Pioneering Pathways: Karien Jonckheere’s Journey in Sports Journalism

Karien Jonckheere, a pioneering force in sports journalism, advocating for gender diversity and excellence within the industry. All Photos: Supplied

The landscape of sports journalism has undergone a significant evolution, witnessing a surge in female representation, a transformation that Karien Jonckheere has witnessed firsthand. Beginning her career in 2001 when women were a rarity in sports media, Jonckheere’s journey is a testament to perseverance and passion in a once male-dominated field.

“I joined a sports department of 15 men at The Star, and I was the only woman, so that was quite a daunting task,” recalls Jonckheere, reflecting on her early days. “We can see the change, and the number of women coming through now is great. There have been some wonderful role models within the industry so young girls can see that this is open to them as well.”

Her foray into journalism stemmed from a curiosity that eventually blossomed into a successful career. Graduating with a Bachelor of Journalism from Rhodes University, Jonckheere ventured abroad to kickstart her career at Athletics Weekly in the UK. Returning to South Africa, she lent her expertise to prominent media houses like Independent Media and Media24, solidifying her foothold in the industry.

“My decision to get into journalism was a little bit random,” Jonckheere admits. “I just thought it sounded cool to study journalism at Rhodes, so that’s what I did. I have always been better with words than numbers; math was never my strong point!”

Her journalistic journey culminated in a pivotal role during the London 2012 Olympics, where she contributed as one of the main writers for the official daily magazine covering both the Olympics and Paralympics.

“It has always been my dream to go to the Olympics since I was about 15 years old,” she reveals. “I was never going to get there as a sports person, but I have now managed to cover five Olympics, and that is something I am proud of. I will hopefully be going to my sixth one in Paris this year.”

Karien Jonckheere’s connection with gsport dates back to the initiative’s inception. She was one of the 20 women present at the launch of gsport, which also marked the inaugural edition of the gsport Awards.

Reflecting on the gsport launch and its progress, Jonckheere shares, “Wow, it’s amazing to think about that day all those years ago in 2006. Just how much things have changed, how much more attention women’s sport is getting, and how much gsport has grown. If you look at how big the awards are now compared to the 20 of us in that room all those years ago, so that’s very exciting to see.”

“At the same time, I think we mustn’t forget there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of getting women’s sport out there but also in terms of the quality of journalism that’s out there and improving that quality as much as we can.”

Beyond her remarkable achievements, Jonckheere emphasises three fundamental pillars for aspiring journalists: the importance of voracious reading to enhance writing skills, deep knowledge of sports to navigate potential skepticism, and the value of mentorship in honing one’s craft, drawing parallels to the guidance she received from seasoned professionals.

“I would say read because I think a lot of people don’t read these days,” Jonckheere advises. “When it comes to sport, know your stuff… make sure you know what you are talking about and do your research.”

As an established figure in sports journalism, Karien Jonckheere continues to champion the cause of gender diversity and excellence in the industry, leaving an indelible mark on aspiring journalists aspiring to follow in her footsteps.

Photo Caption: Karien Jonckheere, a pioneering force in sports journalism, advocating for gender diversity and excellence within the industry. All Photos: Supplied

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