Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sports reporting: Does objectivity matter?

With the media spotlight hot and bright on every key player in the Super Bowl this Sunday, the story about the relationship between Larry Fitzgerald Sr., a sportswriter, and his son, a wide receiver for the Cardinals, has been subject to the typical over-hyped treatment such human-interest stories get. Writers including Rick Reilly have focused dutifully on the ethical commitment by Fitzgerald to obey the no-cheering-in-the-pressbox rule.
Josh Levin's recent Slate article, though, points out that Fitzgerald has not been "objective" in stories about his son. Levin uses examples to point out the very loud cheering -- in the pages of the Spokesman-Recorder. The story has been picked up by the sports blogosphere and used as an excuse to lampoon or criticize the reporter.
I think the more important question, though, is about the assumption by writers that "objectivity" (e.g., avoiding rooting for a victory by a team or athlete) by sports reporters is something sports fans and readers want in their coverage or even see as an ethical issue.. I'm not so sure that whether Fitzgerald will cheer or not on Sunday is of much interest - or relevance -- to fans.
Research has consistently shown that both fans and journalists think homerism on the sports pages is OK. Perhaps the more relevant columns would be those that ask why that is, and what the consequences are for the wider practice of sports journalism.

No comments: