Sports journalism covers many aspects of human athletic competition, and is an integral part of most journalism products, including newspapers, magazines, and radio and television news broadcasts.
While some critics don’t consider sports journalism to be true journalism, the prominence of sports in Western culture has justified the attention of journalists to not just the competitive events in sports, but also to athletes and the business of sports.
Sports journalism in the United States has traditionally been written in a looser, more creative and more opinionated tone than traditional journalistic writing; the emphasis on accuracy and underlying fairness is still a part of sports journalism.
An emphasis on the accurate description of the statistical performances of athletes is also an important part of sports journalism.
Despite agreeing on its commercial importance, research into sports journalism is largely absent from the growing body of work that might be called ‘journalism studies.
From within the arena of media and communication studies, journalism and its relationship to politics and democracy has been a central concern for as long as communication research has been carried out.
However, the rise in the UK of a more specific focus on journalism as a distinct teaching discipline at university level over the last decade has helped define a more distinctive terrain within which more journalism research is being focused.
The arrival of a number of journalism-specific academic journals such as Journalism:
Theory, Culture and Practice also signifies a distinctive stage in the evolution of a particular teaching and research arena within the UK academy.
It could be argued that given the massive range of content across media platforms that calls itself sports journalism in some shape or form.
The research trajectory within journalism studies has been relatively narrow and heavily informed by particular political and economic concerns. To this end it has often drawn heavily from social science and political sociology.
Within this particular research tradition there appears to be a general consensus that journalism is in some form of crisis (Franklin, 1997; Sparks and Tulloch, 2000; Hargreaves, 2003; Campbell, 2004; Kettle, 2004; Lloyd, 2004a; Marr, 2004; Allan, 2005).
The extent and depth of the crisis is vigorously debated between those who see an increasingly commercial and market-driven media economy as having a detrimental impact on the quality of journalism.
Its ability to fulfill its key role in democratic societies and others who view the breaking down of traditional journalistic hierarchies and the advent of new communication networks, such as the Internet, as offering as many opportunities as challenges to extend the democratic function of journalistic practice in information-saturated societies (Langer, 1998; McNair, 1999).
Often this debate is framed with a wider concern about the impact of journalistic standards on the democratic process.
In the wake of the sacking in May 2004 of Piers Morgan editor of the tabloid Daily Mirror newspaper following the revelation that pictures showing British soldiers supposedly abusing Iraqi prisoners carried by that paper were false, fellow journalist Martin Kettle argued that: The Mirror’s faked tale was not some one–off event.
It was merely the latest manifestation of a widespread and in some ways peculiarly British disease.
This holds that, within increasingly elastic limits, a journalist is entitled to say pretty much what he or she likes, whether or not it is precisely true, without being subject to any sanctions or professional penalties for doing so. (Kettle, 2004)
Indeed, this debate about journalistic standards extends beyond more overt political concerns and focuses on the wider cultural impact of what some have termed the ‘dumping down’ of culture (Sampson, 1996; Bromley, 1998).
While this concern about cultural and moral standards embraces a range of areas of civil society beyond the media, it is the latter which is centrally implicated in this process of decline.
Both television and journalism are viewed as two of the key areas of cultural production that most clearly illustrate the concerns of lowering public standards.
As Hargreaves (2003: 12-13) points out: ‘Journalism stands accused of sacrificing accuracy for ‘speed, purposeful investigation for cheap intrusion and reliability for entertainment.
“Dumped down” news media are charged with privileging sensation over significance and celebrity over achievement.’
It might even be suggested that what Hargreaves outlines could also be a caricature of what is perceived to be the practice associated with sports journalism at the popular end of the newspaper market.
However, you do not have to subscribe fully to the ‘dumping down’ thesis to be concerned about the current state of the journalism profession. As journalist, economist and writer Will Hutton has argued:
Journalism and the entertainment culture in which we now live are uneasy bedfellows.
Facts are not always clear-cut, easy to understand and dramatic; good and bad rarely lend themselves to the demands of sound bites.
Yet for those who can deliver dramatic, clear cut stories, the entertainment culture delivers celebrity status with salaries and standing to match.
The temptation to over dramatis grows by the month; to cut corners for some is irresistible.