Friday, December 01, 2006

From the heart the mouth speaks...

Robert Weintraub's recent article in Slate points to the latest round of racial gaffes by sports broadcasters. The most recent was that by Michael Irvin -- a comment about the athletic ability of a quarterback being owed to the miscegenation of an ancestor. Needless to say, an apology followed.

Commentators aren't just sometimes racist -- they are sometimes sexist (recall Keith Hernandez' comment about women in the dugout) and sometimes homophobic (recall the comment by ESPNU commentator Brian Kinchen)

Weintraub speculates that the reason for so many missteps in the broadcast booth is that so many commentators are former athletes who are untrained in journalism.

But that isn't true of many of the commentators who have spewed racist, sexist or homophobic comments off-the-cuff. They are journalists by trade.

I think these incidents demonstrate the need for sports broadcasters to get far more than training in how to call play-by-play or in the fine art of trying to convince viewers that a lopsided game is still worth watching. They need an education in critical thinking about their own (unspoken unless under pressure) stereotypes color their thinking about race, ethnicity and gender, among other things. Collegiate sports journalism programs must have issues-oriented classes where students can confront the stereotypes they may not even realize that they embrace. Then, those stereotypes are far less likely to spill out in front of a mass audience.

Friday, November 24, 2006

'My Boys": It must be the off-season

TBS' new comedy series, My Boys, will debut Tuesday night. The central character is a female baseball beat writer who "plays a mean hand of poker. ...She would rather down a few brews at the local pub than go shopping for a new pair of shoes." But, of course, she's gorgeous (She does, apparently, enjoy spending time in front of the mirror before heading out to hang with the boys.) It's not a terribly original storyline: a buddy comedy with romantic overtones and sports as the backdrop.
The show has already been
compared to Friends and Sex in the City,
. After seeing the first two episodes, I don't think the shows are similar -- although I do think the show may draw viewers also drawn to those shows. If you're looking for a realistic view into life as a woman in sportswriting, though, I wouldn't put it there, either -- Shelly Anderson's recent column on the show points out the cliches and fictions about female sportswriters. You may want to read it before watching "My Boys" Tuesday night.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Find that sports highlight on .... YouTube

Jesse Spector writes in Sunday's New York Daily News about the rising popularity of YouTube for sports highlights. The consequences of these kinds of ungated sites can be powerful -- witness the firing of Lamar Thomas after his infamous stint was immortalized on YouTube. The growing popularity of YouTube is another sign that traditional gatekeepers in sports will continue to be squeezed out as leagues, teams and fans use new technologies for sports entertainment. Sports journalists will have to be nimble in finding ways to work with, not against, these corporate- and fan-driven sports-information outlets.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Covering an unusual grudge match

I read with interest Henry Abbott's blog entry yesterday on truehoop.com about the situation involving the Oregonian and the Trailblazers, one that has deteriorated to the point where a reporter who is not on the Oregonian's regular payroll apparently has been called in to sift through the hard feelings between the paper and the team and come up with an explanation.
As Craig Lancaster, the reporter who Abbott says will cover the story, has pointed out, it's too bad that another media outlet (such as SBJ) hasn't covered this story. Even so, it's commendable that the Oregonian has taken this unusual step. Of course, it owes this much to its readers.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What do women want?

The readership of newspaper sports sections has traditionally been mostly male -- men compose upwards of 80 percent of readers. But if sports sections are to expand their base (and draw more advertising revenue), they need to change that ratio and bring more female readers into the mix.
But how? What do female sports fans want? The CSJ has started a project to compare how men and women read newspaper sports sections -- and the results so far are very interesting. The way women and men see simple features, such as box scores and game stories, is a study in contrasts. We'll provide results here as we conduct more focus groups.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Living dangerously behind the mic

Inflammatory comments from two game announcers over the weekend may cost two broadcasters their jobs, but there's no way to take back what went out over the air (and was rebroadcast over the Internet many times over): comments that condoned violence and racism. These incidents point to the need for training in far more than the mechanics of the game for anyone who gets behind the mic.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Athletics over academics in H.S. coverage

A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota Center for School Change at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs found that media coverage of high school students emphasizes athletes far more than academic achievers. The reasons for this may say more about our public schools than about the media, though: Public schools often do a much better job of showcasing and promoting their student athletes than their academic all-stars. No matter what the reason, though -- the message it sends about scholastic priorities may not be the one we want to send.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Future Paralympians?

An AP story today points out the use of sports programs to help injured Iraq veterans regain mobility and other benefits of sports participation. Many of these new adapted-sport athletes may end up representing the U.S. overseas again someday -- as Paralympic athletes. Unfortunately, they will likely get little attention there, as the Paralympics has traditionally been ignored in the U.S. press. I hope that the recent attention on adapted sports as rehabilitation will move in 2008 to a positive focus on the the world's second-largest single sporting competition.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sportswriters, steroids, and regrets

An online E & P article about coverage of the steroids scandal in baseball has sportswriters admitting what has been obvious since the BALCO story broke several years ago: They failed to cover a story that has been right in front of them for two decades. Here's hoping that the lesson from this debacle for sports journalists is learned in stronger, more courageous coverage of other issues of corruption in sports, including the influence of gambling on college athletics.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sure beats sportsjournalists.com

Young people interested in advice about sports writing from some of the best and brightest may want to visit a new Web site affiliated with the Sports Institute at Boston University. The Web site, sportsmediaguide, includes transcripts of interviews with sports journalists such as Dave Kindred, Michelle Kaufman, and Gene Wojciechowski. One of my favorite quotes is from Bryan Curtis: "There's a false assumption that you can't write sports unless you go the conventional route. I read the "Best American Sportswriting" anthology every year and half the pieces come from writers who aren't conventional sportswriters – they're just writers who have interesting minds."

Friday, September 22, 2006

The wrong signal

The ruling yesterday that will send reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, the San Francisco Chronicle investigative team on the BALCO story, could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism. Although we've seen other similar decisions recently (such as that involving NYT reporter Judith Miller), this one involves a sports-related story. More strong investigative reporting in sports is sorely needed -- and this decision won't help. See columns by Wright Thompson and Rick Telander, among others.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oasis in Orlando

An article posted on Women's enews discusses the Orlando sports media market as an unusual one for women -- they are employed in both print and broadcast sports reporting in larger number than the national average. One reason may be that although Orlando is a large metro area with many media employers, it has just one pro sports team, making it a less risky place for outlets to alienate male fans with female reporters.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

No comment.

Really, I can't find the words to describe my disgust with the ad campaign recently launched by SportsNet New York. My only comfort is that this ad campaign is so stupid (on top of being offensive) that it won't last long.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Still...no guarantees

News Journal writer and AWSM member Jane McManus posted this blog earlier this week about being blocked from Andre Agassi's locker room at the U.S. Open. She also points out that a male reporter at the tournament was ridiculed after seeking access to a women's locker room. When will locker room access stop being an issue?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Toeing the sports/military line

One of my favorite sports columnists, Dave Zirin, recently wrote a piece for The Nation magazine on the use of injured soldiers by the USA Basketball team to "fire up the troops," as it were, on the court. He quoted NBA player Etan Thomas (with the Wizards), who saw the military display on NBA TV and believed it was wrong. Etan has been a critic of U.S. military action in recent years.
But when it comes to politics and social justice, the message for athletes who don't readily buy the prevailing line is "look at your contract" (or: "shut up") as a recent Washington Times column attests.
It's ironic: We like to think of athletes as "heroes" and "role models" -- as long as they play well and open their mouths only to drive us to the mall to buy shoes. But when they speak out in ways that betray their status as symbols of American (military) supremacy, we'd rather they just shut up and perform.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Protecting the rights and work of journalists

A colleague of mine, Scott Reinardy at Ball State, sent me the following letter from Rick Telander, a senior sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. The investigative work of sports journalists is too critical not to protect.

Dear fellow sportswriters, sports columnists, sports editors:
I think you all know the situation that San Francisco Chronicle sportswriters (or writers in the sports venue) Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams find themselves in—that is, they will go to jail if they do not reveal private sources to a grand jury. They have a chance of winning on appeal, or, possibly, the case might move to the Supreme Court for a ruling.
But the threat to freedom of the press and the basis of investigative reporting is very real, not to mention the threat of jail time for those two men.
We as sportswriters have a unique chance to show we care about this situation and about our colleagues, who—even if you disagree with their premise in ``Game of Shadows'' or other writings—are men of integrity and diligence and conscience, working under the long-established foundation of American journalism and the freedom the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so clearly provides to the press.
No, we cannot have our grand juries constantly undermined by leaks.
And yes, there is room for interpretation here, for courts to look at each case individually.
But journalists cannot be agents of government at any level, nor of governmental law enforcement agencies, and sportswriters—any journalists—cannot be afraid that their promises of anonymity to informants will be undermined by subpoenas to tell all.
On Wednesday, Sept. 6, I and as many sports guys and gals as possible will meet in Washington, DC before the shield law hearings—a journalism protection bill proposed by bipartisan U.S. Representatives and Senators—to show our support for Fainaru-Wada and Williams and, by extension, the free press we so enjoy but often take for granted. Williams will be voluntarily testifying Fainaru-Wada hopes to be there, too), but he and Mark have nothing to do with this show of support. Indeed, I barely know either man.
More details will be coming, but, by God, if you can come and be counted on the steps of the Capitol, it will be a wonderful thing. The more columns, debate, passion, spirit we bring to this, the better. All ideas are welcome. Please stay in touch.
This has absolutely no political overtones whatsoever, no further implication than the belief that making a stand on freedom of the press is not only an American duty, but a joy. And for us sports people it is a rare chance to show we stand for something other than paychecks, free food, and crabbiness.
If you agree with this premise, but cannot come to DC for whatever reason—Dig deep, brothers! Don't count on editorial funds!—consider signing your agreement (via email or fax or passed-along paper) with the following statement and get it to me or somebody else who will be there on Sept. 6:

I am opposed to the subpoena of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams to reveal their private sources, and I support their right, and the right of all journalists, to be fully protected by the First Amendment and its clear provision for freedom of the press.

Your name, signature, affiliation, and date underneath.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Could sports participation be a factor?

I'm listening right now to a Talk of the Nation piece about new research that indicates that Latina teenagers are in trouble -- they are more likely to drop out of school, to use drugs, to attempt suicide. One fact that also springs to my mind: Latina teenagers lag behind other groups in a key area: sports participation. I can't help but think there's a connection, when we know about all of the positives sports participation brings to girls in relation to their bodies and outlook. It seems that programs that help young Latinas experience the joy of sports could make a huge impact.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Internet and niche sports

One thing I love about the reach of the Internet is its ability to bring us news of sports that don't get mainstream press coverage (of course, this can also be used as an excuse by journalists for not covering certain sports -- not good). One of my graduate students, Kelly, sent me the link to a Web site with day-to-day coverage of underwater hockey -- check out the world championships.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Unfair mandate or gender-equity model?

A blog post by my colleague Liz Matson about an Australian column that disparaged women's sports got me curious about a proposal Down Under that coverage of women's sports be required for broadcasters. The proposal was presented during Senate hearings about women's sports,and has backers including Football Federation Australia, Women in Sport Media Group and the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation.
The media response to the proposal has been interesting and has demonstrated that we still have a lot of work to do in coming to terms with women's sports, how they challenge gender socialization, and how uncomfortable that makes many people.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Local TV sports: Going, going, gone?

The Center for Sports Journalism today published results of a survey of sports anchors, directors and reporters at local newscasts in the top 50 U.S. demographic markets. The survey found that a majority of the 216 survey respondents believe that the importance of television sports is diminishing and that it could disappear from the local newscast someday. With the rise of the Internet and RSNs, along with ESPN, the sports segment on local newscasts likely isn't as relevant to viewers.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Postscript on sports dept. demographics

It occurred to me as I was looking through the columns that appeared after the APSE study was published in June -- all I've seen focus on the lack of minority journalists in newspaper sports departments. What is curious about that is that the low numbers of minority sports journalists mirror the rest of the newsroom. In other words -- the lack of minorities in sports departments is part of a newsroom-wide problem.
What surprises me is the lack of attention the news about women in sports departments has generally received. Women in sports departments are outnumbered 3-to-1 by women in other parts of the newsroom. In other words, the big problem in sports -- uniquely -- is the lack of women.
I can't help but think that the uproar over the lack of minorities and the silence about the lack of women plays into invisible (but ubiquitous) stereotypes: minorities "naturally" belong in sports, and women don't.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Getting athletes ready for the spotlight

With football season around the corner, hundreds of college athletes will soon be under the glare of media scrutiny -- and they may not be ready for it. As Lauren Reynolds points out in "Media training aims at producing scandal-free athletes," an increasing number of athletic directors are hiring sports media trainers (such as Sports Media Challenge) to prepare athletes to project the best possible image. This trend is one that will likely become routine for colleges around the U.S. Penn State's Center for Sports Journalism is tracking reporting of off-the-field incidents in the Big Ten to learn more about how such incidents are covered by both the collegiate and mainstream press.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Team Web sites, network innovate content

Two recent articles in Sports Business Journal caught my interest: one reports that the YES Network (with DirectTV) is launching an interactive TV service. YES, affiliated with the Yankees, will the first for a U.S.-based regional sports network. The U.S. continues to lag behind other countries in offering interactive television. As YES (and last year, the NFL Network) introduce fans to this technology, they'll continue to rise in legitimacy as sources of information and news for fans -- possibly displacing more traditional media.
The other article reports that two NHL teams,the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks, are considering hiring their own "beat writers" in the face of news that the LA Times is cutting back on hockey coverage. As more teams and leagues hire their own "journalists" to supplement or compete with newspapers and more traditional outlets, the line will continue to blur between sports PR and traditional journalism.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The X Games: Save the ink

Sports editors around the country have experimented with coverage of action sports to draw young readers. It may not be worth the effort. In focus groups with teenage sports fans from around the U.S. here at Penn State this week for its Sports Journalism Institute, participants say any interest they have in action sports will be satiated by watching the X Games (which begin next week) -- they don't want to see it in the paper. They see it more as entertainment than as a competitive sport that should get traditional sports coverage.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The other global cup competition

Although soccer's World Cup competition has received massive global media attention, another elite sporting competition has received almost none in the U.S. and little anywhere else. The Gold Cup World Championships for wheelchair basketball are coming to a close in Amsterdam. The U.S. women's team has made the finals, and the men's team will play for a spot in the championship this weekend. Coverage in the U.S. has been confined to the sparse local-angle feature,. Adapted sports suffer from lack of media exposure in the U.S. -- a lack often driven by ignorance and stereotypes about disability.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Squeezed off the sidelines

During the past several seasons, we've seen an uptick in the number of women covering college and professional football -- from the sidelines. Sideline reporters don't get the same exposure as those in the anchor booth or calling the game; they're on screen for literally seconds. But the sideline job was proving a break-in ground for some female talent. But the sideline reporter may be on the way out. Both CBS and NBC have announced plans to cut back on sideline reporters. When sideline reporters are cut from men's pro and college sportscasts, so are the on-camera opportunities for women, who must often settle for that role.
Meanwhile, however, a sideline pioneer -- Lesley Visser-- will be the first woman to receive pro football' Hall of Fame media award.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Drudging up jock news

A new Web site, modeled on the Drudge Report format, is another bookmark option for sport junkies. The site, Jock Report, doesn't offer anything particularly original -- but it does offer a comprehensive list of links to other sports news sites. Another new sports media offering (in the works): SI Edge, a fitness magazine with tips "from the pros" aimed at male sports fans. SI is a little behind in the emerging market for men's aesthetically oriented body mags -- Men's Health and others are already established. But there is room for more, most likely, as attitudes about men's fitness are evolving into a much more consumer-oriented model.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Video gaming goes for the gold

It may sound far-fetched at first thought, but in a decade when dominoes and poker are staples on ESPN and "Dodgeball" passes as a sports movie, it's not such a stretch: video gamers are lobbying that their "sport" be an exhibition at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. As video gaming becomes more popular, the idea of "cyberathlete" may become more accepted. It's likely that it won't happen -- in 2008, that is -- but there is no doubt that technology is having an impact on our changing definitions of sport.

Friday, June 23, 2006

New study, same results

A new study published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida and presented at the APSE convention in Las Vegas finds similar results to one conducted by our Center last year: that women and minorities continue to be marginalized in newspaper sports departments. Although coverage of the study seems to emphasize the dearth of minorities, there is a far greater disparity in the percentages of women compared to the rest of the newsroom.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Getting the big picture

Nielsen Media Research has announced that is is modernizing the way it measures how many eyeballs are on TV sets and streaming video. By the end of next year, Nielsen will have methods in place to gauge the number of viewers in bars and other public gathering places, and before then, it will start counting the viewers of online streaming video and of IPod content. These new (more accurate) ways to see what Americans watch will likely benefit the bottom line for ESPN and other sports networks, which will be able to sell more viewers to advertisers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dreams and drama in girls' sports

A new documentary film, "Heart of the Game," looks at girls' high school sports much the way "Murderball" did for wheelchair rugby and "Hoop Dreams" did for boys' high school basketball back in 1994. "Heart of the Game" illuminates the scenario presented to female players who get pregnant -- dreams flit out of their grasp as they are often without the support they need to keep playing. Melissa Silverstein writes a thought-provoking piece about the documentary, pregnancy and women's sports on AlterNet.
For more on "Heart of the Game," listen to this NPR story.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

OLN moves pool into prime time

OLN, soon to change its name to "Versus" to more clearly position itself as a sports network, is giving the prime-time treatment to the International King of the Hill 8-Ball Shootout this summer. The event is old news -- it took place in January. But in the spirit that gave poker a strong run on ESPN and The Travel Channel, the delay in airing provides the production time to build the drama into the segment to draw viewers into a 6-week run. It's cheap for OLN -- King of the Hill involves no rights fees. ESPN and Fox Sports Net have both also run billiards competition.
Speaking of ESPN -- an aside: if you haven't already, read George Solomon's most recent column for his discussion of suggestions from ESPN staffers on ways the network needs to improve.

Friday, June 02, 2006

All the fingers on one hand

Announcements that Rachel Wilner will become sports editor at the Mercury News and that Holly Lawton was recently made sports editor at the Kansas City Star bring the total of female sports editors at metro dailies to five. (The others are in Fort Worth, Seattle and Raleigh, N.C.). According to a note on Poynter.org, there are 14 female sports editors at 435 of the nation's dailies.

The evolution of local sports broadcasting

Jane McManus of The Journal News writes about the struggle of local sports broadcasters to adapt to a changing market in the face of RSNs, the Internet and ESPN. McManus mentions a recent CSJ survey in which more than half of the respondents -- anchors, sports directors and reporters in the top 50 markets -- say the role of sports coverage on the local TV broadcast is diminishing.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Reporters move toward justice on sex discrimination case

It seems fitting that as the annual AWSM convention closes in Baltimore, news accounts announce that the EEOC has ruled in favor of two female sportswriters at the St. Paul Pioneer Press who filed a complaint outlining details of discrimination by the sports editor at the paper and a failure to stop the discrimination by higher management. Both reporters were suspended when they complained. The reporters, both of whom have left the paper, were likely scrutinized differently from male colleagues in the sports department there, according to the ruling.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Turning the vise on access

This is old news (last week), but the decision by the Trail Blazers to change its media policy is the latest in attempts by sports organizations to control coverage and, ultimately, drive fans to their own Web sites and media products. Also, an article on the APSE Web site covers a discussion between NFL Commissioner Paul Taglibue and sports editors, who characterize access as "the worst situation they've seen."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Progress for women's sports journalists

Later this week the national convention for AWSM will take place in Baltimore. The conference brings journalists and sports information officers together from all over the country for networking and education. Meanwhile, women are proving their staying power in sports journalism -- despite reporting discrimination and harassment, they say they like their jobs.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

God's take on the sports pages?

A reference from the Poynter Web site pointed me to a recent article about sports writing on the Christianity Today Web site. Managing editor Mark Galli writes about sports coverage as "the stuff of soap operas," without serious attention to the game. "Instead, we have to endure pieces (I won't even deign to call them "stories") about quarrels, tantrums, gossip, salary disputes, and so on and so forth," he writes.
His complaint -- about lack of substantive game coverage -- reflects the ongoing struggle by sports journalism to stay relevant in the face of on-demand sports video, scores and commentary. The game story as we know it could be on the chopping block -- much to the chagrin of fans such as Galli.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Freebies have a embarrassing pricetag

Although the Deadspin post I wrote about yesterday scorned the idea of mainstream journalistic ethics as applied to sports journalism, it turns out that sports reporters often deal with unethical pressure from outside their own departments. Today's E & P details how credentials for access to the Final Four -- obtained by a sports reporter for the managing editor of the Ventura Star -- led to disciplinary action against the managing editor, M.E. Luna. "He also directed midlevel editors to pressure a sports reporter into seeking media credentials for him to other events," the paper said. Star reporters told E&P that the sports reporter complained when Luna's request for press credentials threatened the reporter's access to games. There is a price in sports journalism for ethical lapses of judgment both inside and outside the sports department.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The more things change...

A post on Deadspin today refers to Fox Sports' "Next Great Sportswriter" contest -- a kind-of knockoff of ESPN's "Dream Job" program. The contest supports the thesis offered by a recent issue of SI -- that fan-driven blogging has moved into terrain once reserved for formally trained sports journalists.
The idea of sportswriting by the fan instead of "objective journalist" isn't really anything new. It's an old idea -- a throwback to the "gee whiz" days of sports journalism. That model includes different ethical values, too -- for example, freebies as par for the course. That's a far cry from the ethical standards embraced by APSE a national organization of sports editors -- but it may be closer to the "real world" values in sports journalism today.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

NYT draft coverage: out of style?

A friend of mine in AWSM forwarded me a NYT article that ran in the paper's Style section on Sunday. The story, NFL Draft Daze," focuses on the "large and growing subculture of American women" for which NFL draft coverage must be "endured," perpetuating stereotypes about women's interest in sports. The article, of course, doesn't offer anything beyond anecdotal evidence to support its hypothesis.
Meanwhile, more than 20 female NFL writers, plus columnists, will likely be covering draft activities in New York City. That's evidence that counters the stereotype -- they're not only interested, they're experts -- at draft time.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Online video and ESPN's revenue stream

When Disney announced earlier this week that it plans to offer free streaming video of some of its most popular ABC shows, including "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost", it signaled that it is aggressively seeking new ways to distribute media offerings from all of its properties.
The exception: live sports events on ESPN. Asked about ESPN potentially streaming content for free, Iger said subscripton fees for ESPN are too valuable. 'It’s an incredible source of revenue. ... We’d be crazy to destroy that and put it at risk,' he said in a Daily Variety article. It will interesting, in light of CBS' success streaming NCAA tournament basketball games, to see how sports programming moves to new media platforms.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sports journalism: An oxymoron?

Rocky Mountain News columnist Dave Krieger writes about the "navel-gazing" and hand wringing in sports journalism of late because of baseball's steroid crisis. He argues that sportswriters have always operated in a "hazy neutral zone," providing promotion masquerading as news. Krieger joins the call for sportswriters and reporters to change that: to use the "small slice of journalism" left in sportswriting to keep scandals like steroids from growing out of control again.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Raising the bar for sports reporting

The fact that two investigative journalists who do not cover sports (Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams) broke one of the biggest sports story in recent years -- Barry Bonds and steroids -- has raised questions about how sports is traditionally covered. In the most recent piece to do so, "Muckrakers in the outfield," Mark Jurkowitz calls sports journalists to task for failing to do more investigative journalism. His column follows a piece published April 1 in the New York Times, where Buster Olney admits that sports journalists were part of the collective reason for the "Steroid Era" in baseball. Olney goes on to make an important point: to focus the steroid investigation on a "few superstars" is wrong. It's an instituutional problem, and journalists need to expose it as such.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The 'next big spectator sport'

The New York Times reported Sunday about ESPN's plans to hype dominoes as the "next cool thing" now that the poker craze has cooled off. The network has started taping segments to run on ESPN Desportes and on ESPN 2. According to a Sports Business Daily report, ESPN also plans to produce a celebrity chess tournament. Although it's clear that hyping such activities as sports serves ESPN's quest to sell advertisers on cheap programming, it also keeps the door open for a continuing evolution in the definition of sport, one that includes a variety of activities and competition levels.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Who needs the press box?

Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard's "Writing Up a Storm" in the March 27 issue provides a glimpse of how the Internet is changing sports journalism. His profile of online sports writer Bill Simmons (who, without spending time in a press box or a locker room, writes one of the most popular sports columns on the Web) demonstrates "the empowerment of the fan." Print journalism have "almost become an afterthought," Ballard writes.
What does this mean for newspaper sports sections and magazines? What does it mean for sports journalists when traditional ways of buliding readership and reputations are vaporizing? More importantly, what does it mean for journalism's traditional mission: to seek truth and report it fully? There is a price we pay when rumor mills are passed off as reporting. Ballard's SI piece is worth a read.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The rebound after Candace's dunk

Tennessee player Candace Parker was a headliner in sports news last week when she dunked twice in an NCAA tournament game. One reason the women's game has been considered "inferior" to the men's game is that it lacks the powerful individual displays such as dunks. Now, enter Parker.
But if anyone thought Parker's dunk would elevate the women's game in the eyes of journalists and fans, think again. Almost immediately after the initial hype over Parker was over, criticism set in. They were "weak dunks"that couldn't stand up to the men's game.
And all too predictable in a world where sports is defined as male.
Here's the problem: women aren't men. As long as male standards are used to judge sports, women will be judged inferior. We must rethink the way we think about sports themselves before women will be valued and covered as equals.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Formula for the future?

CBS SportsLine, in cooperation with CSTV and the NCAA, is offering March Madness on Demand, which will provide free streaming video of live NCAA tournament games starting this week. About 20 advertisers have signed on to run ads during the Webcasts.
Why would CBS put its content on the Internet, potentially drawing viewers away from its live TV coverage? Because it's betting that it won't lose viewers, but instead will gain tech-savvy fans.
NBC should study what happens. After its disappointing Olympics ratings, the network would gain from watching other networks maximize the Web's potential. The CBS SportsLine offering will provide insight into how networks can do it. Options for watching Beijing in '08 may be quite different than they were for Torino.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Betting this story won't be reported

Sports journalists are often accused of forgoing important, investigative pieces about sports-related issues in favor of homer stories that rehash game statistics or focus on personalities. One example is the absence of serious reporting about the possibility of widespread point-shaving in college basketball -- a timely topic with March Madness (and the gambling that goes with it) around the corner. Read David Leonhardt's important piece, published earlier ths week in the New York Times.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Games we ignore

The Paralympic Games -- one of the world's largest sporting events behind the Olympics -- begins March 10 and will feature the United States' most elite disabled athletes competing with others from around the globe in winter sports events.
The Winter Paralympic Games will get unprecedented international coverage, except, of course, in the U.S., where the Games will again be frozen out of coverage. Historically, U.S. media outlets have rejected coverage of disability sport even at its highest levels. That's too bad -- we're missing out on a spectacle that the rest of the world finds worthy of attention.
Thank God for the Internet. If you want to catch the action, you can watch the Games at www.paralympicsport.tv.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Controlling the message

Attempts by organizations, leagues and players to control their PR spin is increasingly putting limits on access by sports journalists. For instance, Barry Bonds announced last week that he would not cooperate with reporters that didn't allow him to use their material in his upcoming reality show. The LPGA has also announced that it will not credential reporters and photographers unless they essentially agree that their products become property of the LPGA. These are just the latest developments; see this Slate article for more.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Still held in low esteem

Women in sports broadcasters have a tough career path -- the pipeline to important jobs is narrow and discouraging (the most recent to leave: Bonnie Bernstein). It's infuriating when popular sports Web sites such as Deadspin.com show little respect to women sports broadcasters through the use of doctored photos and invitations for comments. The doctored photo of Erin Andrews (and accompanying commentary) has also appeared on fan sites. It's a sign that women in sports still don't get the respect they deserve.

Fiction in the sports pages

Worth repeating, even if it's a week old: a Vince McMahon (WWE) story that several media outlets got at least partially wrong. At least one newspaper report (and TV accounts) on accusations that McMahon groped a tanning salon employee erroneously reported that McMahon filed for divorce. He hadn't. The divorce was part of the fictional WWE storyline -- not reality.
The irony, however, is that an editor at the Boca Raton News said the paper won't run a correction.
Why? 'It's impossible to define what is real and what isn't when it comes to wrestling,' he said.
Ever heard of court records? The divorce filing would have been easy enough to verify.
Admittedly, WWE isn't a sport (although it meets the test in several key ways), and the weird world of WWE is more fact than fiction. But we trust newspapers to be able to sort through the mess, and, when it's newsworthy, give us the facts.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Where's Judith Miller when you need her?

It seems that the New York Times isn't willing to transfer lessons it learned (we hope) from the Judith Miller fiasco to its sports pages. At least one Miller lesson should have been that when a reporter becomes involved with newsmakers, disclose it -- and early. But the Times, according to E & P, is refusing to explain why it referred to one of its sports reporters as "the other man" in a story about charges of sexual harassment against NHL Rangers PR Director Jason Vogel. A Rangers cheerleader has accused Vogel and "the other man" of cornering and propositioning her at a NY bar.
Besides obvious questions about why the NYT didn't disclose the involvement of its reporter in the incident it reported, this incident also brings up ethical questions about the coziness of source-reporter relationships.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Women's sports in the limelight

Although women's sports in the U.S. generally get little coverage year-round, the Olympics offers a bright spot every two years. Research on Olympic coverage has shown that female athletes get a good chunk (upwards of half) the airtime and ink as their male counterparts in U.S. media. This year, it looks as though U.S. snowboarders Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler are two names that will resonate in coverage. Unfortunately, their names will likely fade from the news after the games, given the nature of snowboarding as a seasonal sport that doesn't demand regular beat coverage.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A (no) vote of confidence

The recent firing of a sports reporter at the Tampa Tribune after she manipulated an award ballot provides even more reason for newspaper sports departments to get out of the business of making news. I hope more papers follow the lead of the Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal Constitution, and, most recently, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in moving toward more ethical journalism.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Another perspective on the Super Bowl

As the U.S. "celebration of concentrated wealth" continues in Detroit through the Super Bowl Sunday night, David Zirin writes a column about what Super Bowl revelers won't see on their TV sets: the poverty and social ills that have been masked to keep the show from being spoiled. It's worth a read.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Super Sunday of mythical proportions

Super Bowl Sunday -- an unofficial national holiday --celebrates two cherished American virtues: consumption and nationalism. It also gets a dose of super-hype from the media, which (helped along by the NFL) continue to exaggerate its importance to the rest of the world. Although at least 100 million people in the U.S. are expected to tune into at least part of the game, its global viewership likely won't get anywhere close to the 800 million cited by many news accounts. If you're looking for the sport with a real global audience -- it's soccer. Audited research puts World Cup viewership at about 28 billion.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Poker in the sports section: Still a gamble

In a recent Baltimore Sun column announcing that poker will take a regular spot on its sports pages, Bill Ordine writes that "the debate as to whether poker belongs on the sports pages mostly has been resolved."
Not so fast. Although it's true that ESPN has aired poker tournaments and some newspapers do run poker columns, to say that poker is a sport is still highly debatable. (My students over the past few years have overwhelmingly given poker-as-sports status the thumbs down.)
There are plenty of leisure activities that have, over the decades, ultimately failed the "is it a sport?" test in the U.S. Think Roller Derby and the XFL. Really, it's still too early to say the debate is over, and it'll be interesting to see how long poker will last as a sports section staple.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hard court for Title IX

With the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito on its way to confirmation in the U.S. Senate (likely to happen this week), the balance in the U.S. Supreme Court will likely set the stage for erosion of Title IX protections for female athletes. Title IX, made law in 1973, has never been safe from attack. In recent years, though, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor provided the critical swing vote on key Title IX cases. With the addition of conservative justices Roberts and Alito to the court, expect renewed legal challenges to the law as opponents continue to frame as unfair and unnecessary. Keep track of Title IX developments here. Meanwhile, our analysis of media coverage of Title IX shows that it isn't helping clarify misunderstandings about the law. More about that in a future post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More female faces on the sidelines

I received an e-mail last week from an Newsweek reporter who had noticed more female sports commentators on the sidelines at network football games. She wondered whether the higher visibility of women on NFL and NCAA football game broadcasts was an indicator that women are making more inroads into sports broadcasting.
The answer: Not necessarily. Research released by the RTNDA/F indicates that among local broadcast news operations, women still make up a small percentage of sports broadcasters and sports reporters. Just 7% of sports anchors are women, and about 11% of sports reporters are women. That's a very small pipeline for higher-profile broadcast jobs.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spillover from Title IX playing fields?

For the first time, enrollment in my Sports, Media and Society class comprises mostly women. Until this semester, this course (which takes a close look at the interplay between sports, journalists and U.S. culture and politics) was dominated by male students.
Most of the women in my class this semester tell me that they grew up playing sports and that they are avid sports fans. Could the explosive participation in sports by young women, spurred by Title IX, finally start making strong inroads into sports departments? From female enrollment in our Center for Sports Journalism, I think the answer could be yes.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sports and politics: The year in review

Dave Zirin, author of "What's My Name, Fool!" (about sports, politics and media) and the weekly "Edge of Sports" column, was interviewed on the Dec. 31 NPR show, "Only a Game," about what he sees as the ongoing corruption of the "athletic industrial complex." Zirin's argument is worth a read, and he weaves in stories of the rare athletes who've dared to become politically activist (a modern example: Etan Thomas of the Washington Wizards). Zirin's latest column is an interesting look back at the intersection of sports and politics in 2005 -- from "steroid-mania" to gender relations as played out in sports.