Sports Journalism within Media and Communications

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Significantly, much of the most interesting writing about the culture of sports journalism has not come from journalism studies research but, rather, from those scholars engaged in the broader field of media sport research.

Often located within the media and communication studies research tradition, when media sport has been discussed, and the print media in particular, aspects of sports journalism and writing have been examined.

More often than not this research has been concerned with issues of representation and how sporting discourses connect with wider social, political, and economic structures and discourses.

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Much of this work has focused on the print media and specifically the role it plays in constituting and reconstituting aspects of cultural and national identities in its coverage of sports and major sporting events.

This research has been largely concerned with the sports text, either print or, to a lesser extent, television, and the placing of it within a broader frame of reference that extends beyond the parameters of sports discourse and often connects it to wider discourses associated with gender, race and ethnicity and national and cultural identity-formation.

Central to this body of work is the extent to which a study of sport’s relationship with the media and society illuminates wider social, political and economic factors at play in the culturally politicized arena of popular culture.

In their major study of sports journalism texts across Europe in the early 1990s, Blain et al. also identified the implicit ideological conservatism of much sports journalism.

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They concluded that when it came to international sporting events that: sports journalism, albeit very unevenly, is as likely to produce a turning inward toward national concerns, and a buttressing of a sense of difference, as it is to operate ideologically on behalf of a harmonious world, even, as we have seen, at that mythic habitat of the familial, the Olympics.

While reference in this current book has been made to the production context of sports journalism, the issue of its ideological impact is not the main focus of this particular project; yet the analysis from the early 1990s would appear to remain valid over a decade later.

Some of the most astute academic writing on sports journalism has come from Rowe (1992, 1995, 1999, 2004, and 2005).

While the main drive of his work has focused on the more general issues of debates about the relationship between the media, sport and culture, within this work has been a concern about the key role that sports journalists play as cultural producers of media sports texts.

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This work has tended to focus on Australian sports journalism, but research has also been focused on the UK situation.

To this end Rowe (1999, 2004) has argued that an understanding of the wider cultural and occupational position of sports journalists is vital to any process that is interested in understanding media sports texts.

He suggests that: Sports journalists, furthermore, are caught in a particularly difficult bind because of the different, sometimes contradictory professional demands made on them.

They are expected, often at the same time, to be objective reporters, critical investigators, apologists for sports and teams, representatives of fans, and, not unusually, to have performed in sport at elite levels.

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The general perception that emerges from the research carried out by Rowe is one in which sports journalists appear to lead a relatively protected, insular and comfortable existence.

Indeed we might argue that description could be equally applicable to the culture of the elite sportspeople who are often the focus of attention for these journalists.

Another issue raised by Rowe (1999) is what he calls the lack of ‘skeptical enquiry’ among sports journalists.

The Irish Times sportswriter Tom Humphries (2003: 118) has identified the danger for journalists of ‘travelling too close to the circus’ or the intrinsic complicity of sports journalism with its over- reliance on access to sources among elite sports organisations and individuals.

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Related to this concern is the extent to which the ever-growing commercialisation of elite sports, and their interplay with media institutions and interests, impacts on or helps distort news values and reporting priorities.

Thus the holding of exclusive live coverage of a major sporting event by a particular television channel will certainly mean that it is more likely to carry sports related news stories on that channel’s mainstream news broadcasts or across associated media platforms.

For example, when BBC TV successfully recaptured the terrestrial highlights for English Premiership football in 2004 from their rival ITV, there was clearly a greater prominence given to Premiership related news stories than there had been when exclusivity to the television rights lay elsewhere.

To the same extent, one can also see extensive cross promotion of sporting events between newspapers that are part of the News International stable and Sky Sports, part of the same corporation.

Brookes (2002: 32-3) suggests that central in any attempt to map out the terrain of sports journalism is the issue of news values.

In his discussion of the print media, he suggests that sports journalism is a mixture of the spectacular and routine. He argues that often when sports stories connect with wider sets of news values, such as those around?

However, one of the key elements this book wants to look at is the ways in which news values associated with sports journalism are in fact changing and evolving, driven by changes not only in media organisations, but also in the wider political economy of the sports industries.

Sports journalism is,” of course, a far from homogeneous culture. There are tensions between print and broadcast journalists, evidenced by Salwen and Garrison’s work (1998: 99) which focused on US sports journalists and indicated some considerable hostility from print sports journalists towards their broadcast media colleagues.

The newspaper sports journalists argued that they felt that the rise of broadcast sports journalism had helped to diminish their professional status.

From within the print sector itself, of course, tensions exist, most notably within the UK context between tabloid journalists and those working in the broadsheet/compact sector.

As Rowe (1995: 159) argued: Within the print media, a distinction is made between the ‘tabloids’ and the ‘qualities’, a split that I replicated in the typology of ‘sports reporters’ and ‘sports writers’.

The ‘writer-driven’ style of the quality papers is routinely contrasted with the assumed opposite, the reader- driven tabloid paper seen as cynically exploitative of sport and its personnel according to the demands of market based profit maximization.

However, to what extent is this distinction still the case today? One of the areas discussed in the book is the extent to which the blurring between the traditional boundaries of the broadsheet and the popular press.

Which some critics (Franklin, 1997) have argued has been one of the characteristics of print journalism in the UK over the last decade or so, has impacted on the arena of sports journalism.

Professional Image

In his research, Rowe also examines the key issues of both professional image and the position of sports journalism within the wider journalism hierarchy.

For Rowe: ‘This assertion of the “quality” writing function over and against that of “hack” journalism is constantly made by those who wish to elevate media sports texts, especially of the print variety, almost to the status of art’ (1999: 58).

There is clearly an issue here with regard to the status of those journalists who cover aspects of popular culture. The assertion that has been made by previous writing on this area is that sports editors, for example, never become editors of newspapers.

Yet the 1990s saw the elevation of Piers Morgan from a journalist covering show business/celebrity issues to editor of the Daily Mirror, one of the major tabloid newspapers in the UK.

Simon Kelner went on to become editor of the Independent, having once been sports editor on the Independent on Sunday, while the Daily Telegraph’s columnist Jeff Randall also edited the Sunday Business newspaper and worked for the BBC, having served his time as sports editor with The Sunday Times.

It is concern with mapping this shifting in the values and status associated with sports journalism as the field itself mutates under a range of commercial and cultural pressures that runs through this book.

While Haynes (1999) has carried out interesting research on the historical evolution of a particular aspect of broadcast sports: the sports commentary, the writing from within media sociology on aspects of radio and television forms of sports journalism remains underdeveloped.

While there is clearly a relationship between what Rowe (1999) calls sports journalism, sports commentary and sports presentation.

There is a distinct lack of studies of UK sports journalists from within the Academy. It could be argued that Tunstall’s study (1971) into specialist correspondents.

Which was carried out in the 1960s and included, looking at football specialist correspondents as part of its range of journalists, remains one of the main studies in this field?

It certainly provided some interesting historical material on the broader production process within which the football journalist operated.

This study focused on print journalists, and studies’ examining the professional ideologies and practices of broadcast sports journalists have also been largely absent from the sociology of journalism research agenda.

Tunstall’s concern (1971) with understanding the constraints, professional ideologies and particular work practices that shape journalism are all elements which, in varying degrees, inform this research project.

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