Woman Pippos, Angela (1969 - )
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
- Author, Broadcaster, Journalist and Public Speaker
Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne
Born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1969, Angela Pippos was mad about sport from an early age, but she did not set out to become a trailblazer for women in Australian broadcast sports journalism. The woman with an honours degree in politics from the University of Adelaide - she graduated in 1990 - was certain she would become a political news correspondent working in Canberra. But a placement with the ABC in 1993 during the final year of studies in journalism (a second undergraduate degree) eventually shaped her destiny to one that would see her more likely to be conducting live crosses from outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground than Parliament House.
The grand-daughter of Greek migrants who eventually settled in Australia, Pippos had a happy childhood, growing up in the multicultural suburb of Rostrevor in the 1970s and 80s. Her maternal grandfather, who owned a café on an iconic corner in the suburb of Norwood, became a passionate supporter of the local Australian rules football team, and the whole family was immersed in a love of sport henceforth. Indeed, sport is one network that has always served to connect the Pippos family; her good relationship with brother was formed through a mutual love of sport, and after Pippos moved to Melbourne in 1997, debriefing phone calls about the performance of their beloved Adelaide Crows, their AFL team, were a regular point of connection with her mother. Another interest learned early in the Pippos home was a fascination with politics, which was regularly discussed around the kitchen table. 'My grandfather was a supporter of Menzies,' she says, 'bucking the trend of left-leaning Greeks in Australia' (Interview). Angela participated in family political discussions from an early age, and they were generally considered to be over, 'when my father said they were over'(Interview). Compliance on that score was a trend she started to buck once she attended university.
Pippos attended government schools, (Stradbroke Primary School and Morialta High School) was a good student and participated fully in both sporting and dramatic arts programs, 'sitting comfortably in the sport and nerd camps' (Interview). She began a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide in 1987, the first member of her family to attend university, and had no real sense of what she wanted to do when she left. She did know, however, that she loved politics and became actively engaged in student politics. She was involved in the fight to stop the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) and became a member of the ALP, even though it was the ALP in government that introduced the scheme. Politics fired her academic interests as well, as did history. She combined the two threads in her honours thesis, a study of the history of the subordination of women in the ALP. In the year she was born, Adelaide produced a cohort of women, besides Angela, who were destined for one form of political life or another. Retired Democrat Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, ALP Senator Penny Wong and political journalists Samantha Maiden and Annabelle Crabb are all contemporaries of Pippos.
With a career in political journalism in mind Pippos believed that establishing a relationship with the ABC as part of a work experience placement was a good first step. She went to Renmark in the South Australian Riverland region and loved the work, because she was given real responsibility. The Renmark staff obviously thought highly of her; she was offered some short term work after her placement finished which gave her experience in working for radio, reading news and compiling stories. She broadened her experience further by picking up casual production work through the ABC Adelaide office. When a researcher position came up on ABC TV's 7:30 report she applied but initially missed out, mainly because she didn't have any television experience. Her CV was placed on file and she received a call back when the job again fell vacant. From the 7:30 Report she moved to the 7:00 pm news, as a trainee journalist.
It wasn't long before her knowledge of and interest in sport saw her being directed away from political journalism towards sport stories, even though there was already a dedicated sports journalist on staff. Being the only woman in Adelaide doing sports journalism was difficult, and she 'had to work doubly hard to earn peer respect' (Interview). But she clearly established a good reputation because Peter Ryan, Director of News at ABC Melbourne encouraged her to apply for a specialist sports position in his office. In 1997, she moved interstate, reassured that she would continue to be offered opportunities at breaking stories of national significance, with the promise of an occasional presenter's job.
Pippos was one of very few women who were specialist sports reporters in the late 1990s. Karen Tighe, Libby Gore and Debbie Spillane were all making their mark at a national level, and Caroline Wilson was creating an impact in Melbourne for her reporting of AFL. 'If I was a trailblazer for women in electronic media', she says, 'then Caroline Wilson was a trailblazer for us all in print.' She felt conscious that she was representing all women when she attended media conferences, and that the weight of expectation was upon her to ask 'intelligent' questions. She suffered from the classic double standard. In order not to appear mediocre, she needed to be twice as good as the best man doing the job. The fact that she was not only a woman, but a woman from Adelaide didn't help matters either! 'From the perspective of some of my sports media colleagues,' says Pippos, 'being a woman wasn't as big a problem as was being from Adelaide'! (Interview). Nevertheless, she acknowledges that the increasing number of women entering the profession has made it easier. There is now enough of them to have formed their own informal social network. 'The Tokens' have been meeting since 2006 to offer each other support and empowerment'.
Arriving in Melbourne, Pippos learned that some sport was more newsworthy than others, and women's sport was almost never regarded as newsworthy. Only during Olympic years, or when the Australian Tennis Open was in full swing, did it attract anything close to the cover it deserved. Any journalist fool enough to cover a women's sport story normally found the story cut from the program when time was tight. She bemoans the lack of management courage that this highlights. 'If elite women's sport is offered on television', she says, 'it will be watched. It is the lack of consistent coverage that kills women's sport. It's ridiculous that minor men's sports get more coverage than elite women's sport' (Interview). It is for this reason that Pippos supports the notion of a mandatory minimum amount of coverage of women's sport on television.
Pippos rose through the ranks in the Melbourne newsroom. After a stint presenting the weekend sport she moved into the weekday presenter's role in 2001. With Chris Ahern presenting weekend sport in Melbourne for the ABC, they were the broadcaster's first all-female reporting and presenting team. But in 2004, the ABC decided to centralise all sports reporting, appointing Sydney based Peter Wilkins to the job, mystifying Pippos ('I still can't understand the decision to go for a format that saw a middle-aged white man presenting everything out of Sydney') (Interview) and disappointing her hard core fans. 'Can't stand that Peter Wilkins and his voice,' said one who complained (Coslovich).
Although upset by the turn of events, Pippos stayed with the ABC. One of the most experienced members of their sports journalism team, she had hoped she would be sent to Athens to cover the Olympics in 2004. The fact that she was overlooked for that job was one of many factors that contributed to her decision to leave the national broadcaster in 2007. She is quick to quash speculation that another factor was that she was pushed out of the organisation when news broke that she was considering standing for pre-selection for the state ALP in Williamstown, the seat recently vacated by the departing Premier, Steve Bracks. 'There is no mystery there. It was completely my own decision', she says. The reason she turned down the ALP's offer was equally non-mysterious. 'It was a difficult decision to come to, because it's not every day you get handed a seat like Williamstown on a platter', said the one-time aspiring political journalist. 'But I didn't want to have every part of my life scrutinised' (Mitchell).
After leaving the ABC, Pippos moved into the blokey environment of Melbourne breakfast sports radio, at Sport 927, where she worked for two years. There were no other women in the gruelling timeslot she worked in (4 am - 9am) and both the format and the audience challenged her regularly. She wished there could have been more variety in discussion topics 'allowing for the prospect of bringing the rest of life into sport' (Interview). She learned some interesting things about the way men in sport radio feel the need to form an opinion and stick with it. 'There is no sitting on the fence, no backing down', which inevitably resulted in her making statements that she would have trouble defending later on (Interview). Her claim, for instance, that Australian golfer Karrie Webb was more famous than Greg Norman, was decontextualised and became a signature source of ribbing and ridicule amongst the other panel members and the audience. She did have the final say on that matter, however, when she made sure it was the last thing she said on air when her contract was not renewed. Apparently their hardcore audience did not like listening to women talking about sport, although management offered no evidence to support this claim.
Sports radio taught Pippos a lot about how men operate in that environment but she has no doubt that she taught her male colleagues some important lessons as well; particularly that women can talk intelligently about sport with a sense of humour and self-deprecation and that humour doesn't have to come at the expense of others. She taught them the art of debating and responding to listeners respectfully. She knows that there were many audience members (hardcore or otherwise) who enjoyed listening to her because they still tell her how much these miss her. Unfortunately management didn't see it that way.
Since leaving Sport 927 in late 2009, Pippos has been working mainly as an MC, predominantly at events run by men's football clubs, while trying to launch an all woman AFL panel show. 'My experience is that men in the general public respond well to a female presence; it's media management that don't deal well with the prospect of women on an AFL panel, even if they are proven performers' (Interview). In 2012, Pippos received approval from the AFL to launch Sirens, which 'screened' on the AFL website for the last seven weeks of the 2012 season. Hopefully, television production companies will be impressed enough by the online pilot to take the next step.
In an industry where women are relative newcomers, Pippos has a sense that she might be a trailblazer for others but probably won't reap the benefits herself. She expects she will play some sort of mentoring role to young women journalists and reflects upon its absence in her professional life as a disadvantage. She certainly received encouragement from men along the way, but there was never anyone offering her practical, independent career mentorship. 'I was trying to prove I could do it on my own as a form of class and gender struggle', she says. 'I now realise the value of the school ties network that I didn't have' (Interview). What Pippos lacked in guidance, however, she made up for in the capacity to take calculated risks. 'Deviating from the path and taking risks is important. You shouldn't be scared of taking them', she says. 'I'm glad I ended up in sport and not watching question time in Canberra' (Interview).
In 2013 Pippos was combining work with family, having given birth to her first child in January of that year. She was back as Master of Ceremonies at a Collingwood Football Club event on ANZAC day 2013, working a room of AFL fans yet again. 'Sport is the most important unimportant thing in life', she says, and 'women have every right to be part of that and participate at the highest level' (Interview).
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection
- Pippos, Angela, The Goddess Advantage: One year in the Life of a Football Worshiper, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Victoria, 2006. Details
- 'Football Quotes', in Working Class Ballet, http://workingclassballet.wordpress.com/theres-some-people-on-the-pitch-football-quotes/. Details
- Coslovich, Gabriella, 'The ABC of a woman scorned', The Age, 27 March 2004, http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/03/26/1079939845967.html. Details
- Mitchell, Glenn, 'Angela Pippos reveals turmoil of Abc and ALP', The Herald Sun, 12 December 2007, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/tv-radio/pippos-reveals-turmoil/story-e6frf9ho-1111115090930. Details
- Pippos, Angela with Camplin, Alisa Peta and MacLennan, Kate, Sirens with Angela Pippos, Video, Telstra, 2012, http://bigpondvideo.com/AFL/484184/Sirens%20with%20Angela%20Pippos/. Details
- Zell, Alison, 'Sirens Call With A New Voice', Australian Football League (AFL) NSW/ACT Website, c.2013, http://www.aflnswact.com.au/index.php?id=5&tx_ttnews[cat]=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=1159&cHash=7498ea8f45. Details
- Angela Pippos interviewed by Nikki Henningham in the Women and leadership in a century of Australian democracy oral history project
- 11 October 2011
- National Library of Australia
- National Library of Australia Oral History Collection
- Sirens with Angela Pippos
- Audio Visual