s sport when it’s not commanding public interest. I have a five year old son who flicks through the paper with me in the morning and I want him to see photos of Serena Williams, Tayla Harris and of the Diamonds. I don’t want him to look at the paper and think that only men play sport. I want him to grow up thinking that sport is played by men and women and that each are both equally valuable. I’m conscious of that when I edit the paper but it has to be on merit and it will take time but I sense a building of momentum for change.
KK: Whilst women’s voices are more common place in the print media, there are very few women in regular commentary roles for elite male sports (particularly Cricket) in Australia. Do you see this changing? If so, when and how?
CS: In terms of why we don’t have more women covering the game, it really is a gruelling round if you’re on tour with the team. It’s not particularly family friendly so that’s perhaps one reason why it isn’t changing. It’s also difficult for male reporters with family even though we’re not on the road as much as we used to be (for financial reasons). In terms of it being an accessible job for women, I never felt that my gender was an issue. The other male cricket writers have been fantastic. I’ve worked with Malcolm Conn and Robert Craddock etc and I consider them great friends and great journos. I’ve never had any real issue with players that had anything to do with my gender. The only thing I would say is that it took me a little longer to develop the contacts because I didn’t hang around with players and administrators in the bars – it wasn’t really my scene.
In terms of when we might hear a female voice commentating on cricket, there’s a BBC reporter, Alison Mitchell, and she is a wonderful broadcaster. She’s lovely to listen to, knows her cricket, is well researched and has covered international cricket for the BBC and on ABC radio. There was quite a big deal made of Meg Lanning in the Channel 9 commentary box last year. She did well but she’s a player so she had credibility that comes with having played the game. I felt she did a good job, she commentated on a T20 International game but there were so many other commentators in the box that she hardly got a chance to speak. Warnie and James Brayshaw were so busy talking about sponsors she could hardly get a word in. She was really drowned out so was that a success? It wasn’t a failure. I think we’ll hear her this summer on ABC radio but to my knowledge not on Channel 9.
KK: Are there any other Australian women broadcasters that might break through in the next 5-10 years?
CS: Kelly Underwood is a strong and respected voice. She’s more likely to provide commentary for footy and netball but I’m not sure she has the desire to cover cricket. There is definitely an opportunity to hear new voices in cricket – male and female. Richie Benaud and Tony Greg are no longer with us and whilst it has been refreshing to hear from the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, I believe there’s a real opportunity for a woman to come through that’s not in a presenting role. Cricket Australia, to it’s credit, recognises that it can’t afford to be a male dominated, ageing sport. It has to appeal to all Australian. It’s one of the reasons it now pays it’s female athletes as professionals. I think cricket has shown the way in this regard although they still have a long way to go. They restructured their Board three years ago and brought in three independent directors which was really important in terms of modernising the sport in Australia.
KK: With many wonderful female sports journos at The Age (Caroline Wilson, Sam Lane, Linda Pearce, Emma Quayle), have you changed the culture of sports journalism or have you had to adapt to the culture?
CS: I don’t think that we’ve had to change at all. It’s just happened. I feel like I’m surrounded by bonza sheila’s – our chief footy writer, Caroline Wilson, our chief tennis writer, Linda Pearce, and senior footy writer, Emma Quayle. I’m sure Caro would have some stories to tell, she really fought those battles for us in the early years. To be honest, I don’t really think about our gender in the jobs we do. I’ve spent most of my career surrounded by men. Emma is the best authority in the country on the AFL draft and young footballers and is surrounded by recruiters all day, everyday and she has their absolute respect. Caro is a formidable and great journo and she’s tough and funny and great company and a journo that delivers every day.
KK: September in Melbourne means one thing – Football Finals. Who do you barrack for and give us your finals predictions?
CS: I’m an Essendon supporter. I vaguely remember the 1984 and 1985 premierships although sadly I wasn’t there. My dad is an Essendon supporter and my mum and brother barrack for Melbourne so they have had a tortured existence.
As an Essendon supporter I am so disappointed by my footy club and currently feel somewhat detached. My only connection is through my son and his love of Jobe and Dyson.Their (the Club’s) handling of the supplements saga could have been so much better and I really feel for the players. Whatever happens at the WADA appeal in November, they (the players) have been punished enough. I really hope that with a new coach there is a chance to build not only a new team but a new club. Let’s hope they have gone through the right process to get that coach.
As a sports editor I think one of the biggest misconceptions about this whole supplements saga is that people have had agendas and I don’t think that has been the case. I believe journalists have tried to get to the bottom of the issue and when people have taken positions it is because they genuinely believe that is the right thing to do and they have stuck to guns.
In terms of my picks for the weekend – Hawthorn over Freo and West Coast to beat the Roos. I also think that West Coast will win the Grand Final, I’m looking forward to a new story.
KK: If there was a sporting event that you would want to cover what would it be?
CS: I would probably go back and relive the 2005 Edgbaston Test. This time I would watch it rather then have my head down writing three different scenarios on deadline. It was such an incredible end to a test with Kaspowicz’s non-dismissal. It was a privilege to cover it but I was on newspaper deadlines in Australia and it was such a controversial end to the match and trying to capture that in the heat of the moment under that kind of pressure was amazing but incredibly stressful at the same time. I would like to go back and not be so stressed!
KK: Final question – that we ask all our Bonza Sheilas for a bit of fun – if you could invite any three people to dinner, dead or alive, who’d be your top picks?
CS: Annabel Crabb, Amy Schumer (there’d be lots of laughs) and Rahul Dravid.
KK: Final, final question – how the bloody hell did we lose the Ashes?
CS: Perhaps there was an element of complacency, thinking they could get through with those experienced older players and they just didn’t quite make it. Succession planning is really important but I kind of sympathise with the Australian selectors for not playing a younger team as the Australian public has shown that it doesn’t tolerate bottoming out like a football team does. They can’t afford to just play young boys over older team mates because they simply won’t win. But I’m really optimistic about Steve Smith and his captaincy. He’s really popular with his team mates and if he is given the licence to build a team in his image then the future should be bright.