Newspaper Reporters

What’s Right and What’s Wrong with Sports Media- Reporters and Columnists

In 2007 when I wrote this column on what I thought was the best and worst of sports media, the first category I explored was Newspaper and Magazine Reporting. Since newspapers and magazines are now just a segment of the platforms by which sports is reported, I thought I’d just focus on general reporting and opinion columnists, regardless of the platform by which it is delivered.  This will not be an indictment of any individual reporter or columnist, just an overview of what I think reporters and columnists do, or no longer do, well.

Today’s professional journalists are still the best at providing coverage of the world of sports.  Many sports bloggers are doing some great work as well, but if I had my choice of who I rely on for information, I will continue to choose those who are trained in the art of reporting.   Don’t get me wrong there are some bad reporters out there, but as a whole I value the work done by the professionals over the non-professionals.

What I said in 2007 still holds true today…I like when reporters report.  If your beat is to be the eyes of a specific team or specific sport, your job is to report the facts of what is happening, along with reaction from these involved.  You are not paid to offer opinion in your day-to-day work.  If part of your beat is to offer an opinion column every so often, that’s where you can let your thoughts on the facts come through.  Give us the facts and let us decide how to interpret them.

I see a greater disconnect between general sports columnists and the topics they cover.  There appears to be less research done on a topic but more reaction.  Maybe it’s because we sports fans are able to get the facts of a story from so many sources that the columnist feels he or she doesn’t need to delve into them any further.  That’s understandable.  But I do miss when a columnist mixes opinion with some reporting.

Reporters and columnists today seem to possess a general lack of humility.  There was a time, not too long ago, when sports radio and television hosts were trained in electronic media and reporters generally worked for newspapers.  Now many of those same writers host radio and/or television shows.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of modest reporters out there.  But there are a growing number of others who let their increased visibility go to their heads.

I really hate when those critical of professional sports reporters accuse them of being cozy with athletes, coaches and ownership.  For a journalist to do his or her work, there needs to be a respectful relationship established between the reporter and those he or she covers.  Without that access reporters do not have a job.  I disagree with many who say that reporters are often protective of the people they cover.  That may have been the case a few decades ago, but since the beginning of the sensationalizing of sports (a topic I’ll cover in another post) reporters today are more aware of the need to break news regardless of who is impacted.  Again the best reporters do this in a respective, professional manner.   That can’t be said for all those who cover sports.

The sports reporter of today is aided greatly by technology (another topic for a future post).  That technology has yielded what we now know as the 24 hour news cycle.  Reporters now work harder to gain/maintain readership.  The days of writing one game story a day is over.  These reporters now need to file multiple times a day for fear of being out-hustled by a competitor.   As a sports fan I like that I can get my sports news now.

What I don’t like is that the “get it out now” news mentality often means there is less time available for the production of unique content for readers.  Too much time is wasted posting the starting line-ups when the reporter should be working on investigative pieces and player profiles.

The reporters of today (and especially of tomorrow) are those adept at multi-tasking and have a firm grasp of all aspects of media production.  The pad and pen days are over.  Even the voice recorder and Microsoft Word days may soon be over.  Young reporters today are getting skilled in the art of writing, shooting and editing photos and videos, producing podcasts, and speaking in 140 characters or less.  I’m excited by that.  I’m not excited by the prospect that the cost of this well-rounded media education could come at the expense of quality reporting.

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Should Reporters Be Allowed to Independently Blog?

A few months ago I commented on the firing of Washington Post reporter Michael Tunison after he identified himself as a contributor to the Kissing Suzy Kolber blog.  Another blog has done some research as to how other newspapers would feel if one of its reporters blogged, on their free time, outside of their official duties.

Bloggasm surveyed 250 editors across the country to gauge their response as to whether they would allow their reporters to independently blog without permission.  Read the full account here.

If I ran a newsroom, reporters would be placed on a different plane when it comes to their off-hours blogging.  I think the response in the Bloggasmpiece by Vickie Holbrook at the Idaho-Press Tribune hits it on the head;

“A reporter can’t turn his credibility on or off as he enters and leaves the newspaper office,” she wrote. “So where do you draw the line on what’s OK and what’s not?…Politics would not be acceptable. Gardening would be.”

I agree with Holbrook.  I would not have a problem if I were an editor and a reporter wanted to blog outside the office.  I would allow them to do so, under the following conditions:

1.  The reporter MUST identify himself/herself.  It really bothers me that some bloggers hide their identity by posting as “Anonymous” or via a pseudonym.  If you have the guts to post your opinion, show the guts to identify the source of that opinion.  Keep your interests out in the open.

2.  I would not allow reporters to blog on topics relating to their beat.  This makes it difficult for general news reporters to blog on many issues because it may one day become part of a story.  It may be easier for sports reporters to blog on topics in the news than news reporters blogging on sports.  At least as long as the sports reporter doesn’t one day become part of the general news staff.

I do agree that allowing reporters to blog provides them with an outlet to hone their skills and display some creativity that their newspaper beats may not afford them.

When it comes down to it, it’s up to the reporter to decide whether blogging is worth the consequences his or her opinions may bring to his or her job.  I guess Freedom of Specch can come with a price.