Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Curley Center Chat Evaluates Coverage of Youth Sports

Some basic sports rules—including three strikes and you’re out in baseball or 10 yards for a first down in football—apply whether a game is contested among professionals or pre-teens, but accepted and expected conduct of the media when covering those competitions often differs according to the age and experience of participants.

The challenges, ethics and responsibilities for journalists covering youth sports will be discussed at 1 p.m. Monday, March 21, during an online chat conducted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

"Ethical Issues in the Coverage of Youth Sports" is free, and people may access and participate in the session by visiting online.

Participants include:
--Steve Barr, director of media relations for Little League Baseball and Softball;
--George Dohrmann, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes for Sports Illustrated and authored “Play Their Hearts Out,” which examines grassroots basketball, in 2010;
--Tracy Greer, online editor of the North County Times in Escondido, Calif.; and
--Malcolm Moran, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the Curley Center.

Marie Hardin, an associate professor of communications at Penn State and associate director of the Curley Center, will serve as moderator for the hour-long session, which will focus on journalism coverage of youth sports and how the age of the participants can and should shape how media outlets cover those activities.

The Curley Center explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, outreach, programming and research. The Center's undergraduate curricular emphasis includes courses in sports writing, sports broadcasting, sports information, sports, media and society, and sports and public policy, which is cross-listed with the Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

- Curley Center for Sports Journalism

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Sports-talk radio hosts talk about social media challenges

It’s no surprise to hear that online social networks and the blogosphere are creating new dilemmas for sports-talk radio hosts. Rumors run rampant on the Web and athletes are less likely to grant in-person interviews, adding to the challenges faced by hosts who make a living commenting daily on what’s happening with local sports teams.

Visiting Penn State for the “Sports-Talk Radio: Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh” event, radio hosts Mike Missanelli of 97.5 (The Fanatic) in Philadelphia and Paul Alexander of 93.7 (The Fan) in Pittsburgh spoke to students about some of the challenges of being in sports radio. In addition to giving students plenty of advice about breaking into—and being successful in—sports radio, the two hosts spoke about some of the issues and benefits of the presence of social networking sites and blogs.

One of the biggest challenges Alexander and Missanelli face involves separating fact from fiction, or debunking the rumors that gain legs on the Internet. While discussing the importance and challenges of cultivating information and sources, Alexander lamented his pet peeve of dealing with “information that surfaces on blogs that remains unsubstantiated.” Missanelli echoed this sentiment, explaining that when rumors do crop up “you can’t report things as a story.”

To these hosts, cultivating sources is a matter of getting their job done correctly. By gaining the trust of reliable sources and not chasing rumors, both Alexander and Missanelli feel they can receive confirmation about stories while not making mistakes.

“We’re reporters at heart because we both grew up as reporters,” Missanelli said. “We try to combine that with the entertainment of sports-talk radio.”

“I love to dig a whole lot deeper,” Alexander added, “and provide information and opinion that is well informed and source generated.”

The importance of being well informed and getting information correct was driven home by Alexander when talking about the balance between chasing a story and being competitive. Echoing the sentiments of previous speaker Tom Verducci (, Alexander said, “I’m not about being first, I’m about being right. If I can be first, that’s awesome.”

“I don’t want to get something wrong first,” Alexander said, “I want to be right first.”

Additionally, the hosts felt that Twitter use has actually reduced athletes’ willingness to talk to reporters. Missanelli said that using Twitter and Facebook has given athletes “another reason not to talk to you,” and that in some cases athletes direct reporters to their Twitter for comments. Alexander used Tiger Woods as an example, pointing out that “all his information is transmitted on his website,” making it unnecessary for him to grant interviews.

Despite some of the drawbacks posed by social networks and blogs, the hosts agreed that they can also benefit from using these online tools. For example, the hosts can use Facebook to announce what they’re talking about on the air to generate interest in their program. Additionally, Missanelli pointed out that radio is “immediate” and reaction happens instantaneously. Facebook can then enhance the show by generating more of that instant feedback and improving listener numbers.

Overall, the benefits and issues related to the presence of social media and blogs in the sports-talk landscape aren’t necessarily new. Although rumors may crop up or athletes may be hard to reach, reporters like Alexander and Missanelli fall back on the same tactics they’ve always used when chasing stories: follow leads, build trust among reliable sources and don’t break a story unless you’re confident you’ve got your facts straight.

- Melanie Formentin