There have also been more discursive engagements with the culture and milieu within which the sports journalist operates.
In some instances these involve reflection on the practice from those within the industry, although these remain rare within the growing library of journalistic memoirs, partly no doubt as a result of the lowly position that sports journalism has historically occupied within the industry.
Most are gentle reminiscences of the trials and tribulations associated with working in sports broadcasting, which has been viewed as a form of journalism that requires particular skills related to commentary and television presenting.
The Irish sports broadcaster/journalist Michael O’Herir, for example, has occupied such a long and central location in the evolution of that country’s broadcasting psyche that any social history of Irish broadcasting or indeed Irish sport would be incomplete without reference to his cultural influence and professional flexibility that spans various sports and both radio and television.
Beverley Turner’s book The Pits: The Real World of Formula One (2004), however, remains a rarity among books written about sport by sports broadcasters, in that it is candid, honest and ultimately damning about the sport.
She attacks both the impact that rampant commercialisation has had on Formula One motor sport, and the ‘entrenched sexism that is deeply embedded in its sports culture and which it makes it a deeply unpleasant environment for female commentators or journalists to work within.
As noted above, there has been, of course, a hierarchy of sorts within the field of sports journalism itself.
In the UK, broadsheet sports writers have been positioned towards the ‘serious’ and ‘literary’ end of the market, juxtaposed with the ‘sports hacks’ at the lower end of the tabloid market, a dichotomy that has both enraged and dismayed sports journalists such as Brian Glanville who throughout his long career has moved with ease across this supposed divide.
He has argued: for so many years had insisted that sports journalism should be one seamless garment.
In the magazine Encounter in 1965 had published an article called ‘Looking for the Idiom’, emphasising the difference between British sport writing, with its quality-popular dichotomy, and American, whose chief sportswriters wrote for everybody.
My thesis was that both the ‘quality’ and the ‘popular’ writer were in some senses failures. The first because although he could largely write as he pleased, about mass-interest sports, he reached only a fraction of the public.
The second, because although he reached the public at large, he was rigidly confined to a highly stylised, ultimately patronising, form of journalism, which treated the readership with implicit contempt. (Glanville, 1999: 257).
Other sports journalists, such as Richard Williams and Hugh Mcllvanney, see an intrinsic truth in sporting performance.
Mcllvanney, still the only sports journalist to have been voted Journalist of the Year in the UK, could reflect in 1991 that: After more than thirty years of writing on sport it is still possible to be assailed by doubts about whether it really is a proper job for a grown person.
But I console myself with the thought that it is easier to find a kind of truth in sport than it is, for example, in the activities covered by political or economic journalists.
Sports truth may be simplistic but it is not negligible. (BBC, 1991) While Williams, a former music journalist, draws a comparison between sports and music journalism that is linked to notions of truth and performance.
He suggests that: To put it bluntly, the sweetest music is sometimes made by the most obnoxious people, and vis versa in sport, by contrast, the way people play the game is generally also the way they are as human beings, which makes it legitimate to discuss how someone’s performance is affected by his or her character (Williams, 2003: 3-4).
For Williams the opportunity that covering sport allows for connecting with wider social debates about moral issues is also something that is both appealing and ‘frequently uncomfortable’.
Williams acknowledges that much has changed for the contemporary sportswriter and for some, sports journalism’s golden age is well and truly over.
In his reflections on a year in the life of a sportswriter, Tom Humphries, working for the Dublin based Irish Times, begins his book by announcing: ‘We sportswriters are a breed in decline.
We aren’t endangered, there are more of us than ever before we are just withering. We are further and further from the action and we are shouting louder and louder just to make ourselves heard’ (Humphries, 2003: 3).
Humphries paints a picture of a profession in crisis, as the commercialisation of sport, its ubiquitous television nature and the intense competition in media markets all distort a form of journalism that was once more dignified.
Crucially, sportswriters such as Humphries and the Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Baker (2004) are no longer on the inside of modern sport, but are themselves outsiders, deluding themselves that they have the inside track on information.
Humphries continues: We know only what sports writing shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t be purveyors of sports entertainment.
We shouldn’t be the running dogs of prawn-sandwich corporatism. Then again, we shouldn’t be sour drunks, heckling all the way through the show. Sport is a form of entertainment.
Sports writing are a form of journalism. In the fog in between the ideals of sport and journalism, we have to make a living, we have to entertain. We have to do it in 900 words or less.
And quickly (2003: 6-7) While written in a self-deprecating style, what Humphries does is shed light on the contemporary production context within which sports journalists operate.
The pressures are partly institutional; the financial difficulties being experienced by the Irish Times threatening to lead to more cut-backs in staff, and to affect the often strained relationship the paper’s sports journalists have with their sports editor.
He captures the relentlessness of the modern all-year- round sports calendar, driven as it is by the demands of television and corporate sponsorship.
He also notes how television and technology are altering the role of the sports journalist, by making it possible to cover a major international sports tournament without ever leaving the media centre.
His concerns are echoed in further reflections on the trade from other sportswriters. Both Leonard Koppett (2003) and Jerry Eskenazi (2003) lament the passing of an era and while nostalgia often forms a core part of any memoirs, there is a clear indication that the rules of the game for sportswriters have changed in recent years.
In his insightful account of his career as a sportswriter, which spanned the pre-television age through to the advent of new media such as the Internet in his later years, Koppett notes how the key aspect of the press box in the pre-television age was its ability to allow you as a sportswriter to become an ‘insider’.
He argues that it: Flourished in a world that existed before television, before universal access to ‘up close and personal’ depictions of any and all celebrities, before we assumed that everyone could and would enjoy (or endure) 15 minutes of fame.
A respect for privacy and propriety, more widely felt in ‘decent’ society then than know, helped maintain the distance between the unapproachably famous and ‘ordinary’ folk, even the ones who had considerable status within their own circles.