Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Predicting the death of independent sports coverage

Poynter's Steve Klein posted comments today about a recent blog post by Mark Cuban that suggests pro leagues subsidize newspaper coverage of sports.
In other words, pro teams band together to pay the salaries of beat writers and, in return, get guaranteed space every day. "I know this is in violation of all previous principles of editorial church and state," Cuban writes, but he also argues that pro leagues need the promotional services of journalists (which they have had for more than a century. They just haven't had to pay for it.)
Klein doesn't raise the myriad ethical issues -- and there are many -- that would arise if such an arrangement became reality. He predicts that some publications will take the bait and "slap an advertorial label on the coverage" to save jobs. But advertorial arrangements with sports orgs -- often not labeled -- have already been part of the financial strategy for some papers.
Klein instead suggests (although with funding from pro leagues, raising, again, the ethical issues) a ProPublica or Huffington-style pool arrangement of top sports journalism talent.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Women in sports: Be "20-percent better"

A Dec. 20 article in the Globe and Mail, "Women on TV: Looks First, Knowledge Later," puts a new spin on an old story about the premium on sexual attractiveness for women covering sports. The new angle: How Web sites such as Deadspin are at once raising the profile and diminishing the journalistic credentials of female sports journalists. Comments on sports blogs are degrading, insulting and sometimes threatening. To be considered credible, an NHL senior vice president of broadcasting recommends women be "20 percent better" than their male counterparts.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

AP: 'Helping athletes graduate has become its own academic profession'

An Associated Press story released this weekend shows the phenomenal investment big-time college programs are making to keep their athletes academically eligible to play. The article, which raises serious concerns about the priorities of public universities, was written after months of work to gather financial information and interview athletes, faculty and administrators.

This story is evidence that, as Steve Bilafer with the Sports Business Journal wrote last month, the AP is needed more than ever on the nation's sports pages, which are cutting staffs and resources even as youth and collegiate sports programs are growing and resembling the professional ("sportainment") model for sports.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Athletes: Crafting their own messages

A story published in the San Diego Union Tribune, "Sites to behold," provides a lengthy discussion of the ways athletes are using the Web to bypass traditional media, build their fan base and feed the bottom line. (A recent example, as reporter Tod Leonard points out, was Tiger Woods' use of his Web site to announce surgery on his ailing knee.)
The story includes a list of athlete and team Web sites that stay updated and offer interesting material. They include those of Curt Schilling and Pete Carroll, among others.
What is most interesting to me is what Leonard's story says about the sites of female athletes such as Maria Sharapova and Danica Patrick.. The emphasis--especially on Patrick's Web site -- seems to be far more on sex appeal than sports. Patrick's father says that the emphasis is by design; 'Eventually, she won't be racing, and we still have to keep going.' The same is true for male athletes, right? What are the strategies they use on their Web sites?
It would be interesting to see if the de-emphasis on athleticism is a theme across many of the Web sites of high-profile female athletes.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Prep sports: In 'an encouraging twilight'

In a New York Times article yesterday about the allure of high school football, sportswriter Jere Longman writes wistfully about the tradition of Thanksgiving-Day games among high schoolers. Although Longman concedes -- and a companion article about steroid use among athletes confirms -- that high school football is "not pure," Longman adds: "It is still a game, not yet a business."
The operative word may be yet.. Longman writes that prep football is in an "encouraging twilight" -- a hopeful metaphor for the way things are changing. High-profile rankings and a funding system for youth sports that is increasingly squeezing out lower-income students are two factors in the evolution of youth sports into a money-driven model. (Mark Hyman's blog, Youth Sports Parents, is a great way to follow the evolution. His latest recommends that we consider banning youth sports tournaments on national holidays.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New book looks at growth, coverage of women's basketball

Christine Baker, a writer and avid sports fan, has compiled excerpts of her interviews with top figures in women's basketball -- including Val Ackerman, Tamika Catchings, Donna Lopiano, and Diana Taurasi -- in a new book called "Why She Plays." I talk a little in the book about the struggles of the WNBA to gain a large media audience. For more about the book, visit Baker's Web site.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sports, media, politics: An alliance

The election-eve appearances of Barack Obama and John McCain on Monday Night Football tonight mark the second presidential election in a row when the candidates made their final, national televised appearance in a sports venue (In 2004, Kerry and Bush appeared on SportsCenter.) The partnership of politics and sports has been a natural pairing in the U.S. for as long as the two have been institutionalized -- both are sites for the display of masculine power, and some might argue that sports is a microcosm of the wider political landscape.
The partnership isn't only for the TV cameras. The NFL this year became the second sports league to form its own PAC, where owners, team CEOs and league executives invest in influencing the electoral process to secure favorable outcomes on legislative proposals that could cut into profits.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reporters and SIDs: Tensions start early

Joe Gisondi writes in his "On Sports" blog this week about a study illuminating the ways college journalists and SIDs clash over access to players and over other issues. The study, published in College Media Review, reveals results of a survey of SIDs and college sports editors. Gisondi describes a gulf between the ways SIDs and journalists see their roles on everything from the ways journalists identify themselves to the tactics they use to secure interviews (such as using Facebook). The study seems to point to a couple of issues: The chasm between journalists and athletes/coaches at the college level (one that is sure to grow), and the need for formal training in ethics and professionalism for college sports journalists.

Why women don't stay in the profession

Michele Tafoya this week announced that she is dropping from her primary role as an NBA sideline reporter although she plans to continue some of her duties (including those with MNF) for ESPN.
Her reason: more time with family. It's not surprising -- our research shows that most of the time, that -- not glass ceiling or harassment-- is what prompts women in sports journalism to curb their careers.
The problem now, though, is that with the poor economy prompting buyouts and layoffs in TV and newspaper sports departments, we'll see even more women exiting to find more family-friendly careers. We could see diversity in sports operations continue to dwindle.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Covering college football: 'tough' business

ESPN.com writer Ivan Maisel told students in a Penn State class that focuses on Joe Paterno and the Media about his weekly schedule covering college football -- one that includes travel sandwiched between radio interviews, podcasts, Web chats, plus reporting for his weekly column. The Web, he said, has turned college football into a year-round beat. He also described the ESPN campus in Bristol as one where 60-hour workweeks are the norm.
Maisel, who says he's been on the national college football beat longer than anyone, said he admires students who plan to enter sports journalism. "It's looking tough, but it's still so fun," Maisel said, adding that meeting people he admires and seeing positive examples of leadership helps keep him motivated.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Denial: A losing media strategy for athletes

Penn State professor Michel Haigh is interviewed on a blog posting today by Shaun Assael, author of Steroid Nation, about media coverage of athletes accused of doping. What she found: That denial of wrongdoing by athletes isn't met very kindly by journalists (or the public). Instead, the better strategy seems to be an apology, such as that issued by Jason Giambi.
Assael speculates that another less-effective strategy, however, could become more effective as fans begin to grow deaf to the steady drumbeat of sports scandals: that of "reducing offensiveness" -- or, simply put, positioning the bad behavior as not-so-bad. As Assael notes, if that happens, players like Barry Bonds may have a chance at career revival.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Converting HS football to revenue

I've written in a number of posts about the growing focus on high school sports as a revenue-producer for media properties such as ESPN and FSN. Although we've seen increased focus on high school sports by newspaper companies through focused Web sites and weekly tab editions, Gannett's new "Grid" may be the most ambitious multimedia effort. Gannett Broadcasting's VP for new media, Kerry Oslund, in an e-mail interview with Al Tompkins, described the effort to air football games across the country as a relatively inexpensive one, bolstered by help from Mogulus and highschoolsports.net.
Talk about programming on the cheap with potential to deliver eyeballs from a national audience -- this is it. A ranking system of high school teams -- delivered by USA Today -- is used to promote matchups.
The question that must continue to be asked about this kind of broadcasting of scholastic sports is one that focuses on the real cost. How will the "big-time" framing of young athletes impact the academic mission of high school sports? How can we ensure that the problems plaguing college sports (written about in books such as Counterfeit Amateurs)don't transfer to the high school level -- where oversight beyond the district level is virtually nil?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Synergy 1, Journalism 0"

Steve Silafer's "On Watch" column in a recent Sports Business Journal argues that the traditionally cozy relationship between journalists and sports properties crossed the line in the over-the-top coverage provided to CBS Scene, co-owned by the Patriots, by a CBS affiliate in Boston. Silafer argues that in shilling for the restaurant, WBZ-TV jeopardized its ability to cover the Pats "objectively."
Although I appreciate Silafer's column, and I agree that with his concern, I'm afraid that his complaint about the "synergy" between journalists and sports teams that could compromise reporting is too little, too late. These kinds of relationships are part of the reason that sports journalism has traditionally been seen as the "toybox" and has not had a strong record of investigative, public-service reporting. There are many more points on the board for "synergy" than Silafer gives it -- and that won't change until the public demands it does.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

High school gears up for TV debut

The Washington Post today outlines the pregame buildup for a local school football team (Good Counsel, in Montgomery County, MD) that will be on national TV this Thursday night.
Preparations for the Thursday-night game will include all the tasks and costs involved in crowd management and security for an event sure to draw thousands of extra fans (on a school night, no less). The tasks are being handled by school administrators who are usually paid for other duties, and the school must also dole out money for extra police officers and preparation of school grounds for the crowd.
The payoff? $1,000 from ESPN -- a paltry sum in relationship to advertising revenues for the network -- and extra ticket and concession sales. The game will also give Good Counsel national name recognition, although the article doesn't explore how such exposure furthers the academic goals of Good Counsel.
The game is one of 19 scheduled to air on ESPN this fall.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The old is new again

Sports journalism has struggled to gain credibility as an ethical enterprise since the days when sportswriters were an extension of the team -- accepting freebies as the norm. APSE decades ago introduced a code of ethics, much of which focuses on sportswriters' avoiding discounts and freebies from the sources they cover.
So it was interesting to read, in a Sports Business Journal article titled "Newspaper cutbacks slice into sports coverage" that newspapers may receive offers of discounted hotel rooms for journalists at sports events -- courtesy of the sports entities they're covering. The article outlines plans by Major League Soccer to negotiate lower-priced hotel rooms on behalf of journalists who might cover their events. It benefits sports entities: They get more coverage. News organizations won't complain: They get a discount. But the appearance of this kind of benefit coming through sports organizations to journalists might again erode the reputation of sports journalism as an ethical enterprise.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We already knew, but...

The Wall Street Journal, in an article headlined, "Maybe Women's Sports Don't Hurt NCAA Men," relayed the results of a Women's Sports Foundation study demonstrating that Title IX is not to blame for cuts in men's collegiate sports. Instead, skyrocketing expenditures on men's revenue sports such as football and basketball often lead administrators to cut men's Olympic-style sports such as wrestling.
Our research shows that the Title-IX-as-culprit myth has gone unchallenged in media coverage over the years, and that many reporters also believe the myth -- so it's nice to see this latest WSF research getting some attention. Of course, the report has already been attacked by the College Sports Council and others opposed to Title IX.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A salute to pioneer Mary Garber

Mary Garber, a sportswriter who said her idea of heaven would be "football season," died over the weekend at age 92. She started working at the Winston-Salem Journal and Twin City Sentinel as a sportswriter in 1946 and retired in 1997 although she kept working part-time until 2002.
As the story of her death in the Journal notes, "she was probably the first fulltime woman sportswriter at a daily newspaper in the country, and she certainly had the longest career."
Garber took seriously her role as a role model for women who aspired to cover sports. "I thank you in the name of all young girls around the country," she said in accepting the 2005 Associated Press Sports Editors Red Smith Award.
Sports journalists all over the country -- men and women -- remember Garber as a pioneer and a class act. AWSM President Jenni Carlson, who noted that Garber didn't get access to a locker room at the ACC basketball tournament until 30 years after her sportswriting career started, added: "Mary didn't let that roadblock get in her way. No roadblock got in her way."
Lisa Mickey, senior writer for the Duramed FUTURES tour, recalled being mentored by Garber, who gave Mickey books to read and encouraged her career. "Mary never worked for the money or the by-lines. She did it because it was in her and she loved every interview and put her heart into every word," Mickey wrote in an e-mail.
To hear Garber interviewed about her career, visit the Washington Press Club Foundation oral history project.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You know it's bad: Economy hits the NFL

Terry Lefton of Sports Business Journal was interviewed on American Public Media's Marketplace report today about the NFL's budget shortfalls.
The NFL is still the biggest, most profitable sports property in the U.S., says Lefton, but Roger Goodell's recent memo to the league even hints at layoffs in light of less-than-projected revenues.
For the first time in Lefton's memory, the NFL started the season without a new corporate sponsor. Financial services and the auto industry are traditionally big sponsors, and both sectors are struggling.
Smaller leagues and teams are likely in much worse shape than the NFL. On top of that, what Lefton calls the "false economy" -- ad money and sponsorships pumped into sports via the U.S. election and the Olympics -- will dry up next year.
Are there any bright spots? Yes -- the WNBA recently announced a banner year for marketing, media and revenues.
Credit increased publicity because of the Olympics, the infusion of Candace-Parker star power, and better marketing by teams and the league. It's good to see the WNBA -- which has struggled in a market dominated by male leagues -- continue to grow.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A primer for sportswriter wannabes

Joe Gisondi, who teaches sports journalism at Eastern Illinois University, has moved his blog, which provides reporting and writing tips for aspiring sportswriters. Gisondi, who also advises the student paper at Eastern Illinois, provides examples from college newspapers from around the U.S. His blog includes links to many college newspaper sports sections and to high school sports coverage on major newspaper Web sites. It's worth bookmarking for anyone who teaches sportswriting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paying attention to youth sports

A new Ad Council campaign is one of the newest indicators of the problems emerging in high school sports as they continue to develop into a big business. Remember the days when prep sports really were "pure"? As LA Times writer Eric Sondheimer recently observed about high school basketball: "It's now about branding opportunities, exposure to recruiters and media, and preparing for future stardom."
The Ad Council campaign, which uses YouTube to reach young athletes, takes aim at steroid use. If you're interested in keeping up with youth sports issues, bookmark Mark Hyman's blog, which is current and informed.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dropping sports coverage: The answer to declining viewership of local newscasts?

No, argues UNC professor Charlie Tuggle, in the latest edition of Electronic News.
Tuggle says the trend toward scaling back or getting rid of sports segments is misguided. The problem is in how they present sports, which he calls "banal." He accuses too many local sportscasters of being "ESPN wannabes," chasing national stories when they should instead focus on local athletes.
While I think Tuggle is right about the lack of priorities for in local sportscasting, the problem for local newscasts may be much bigger than their sports segments, making the question of how to improve those segments a very low priority for news directors.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Another opening ceremony in Beijing

Most Americans are likely not aware that the world's second-largest sporting event -- the Paralympics -- opened today with ceremonies for thousands of athletes from around the globe. It's hard to get news about the games, although The New York Times has provided some coverage today, and video of events is available online.
Stephanie Wheeler, a wheelchair basketball player on the U.S. women's team, has been sending e-mail dispatches. In her latest, she writes:
"I hope that the Paralympics will prove to be much more than an
arena where medals are won and competitions are held. I hope that this helps to begin to change the face, perceptions, and social identity of people with disabilities in China and all over the world for that matter. Being a part of the Paralympic movement is such an honor and a responsibility that myself and my teammates don't take lightly. Yeah, we are here to compete and win a gold medal, but we are also trying to open the eyes of those who don't believe people with disabilities can live fulfilling lives."

The U.S. team will start going for the gold Sept. 8 with its opener against Germany, also a top-ranked team.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Investigative journalism and match-fixing

Play the Game, an organization made up of sports organizations in Denmark in close cooperation with the International Federation of Journalists, is promoting a book that alleges rampant match-fixing in global professional sports. The book, called The Fix, is written by a Canadian journalist. The allegations, most of which involve soccer, are stunning. A short excerpt of the book, looking at corruption in the Chinese Super League, is available online.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"You can just hear them now"

Will Leitch, Deadspin.com founder at the receiving end of Buzz Bissinger's famous tirade against bloggers months ago, told APSE sports editors that Web hits "pay the bills" for more traditional, mainstream coverage (of course, that's not really true...not yet, anyway). In his talk with editors, Leitch defended the idea of fan-driven coverage. He also argued that readers don't know -- or care-- about the difference between what they get on blogspot or at the newsday.com.
Our research with young people (under 25) supports Leitch's contention that the idea of sports journalism has really morphed into a lot of things, including team and league sites, blogs, and traditional reporting. The competition from all corners -- the armchair journalists and the PR writers, he argues, is good for journalists.
Leitch also reported an interesting discussion he had with Bob Costas, who asked him why "everyone online had suddenly become so mean."
Those fans with the snarky, sexist, homophobic comments and a willingness to say just about anything, it turns out, have been there all along, says Leitch, but now they have a voice. Of course, But the fact that these voices now have a forum isn't necessarily a positive development for sports or the culture.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gays and sports: The real problem

Sports journalists at the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association national conference discussed gays and sports during a panel session yesterday.
Most interesting to me was not the back-and-forth about whether journalists should ask athletes to disclose their sexuality or whether gay athletes should be "outed." Instead, it was the assessment of panelists that performances of "tough-guy" masculinity are central to sports, despite sexuality. Ted Rybka, who leads GLAAD's efforts to reach out to the athletic community, said, “With sports in general, it’s all about masculinity…It’s about you not being ‘man enough’.”
Bill Konigsberg, formerly with ESPN but now with the AP, said he thought that the climate for gay men in sports journalism was better than it had ever been. He added:
“The misogyny is almost stronger than the homophobia everywhere I’ve worked.”
In that light, the absence of a lesbian voice on the panel was regrettable. The discussion did briefly turn to women's sports, specifically to the WNBA. ESPN's LZ Granderson said he believed that women may be "the main culprit" in the league's stagnation. “Until it’s properly supported by women” it won’t move to the next level, he said.
Granderson's comments reinforce the general misunderstanding that interest in sports exists in a vacuum. The truth is that the socialization of women and men turn them away from watching women's sports in a myriad of ways.
This same gender socialization that keeps the WNBA from real breakout status, though, is the same socialization that will continue to force sexual minorities in sports to be marginalized and stigmatized.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Journalists on a "witch hunt"?

Even the most zealous fans of Penn State football should agree that coach Joe Paterno, in an interview on today's Outside the Lines, looked out of touch when he accused an ESPN journalist of being on a "witch hunt" for questioning the outrageous number of PSU football players arrested since last year.

Simply because of his tenure in the business, Paterno should know better than anyone that welcoming media attention when all is well, and then condemning the same reporters when the news isn't so good, isn't smart or responsible.

The ESPN story put a bright spotlight on the unusually high number of arrests involving Paterno's players during the past year. We need more -- not less -- investigative journalism in sports.

The OTL story has its own problems; for instance, it characterizes the off-field situation as a "trend," presenting overall numbers since 2002 that are startling. Broken down year-by-year, however, 2007's unusually high number is cause for alarm, but not necessarily part of a trend, as the number is more than three times as high as the previous year. (We're not told why ESPN chose 2002 as a starting point. Also helpful for context would have been more information about the types of bad off-field behavior -- how much involved non-violent misdemeanors? How many were felonies? How does the rate compare to arrest rates for the student body?)

The story also failed to put Penn State in context within the college sports culture. How does Penn State compare to other D1 schools (and not over just a single season)? Stepping back and looking at the big picture: Are Penn State's problems a reflection of the missteps of a single coach -- or might they signify larger problems with big-time football programs across the country? How do football programs in general compare with other sports?

The limited research on the relationship between off-field violence and male college athletes in revenue sports tells us that there is a problem -- but it goes beyond a single program or coach.

That's the bigger, and more important, story -- but one that would force us to look at the entire college sports culture in a more critical way than many want to do, I suspect.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Apparently, even a brawl can't convince FOX that WNBA is worth watching

Although much has been made of the fight that broke out during a WNBA game earlier this week in the mainstream media and in sexist/homophobic blog entries, it's apparently not enough to convince Fox and Friends morning hosts that women's sports are worth watching. In an exchange that starts with a focus on sexism and ends with the smug conclusion by a host that more women ("your people," he tells his female co-host) should watch sports, the WNBA is assessed as a ratings loser and women's sports as simply not interesting. The exchange demonstrates, among other things, the cultural role of sports in justifying sexism.
It's also these kinds of assessments of women's sports -- judging them by male standards -- that feed the tremendous struggles of female athletes for legitimacy. (Unfortunately, even the WNBA fight has been assessed as a positive for the league -- "a much needed a shot in the arm to boost attention," according to a women's sports blog.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

August excitement: Not only in Beijing

Although the world will turn its eyes to the Olympics next month, many parents and communities in the U.S. will also be putting their attention on their local football stadiums. High school basketball players will wait for the spotlight -- but not long, and they've already been playing in high-profile, commercialized camps all summer.
I know that the appeal of scholastic sports is in their love-of-the-game, not-corrupted-by-money aura, but one has to question that image in light of the big business they are quickly becoming. Jacob Leibenluft's "Great Basketball Exodus" on Slate.com, which refers to a senior's decision to go pro in Europe in hopes of then jumping to the NBA, refers to lawyers, "basketball factories," and the prospect of big-dollar contracts for young players as though the are an established part of the high school sports world.
His focus -- on the prospect of NBA hopefuls forgoing college for a Euroleagues, is troubling. He speculates on the media's role in making it more lucrative for teens to go this route. And he doesn't sound far-fetched. After all, as cable nets have focused more on high school sports (cheap programming that can be promoted with media-generated rankings), Leibenluft's suggestion that the nets might follow young players across the Atlantic is plausible. The implications of that for high school sports, the NCAA and the NBA, he argues, are worth pondering.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More bad news for golf fans...?

Apparently, Golf for Women isn't the only golf-related coverage getting the axe these days. Sports Business Daily reported today that the number of newspaper reporters at major events dropped this year. The Daily quotes Golf World writer Bill Fields, who recently noted that media centers at the PGA Tour The Players Championship and the U.S. Open this year were "noticeably less crowded, with 12[%] fewer reporters at the Players and [5-10%] fewer at the U.S. Open" than in '07.
But fewer newspaper reporters doesn't necessarily mean less coverage, as the hand-wringing in the SBD and other publications might suggest. As SBD notes, 90 U.S. journalists were accredited for the British Open. Sure, the number of newspaper writers among them has dropped -- but there are still journalists covering the event. What would be more interesting is to the look at the number and type of organizations that are sending writers.
Bottom line: The fact that there are fewer newspaper reporters covering golf these days doesn't necessarily translate to poorer golf coverage. Does anyone believe that golf fans can't get as much information on any given event today than they could when newspaper journalists filled media centers?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Another women's sports magazine dies

Conde Nast announced yesterday that its Golf for Women magazine will cease publication after this month. The magazine, launched in 1988, was purchased by CN in 2001. The publisher also shuttered Women's Sports & Fitness in 2000 after purchasing it and relaunching it during the late 1990s.
Golf for Women and Women's Sports & Fitness both had respectable circulations -- around 600,000, the same rate base as that of The Sporting News. So, what's the problem? As with other women's sports titles that have come and gone (such as SI for Women) -- it's identity and advertising. These magazines struggle for positioning satisfactory to advertisers. For instance, should they focus solely on competitive sports (think SI, ESPN magazines), participatory sports (think Runner's World) that are often popular among women, or beauty-focused fitness (think Shape)?
SI for Women and WSF both waffled before they finally ceased publication, and it's been interesting to see the evolution of HerSports, perhaps the newest general-interest sports title for women. Finding the formula that will attract the ad dollar has so far proven elusive for many women's sports titles.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Nader: It's time for a Taxpayer Stadium

I've just gotten around to reading Dave Zirin's recent interview with presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Nader, never one to hesitate about speaking truth to power, talks about his League of Fans movement and the ways he believes sports fans are being swindled by major leagues. Nader also suggests that newspaper sports pages be labeled for what they are: showcases for spectator sports only. "They don't cover participatory sports: amateur sports, amateur leagues, what's going on at the local playgrounds or any effort to promote activity and competition," he says.
I hope that after the presidential election is over, Nader will get back to doing what he does best -- consumer activism -- and put his energy into developing League of Fans into a movement that can make a difference.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The revolving door keeps turning -- and churning more women out

I mentioned in my June 20 blog (about an interview with Julie Ward) that shrinking staffs in sports departments were likely disproportionately eroding diversity. It looks as though APSE's latest study indicates that while racial diversity has improved just slightly (although still dismal), women have generally lost ground since the APSE's 2006 report was issued. Richard Lapchick, an author on the study, questioned decision-making about content by staffs that continue to be overwhelmingly dominated by white men.
In a statement in the report, Tribune Co. Sports Coordinator John Cherwa seems to imply that newspaper losses are at least in part a result of diversity gains at ESPN.com and other TV-Web operations. But that is likely not the case, and certainly the APSE study can't support such a claim -- given that two major operations, CBS and Yahoo, declined to participate. What we need is benchmark data on diversity in hiring at these and the many other Web operations (including those such as MLB.com) that compete with newspaper operations.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Narrow path for female SIDs

Next week, members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (COSIDA) will meet in Tampa for the organization's annual convention. On the agenda is research by the Center for Sports Journalism that shows the disparities between men and women in employment and promotion -- women are only about a tenth the industry, and far fewer women reach the top ranks.
Focus groups with female SIDs show that discrimination and sexism are still a problem and that old-school ideas about women and sports can keep women from opportunities they deserve ("Sometimes I just want to wear my resume on my shirt just to say I am qualified," said one SID). Challenges in reconciling work and family obligations are a big reason women decide to leave the profession.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Female writers in the sports blogosphere

Blogger Andrea Reiher was interviewed for AOL Fanhouse about sexism in the sports blogosphere -- an interesting choice, considering that Reiher's blogs, including Ladies..., strike me as less-than-progressive when it comes to women, men and sports. In a full version of the interview, Reiher argues that there should be more women writing for the most popular blog sites, such as Deadspin. She is right -- few female writers are featured on these sites. But as I mentioned, I'm not sure Reiher and others bring a particularly different view to sports. And many of them do not want to.
I'm not saying that women shouldn't be given equal opportunity to contribute to the blogosphere. It's too bad, though, that they might simply provide more of the same -- discourse that reinforces sexism in sports and sports talk.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The erosion of diversity

Experienced journalists with institutional memories and expertise aren't the only sacrifice as newspaper sports operations continue to cut and consolidate. Former USA Today deputy sports editor Julie Ward, in an interview to be published in the next issue of International Journal of Sport Communication, wonders if diversity is part of price. A number of women, including Ward, and minorities in sports journalism have left newsrooms in recent months. It will be interesting to see how demographics change at APSE-member papers, many of which have seen their sports operations shrink over the past year. The organization's national meeting is next week.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The pain Title IX hath wrought

I just finished reading Michael Sokolove's lengthy cover story in The New York Times Magazine, "Hurt Girls." The storyline is not new -- the topic of adolescent girls and ACL injuries has been covered in other publications.
I think the topic is an important one -- just as the story about injury rates in boys' high school football is also an important story. My problem is the way this story is framed. The subhead for the story (in the print edition) sets the tone: "Everyone wants girls to have as many opportunities in sports as boys. But can we live with the greater rate of injuries they suffer?"
I won't bother providing a number of obvious responses to the question.
A major problem with the story is its reliance on anecdotal evidence to present girls as generally not suited for the rigors of sports. Sokolove does, well into the story, tell readers that "boys suffer more sports injuries," but writes that fact off to football and a higher participation rate, then keeps moving through his thesis.

I'm not the only one perplexed by why Sokolove's story got as much ink as it did. For interesting reading that quickly reveals a number of flaws in the piece, see the hundreds of reader comments left on the NYT Web site.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

School for sports-comm teachers

If you are among the growing number of faculty teaching sports-comm related classes, you may be interested in an event in Chicago this summer: “Teaching Sports Communication Courses: A Roundtable for Educators.” The event will be part of the AEJMC conference in August.
It will take place Aug. 5 from 1 to 5 p.m. and will address everything from teaching skills classes and preparing students for a multimedia environment to developing full sports communication programs.
Experienced sports educators and journalists (including George Solomon and Malcolm Moran) will lead discussions, but the session is designed to solicit input from everyone. All who attend are encouraged to bring syllabi and other teaching materials. Please send questions about the session to mch208@psu.edu.

Still misunderstood: Title IX at 35

I've written before about media coverage of Title IX, and here's another study of interest to women's sports advocates: An analysis of editorials in the nation's major newspapers shows that "men as victims" mythology lives on even in arguments that generally support the law. It's the "we know women should have equal rights in theory, but ...." line of reasoning -- which can be used to ultimately justify inequity.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Oh, the meanness of it all

A 90-minute town-hall style "Costas Now" on HBO last night used a combination of taped and live segments to explore the role of sports talk radio and bloggers in the evolution of sports media. Mitch Albom blamed sports talk radio for spreading negativity and meanness to other forums, including sports columns. During the discussion about blogging, Buzz Bissinger told Deadspin's Will Leitch that blogs are conduits of cruelty and dishonesty. Traditional-media journalists also had their turn on the hot seat; they were accused of being jealous of athletes (One has to wonder if they're also jealous of bloggers) and of fueling distrust by athletes. The whole thing makes one wonder...So who is responsible for the ugliness in much of sports coverage today?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The risks of sports blogging

A week after the NYT piece about the uneasy relationship among institutional sports, mainstream media and sports blogs, today Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell writes about a sports blogger who was fired after identifying himself as affiliated with the Post on his blog, kissingsuzykolber.com.
Some blog readers apparently sent the paper angry e-mails, suggesting that its firing of Michael Tunison indicated that the paper was out of touch with today's readers.
Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, AME for Sports, said he understands the formula that drives most sports blogs -- it's nothing news. He told Howell, "They all combine sports with a little sex. It's the same formula the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue started years ago."
Howell also discusses another sports blog -- this one on Washingtonpost.com -- that prompted complaints about a contest proposed by blogger Jason La Canfora. These complaints accused La Canfora of stereotyping Italian Americans.
Although the same type of complaints can arise from the content in traditional print media, blogs can reach a wider audience and more quickly solicit feedback.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bionic cover!

ESPN the Magazine's May 5 issue includes a cover story about the ways advanced prosthetics are allowing amputees to compete with able-bodied athletes. It goes beyond the well-publicized story of Oscar Pistorius and features other athletes such as Anthony Burruto.
The cover -- and the story -- are exciting because elite athletes with a disability have received so little media attention. It also forces us to rethink our ideas about the ideal athletic body. Yet the story also raises troubling questions about the continuing marginalization of these athletes -- with and without the prosthetics.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Petition to let women compete

Sign the petition for Friends of Women's Ski Jumping, designed to rally support behind women's entrance to the Vancouver Games in 2010.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Character, dignity, and racial stereotypes

I couldn't help but be struck by the tired racial stereotypes that seem to be reinforced in images that accompany the print edition of SI's latest feature, "Nebraska Lost, Nebraska Found.". The subhead promises a story about ways the Huskers plan to restore "character and dignity" to the program -- with "homegrown" players. Apparently, although the roster includes many African-American players, it's the white ones, whose images dominate the article, that will restore the "character" to this team.

From sex symbol to real threat

Although much of the mainstream media hailed Danica Patrick's IRL victory as a boost to IndyCar racing and predicted that Patrick's marketability would soar, it's interesting to see the reaction of popular sports blogs, where her historic win topped the discussion, according to Sports Business Daily. Not surprisingly, some (including the Deadspin and The Big Lead) found reason in Patrick's win to question the validity of auto racing as a sport or invited degrading, sexist comments from fans. What will be interesting over the next few months will be to see how mainstream coverage of Patrick evolves, as she has proven the ability of women to threaten the dominance of men in this sport.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The price for honest Olympic coverage

Thursday night the Center for Sports Journalism focused on Olympic coverage with a panel involving former LAT editor Bill Dwyre along with editors Tom O'Toole and Jim Welch from USA Today and freelance journalist Jay Weiner. Welch highlighted the challenges faced by reporters in Beijing with a story about a reporter who, after covering protests in Tibet, returned to Beijing to receive harassment and death threats. He said the paper is working with the IOC to influence Chinese officials to make it easier for journalists to do their work. Dwyre said he hopes reporters will stay focused on human-rights issues, but predicted that "once you get into ... all the hoopla, a lot of the political issues fade into the background. That's sad, but that's the reality."
The panelists also talked about the new realities in newspaper sports departments, which have been influenced by market demands. "ESPN sets the agenda in sports," Dwyre said. Increasingly, the relationship between sports properties and those who cover them is blurred -- and not just at ESPN. Weiner mentioned sportnet.com, which has purchased the Web rights to several Olympic sports as an example. Welch talked about special sports sections produced at USA Today that have been paid for by sports organizations. He compared the practice to the Staples Center coverage by the LA Times in 1999, which at the time was condemned. "It's a whole different model," he said.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sports coverage: Public service?

During the Women's Final Four weekend in Tampa, several sports journalists shared experience and tips with college students during the USBWA Sportswriting Seminar. One question from a student for the AP's Doug Feinberg, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Mel Greenberg, and the Chicago Sun-Times' Steve Tucker was about the social value of sports journalism.
Feinberg and Tucker both pointed to the ability of great sports stories to take readers places they otherwise would never visit -- exciting games, emotional locker rooms, athletes' homes. But Greenberg, considered the "guru" of women's college basketball coverage, said he thought the value was his ability to help readers escape their everyday lives and learn about sports. "Basically, you see yourself as a public servant," he said.

Coverage at the Women's Final Four

The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times both featured front-page stories about women's sports over the weekend during the Final Four championship. Among the storylines: a piece on women and performance-enhancing drugs ("When women dope, it's different") and another that warned of the perils as women's basketball gains success.
The Tampa Tribune on Saturday also featured a centerpiece headlined "Final Four Gives Lesbians Forum to Celebrate Women." The piece, which focused on lesbian fans at the tournament and drew its share of protest from readers, included a sentence that read that the NCAA has "supported lesbian athletes." After the article was posted on the Tribune's Web site, the NCAA released a statement distancing itself from the idea that the tournament draws lesbian fans (I guess there are limits to that support ...).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The war's boon to adapted sports coverage

The Washington Post Friday ran a front-page article about U.S. war vets who are trying out for the Paralympic team. As the article points out, more than a dozen vets are vying for a spot on the U.S. team.
Traditionally, the Paralympics have been ignored by the U.S. press, and a quick check on Google News shows that most coverage this year has been in overseas media. But the fact that U.S. military members will represent the U.S. in a new way -- in an international sporting competition -- could help bring the Paralympics the media attention it deserves.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A fresh (not!) look for the black athlete

When I found out that LeBron James was to be on the cover of Vogue, I was hoping for a different type of image than one that would fall into one of two typical categories for black athlets: 1. athlete in menacing pose (dangerous); or 2. athlete with shirt off (sexualized).
It turned out to be #1. I was disappointed -- as was ESPN's Jemele Hill, who writes about the image. Hill takes James to task for it, but certainly, that image is one of many for which he posed. I'm sorry the magazine editors opted for such a tired, stereotypical depiction.
p.s.-- To Jemele: Please, when appropriate, take ESPN's magazine to task for these same types of images.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sports journalists: OK without athletes

In a Q & A with The Big Lead, SI's Selena Roberts says that despite the increasing difficulty in access to teams, events and athletes, "the industrious writer will be fine." Columnists will survive, she says, because athletes want their voice heard when opinion about their performance is proffered. And reporters will survive, she says, because they don't need athletes to write a story. "Sometimes, all a reporter needs is relatives, ex-friends and court records to paint a picture."
Sometimes, yes. But the subsequent story is almost always incomplete without the athlete. And relatives, ex-friends and bloggers can go straight to sports fans without the filter of a sports journalist -- another challenge entirely.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Media "was played"

Steroids expert Charles Yesalis, on a panel at Penn State tonight with journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams (Game of Shadows), said the idea that steroid or HGH use exists among only "a few bad apples" is a myth that many journalists bought for years. The truth, he contends, is that "there are only a few good apples in the barrel." He estimates, for instance, that upwards of 95% of NFL players have used HGH and that use of HGH or steroids among NCAA Division I football players is another story that's gone uncovered.
Fainaru-Wada and Williams acknowledged that the NFL has generally gone unscrutinized, but said a big reason is the NFL's sophisticated PR operations, in which the NFL moves swiftly to keep a story from taking off.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Widening the boundaries?

The New York Times sports section today ran a story on competing figure skaters Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek, contrasting their images and skating styles against the backdrop of normative masculinity. Weir, whom sportswriters routinely describe as "flamboyant" in thinly veiled speculation about his sexuality, is described as antithesis to Lysacek, who is described in ways that match mainstream ideas about men in sports (complete with the declaration that he is dating "ESPN's Hottest Female Athlete"). The article, which ultimately frames Weir negatively, does suggest that acceptable masculinities in sports could -- perhaps -- become more accommodating.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The way for disabled athletes into coverage

The April issue of Runner's World devotes several pages (including the Editor's Letter) to the case of Oscar Pistorius, a South African amputee whose 400 m. time is faster than of many able-bodied athletes. This isn't the first time that Runner's World has dedicated ink to runners with a disability, nor will it be the last. Another runner, Tatyana McFadden, has also made news lately with her bid to join her high school's track team.
It is interesting to note that disabled athletes who compete in individual, participatory-type sports (those that do not require the levels of organization of basketball or softball, for instance) generally receive more coverage than those competing in other sports. I think that these kinds of sports are more open to diversity in coverage, and I believe that disability-sports advocates who are looking for better media coverage should start with participatory sports (running, triathloning, swimming, biking). This kind of coverage could help open the door to better all-around coverage of adapted-sport (disabled) athletes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

ESPN the Mag at 10: A dressy occasion

ESPN the Magazine's anniversary double issue features 10 covers -- most of male athletes, of course, and all posed in street clothes. Apparently, athletes will appear more often in stylish street clothes in the magazine, as it has hired a fashion director and will being running fashion credits. The images of style-conscious men in the mag certainly provides food for thought about the ways images of masculinity in sports are evolving. But the evolution will more likely serve the economic interests of the magazine by attracting apparel advertisers than advance gender roles.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

'Where have all the women gone?'

NYT writer Karen Crouse, in an interview with The Big Lead posted today, was asked about the hurdles facing women in sports journalism. Although she speculated that "the pool of Superwomen is not that deep" (this is the comment that garnered attention from Romenesko), the more important comment is this one: "there are some papers -- including a few I've worked for -- where if they have one woman on the writing staff, they feel no need to hire another."
Another interesting comment comes in the back-and-forth of feedback on the The Big Lead blog (some of it cruel) about Crouse. Finally, one post speculates that a reason women might not be eager to pursue and retain careers in sports journalism "could have something to do with the way that we male fans treat women on things like...sports blogs?"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A positive review

Media coverage of gays and lesbians in sports is improving, said Pat Griffin, a leading scholar and activist on issues of homophobia in sports during a lecture at Penn State tonight. Griffin said media coverage has started to educate people about homophobia and facilitated greater acceptance of gays and lesbians. Griffin and activist Lea Robinson outlined the ways that conditions are improving for sexual minorities in sports, most notably in the willingness of players to accept gay teammates and the support athletes receive from their families in coming out. At the same time, though, they critiqued image of female athletes that reinforced the hetero-sexy ideal for lesbians and noted that coverage of the Don Imus incident last year didn't focus enough on his homophobia.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

High school sports on TV: The price

New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick's column, "ESPN, schools invite trouble," is a little over the top, but it informs a larger point about the increasing commercialization, mediation and exploitation of high school athletics by big-time networks like ESPN. Mushnick sounds the alarm about a 9 p.m. high school game in Jersey City, a place he describes a "very tough town" and no place an ESPN exec would want his child after the game was over.
I think that even though Mushnick pushes the envelope a bit, he points to the way coverage of high school sports at the national level can alter the educational values for which scholastic sports were designed. The price for cheap sports programming will become very high if educators and parents do not protect the athletes and the integrity of their sports programs.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What they make: Sports reporters' salaries

Despite recent stories in the WSJ and the NYT comparing sportswriters to rock stars (I wrote about it in late December), the average salary of a sportswriter at an APSE-member paper is around $47,000, according a phone survey of more than 200 reporters. The minimum salary was $18,000 and the highest salary reported was $150,000. The average for women was slightly less than for men. For a complete breakdown, go to the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism Web site and see the "Newspaper Salaries" report, which was just posted.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sexualizing the sporting woman

SI's swimsuit edition, the magazine's biggest money maker, was released last week. The magazine, in keeping with a practice that stretches back at least 10 years, features athletes in sexually provocatives poses -- this year, it's Danica Patrick. Although sports feminists have condemned such images as degrading to women, athletes like Patrick argue that it's a sign of their empowerment. Our interviews with collegiate athletes -- many of whom look to women like Patrick as role models -- show they are torn. They see posing as an athlete's right...but they aren't so sure about the "empowerment" part.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Teetering on the Edge of Sports

Dave Zirin fans should love his improved site, which allows visitors to leave comments about his columns. If you're not a regular reader of Zirin's, I urge you to visit his site for commentary that will bring you back.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Minimizing a minimal role

Michael Hiestand's USA Today column discusses comments by NBC's Andrea Kremer about ESPN's decision to marginalize two female MNF sideline reporters. It's unfortunate, agreed. But, as Hiestand points out, CBS has already dropped its sideline reports, so MNF's decision here should not be a surprise. The sideline role has become virtually the only place where women covering big-time sports get face time (which is measured in seconds, not minutes) -- and it has been framed as a dispensable role.
Kremer charges that ESPN's decision "sets back women." I would argue that when it comes to sports TV, they simply couldn't be set back much more than they were before ESPN's announcement. Women have always been on the sidelines in relationship to televised sports -- and that's the bigger problem.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Seeking the 'supercrip'

Beth Haller's new blog, Media-dis-&-dat, includes entries about media coverage of adapted sports and athletes. Her latest entry discusses how wheeelchair athletes are often molded by reporters to the "supercrip" stereotype. She cites a story by tennis player Ruth Harrigan, who was interviewed many times by reporters seeking this type of angle. Haller adds, "I wish more people with disabilities would write about their experiences being interviewed by the news media. Reporters will only start getting it right when enough people tell them what they do wrong."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Web, women and sports journalism

The Internet has put increasing pressure on sports columnists to write before they think -- in response to "fanatical" sports fans who demand knee-jerk responses to sports controversies. During a panel at the annual AWSM convention, columnists Jemele Hill, Christine Brennan, Jenni Carlson and Jill Painter talked about ways the Web has also enabled them to present themselves in "3-D" -- in text, audio and video, becoming more familiar to sports fans.
The panel was one of a number for women in sports journalism and information over the weekend in Miami. Attendance at the convention was among the highest in the organization's history, signaling AWSM's growth and visibility. But the employment of women in the industry remains low, especially in online media. A top editor with Yahoo!Sports told the group on Saturday that no women are in key roles with sports at Yahoo.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sports and politics on the eve of Super Tuesday

LZ Granderson's ESPN column asks why black athletes aren't more involved in presidential politics, especially in light of the fact that an African-American has a serious shot at winning. Granderson's informal survey of about 100 black NFL and NBA athletes found that many aren't even registered to vote.
Granderson implies apathy as the primary reason that most black athletes don't speak out politically. That may be the case. But another resaon they don't is that they may risk their livelihoods by doing so. After all, their paychecks are controlled by corporate owners who may not share their views. As Dave Zirin has also pointed out, players who make political statements have also drawn the wrath of journalists and a fan base who'd rather they shut up and play.
It is interesting to note that some high-profile retired athletes have gotten involved in this year's race, including Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson. So have the team owners and other high-ranking sports executives, including David Stern, Arthur Blank, Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones Sr.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Women gone wild"?

Mike Downey's Chicago Tribune sports column uses the Dana Jacobson incident to announce that women (surprise!) can "make a complete, utter, politically incorrect jackass of herself, just like a man." He then cites other incidents over the past year to make his case. My question: Why is gender a point of discussion when it is associated with a woman? And why would we expect any differently from women than from men unless we're buying into the myth that women are somehow "purer" than men? That ideology is embedded in sexist notions about the place and abilities of women in society.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

No diversity? No surprise.

A survey of major sports news sites on the Web posted on The Big Lead bemoans the lack of racial minorities with bylines on sites such as Yahoo and Fox Sports. The numbers are dismal, to be sure, but they need more context, as some of the comments point out. They also point to a larger problem that goes well beyond sports departments in any newsroom (lack of racial diversity in general, especially in the print ranks). The blog entry also focuses on racial disparities when those involving gender are much greater.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Do women watch?

A recent post on the Women's Hoops Blog quotes broadcaster Beth Mowins bemoaning what she believes is a major reason that networks don't show women's sports: women don't watch them. For hard-core fans of women's sports, this is hard to believe. Yet our focus groups with women last year found little evidence that middle-aged women with busy families and careers would take the time to watch women's sports. Our participants indicated that they watched men's sports primarily to connect with husbands, boyfriends, and other significant men in their lives.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More exposure for women's sports

Buried underneath the avalanche of stories about the fiasco at Golfweek is news that earlier this week, Women's Sports Television announced a partnership with Suncastv.com. Viewers will see coverage of National Women's Football Association games along with events in the Women's Pro Racquetball Tour, Women's Professional Rodeo and International Softball Federation, according to a release. Women's football games may also be available on a regional sports network in Pittsburgh. FSN Pittsburgh is talking to the Passion about televising some of the team's home games.

Monday, January 14, 2008

No comment.

Lead from today's Associated Press story about the Australian Open: "Wearing fuchsia bicycle shorts and a headband, a short white dress and dangling, chandelier-inspired earrings, Serena Williams found her form quickly and beat Jarmila Gajdosova, 6-3, 6-3, today in the first match at the Australian Open."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Disability and sports: Defining 'normal'

A colleague pointed out a Poynter.org column posted before Christmas that I had missed, but it is worth noting. Susan LoTempio, AME for Readership at The Buffalo News, wrote about "better-off-dead" framing that is common in stories about injured athletes. The recent example she used is the story of NFL player Kevin Everett, whose spine was seriously injured. She writes:
    "In our athlete-as-hero worshipping culture, there seems no greater tragedy for an athlete than to be "normal" one day and "not normal" the next. That's why, when an athlete gets hurt, you get dramatic language in stories and headlines like, "fallen hero suffering the ultimate tragedy" or "waging an inspirational fight for his life."

    In other words, we in the media perpetuate the definition of what is normal. And while it makes great copy, it assumes that the athlete's life may as well be over because he will never walk again, never play again, never be "whole" again."

LoTempio provides excellent recommendations for writing about athletes with injuries. She points out that wheelchair-users do lead "normal" lives -- many of them involving sports participation.