Archive for the ‘sports reporting’ tag
With major newspapers struggling to stay afloat these days, I thought it might be interesting to briefly take a look at a specific segment of the media: that of sports journalism, and attempt to figure how that branch of journalism is faring and the implications on the craft in general.
I was listening recently to the radio interview of an ACC Sports Journal writer, who mentioned that one reporter, previously working as the beat writer for an ACC school at an independent newspaper, had recently taken a position to be the official “vessel,” as it were, for that school’s football coverage. I wish I could remember the reporter’s name who took the position. I think it was for Virginia Tech. The fellow interviewed on the radio was making the case, I would say quite ably, that the face of sports journalism was changing toward more, not less, bias. That’s to say that, while you still have independent media organizations covering college and pro sports, you also have many schools (and, obviously, professional ball clubs now hiring reporters, i.e. Zach Eisendrath with the Denver Broncos) to come on staff and be the “official” voice of the Hokies, Cavaliers, Broncos or whatever. The person interviewed said this practice, in ways, presented challenges to independent news organizations because, while the independents fish for information, colleges or professional clubs have their “inside men” (my quote) who, at times, have unrestricted access to practices, the locker rooms and have no trouble getting news because they are employed by the school or ball club. Thus, the news we have coming out of those ball clubs, at least from the “filtered” reporters, is largely positive, at least upbeat, and never scandalous, is a far cry from the scrutiny to which these clubs should be subjected.
Ball clubs and colleges are well within their rights to hire journalists to attempt to “control the message,” as it were, and journalists are well within their rights to seek greener pastures. As the person interviewed from the ACC Sports Journal said, some consumers care about the distinction between beat reporters employed by the teams and writers from independent sources and some consumers don’t. But there is an important distinction, and it creates the issue of bias regarding the out-feeding of sports news that comes out each day. That’s why seeking information from multiple sources is important to getting the truth of what is really happening. While there is much truth coming out of denverbroncos.com on rote football topics like who’s impressing coaches in practice or which quarterback is likely to get the starting position, other topics get more complicated. For instance, how the official Broncos Web site handled coach Mike Shanahan’s ouster after the lackluster 8-8 season in 2008. I attempted to find old articles from the official site about the story, but came up empty.
The four major U.S. sports now have their own cable channels and Web sites and contracts with television networks. All major colleges have communications departments, which issue press releases with their “messages” via their Web sites or hard copy releases.
Some major newspapers also cast a suspicious shadow over their sports writing with their various interests in sports teams:
Several prominent teams are still owned by media companies; Cablevision owns the Knicks and Rangers, The New York Times owns nearly 18 percent of the Red Sox, and the Tribune Company, pending a sale, still owns the Cubs. The relationship between teams and the sources covering them has unsurprisingly led to suspicions of bias. — “Examining the Future of Sports Media,” July 2, 2009
It’s a fair question to ask, as this story does, “What happens when the people we cover start to control the news?”
This makes the idea of independent journalism all that more important, and quite unfortunately, as big newspapers continue to struggle, less and less space is available for that coverage. This is compounded by the fact that newspapers are still the best source for detailed news about topics of the day. Or, as The Times’ magazine article (linked above) puts it,
Newspapers remain the primary source of news-gathering in America. And unlike so many Internet “sites,” they are firmly grounded in a geographical place. To read a newspaper is to know what town you’re in.
We can know this to be the case when we find Sean Hannity (CNN is guilty of doing the same, wham-bam-style interviews and news pieces) and Christopher Hitchens debating God in a five-minute segment. Two hours of discussion could not do that particular topic justice, but such is the world of television and radio news. “Just give us the talking points and no details so we can all get on with our lives,” seems to be the rallying cry. Newspapers, and to some degree, magazines, depending on the publication, compel us to sit down and spend time with the news and with the issues facing us today. Newspapers in hard copy form will one day go the way of the dodo, but I think it’s important for us to recognize the service they provide in holding those in high places accountable for their actions with our tax dollars. It’s important, at least to me, as it should be for anyone who appreciates and loves information, that they continue as long as possible. Or, if not, at least their online counterparts. Sports journalism, perhaps, doesn’t hold the same immediate consequence as, say, government beat writing, but the trend toward closer relationships between sports teams and the organizations covering them is troubling, and it makes the work of The Associated Press and others more laudable. Here is a detailed study of four newspapers regarding bias compared to the AP.