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Centre for Investigative Journalism
Annual Convention: Individual Reports


by Abrey Myers


"Sportswriters have had a long history of making themselves look bad, even worse than they really are."

Allen Frizzell


ALLAN GARR OF VANCOUVER was quoted by Content at last year's CIJ convention saying this about the sports reporters: "(They're) one of the most corrupt going... Jock or rock reporters get free parking, no ticket cost, get drunk, snort heroin."

Even if it isn't true, this is the image of sportswriters, as others see them and as they see themselves. Michael Farber of the Montreal Gazette and Réjean Tremblay of La Presse both made the point that good writing can and does come from sportswriters.

Said Farber, "Sportswriters have had a history of making themselves look bad, even worse than they really are... I'm not implying that sportswriters are bought off by drinks. I mean, everybody has their price. Now, $10,000, I'd go for that. A drink, I can afford that myself. In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, I don't think they were buying off sportswriters, but everyone coming off the plane was carrying a color television, stereos, and having a wonderful time."

Farber said that sportswriters have had a tradition of selling themselves out, "which makes us not the first oldest profession, but the second oldest profession."

"Journalism, as far as I can tell, is journalism. You're investigating all the time, there shouldn't be a distinction." The name "Centre for Investigative Journalism" should be changed; it implies that there are other kinds of journalism, "such as the Centre for Puff Journalism... or the Centre for Rewriting Press Releases Journalism."

It's not easy to add dimension to the major sports, because most are carried on television, which "can tell it better than any typed copy."

The secret is to go where the camera crews don't go: into the dressing rooms, onto the airplane, into the bars after the game. Sportswriters, the good sportswriters, will write for the person who doesn't regularly read the sports pages. They will also become "collectors of moments": Ken Read saying "Isn't it a shame?" about the loss of a ski at the Winter Olympics; a description of the second baseman of the Phillies having a voice like Tennessee Whiskey.

The solid investigative pieces come, but not too often. Farber investigated the three-star selection at the end of professional hockey games and determined that anglophone sportswriters tend to favour anglophone players and that francophone sportswriters tend to favour francophone players. (The story was reprinted in the CIJ Review.)

Tremblay wondered at what point money interferes with the profession. "You should take everything that is said with a grain of salt. There are tremendous liberties taken with statements made in sports. If you were a politician you couldn't make half the statements sportswriters make."

A difficulty for the writer starting out in sportswriting: "How do you do a critical review of a hockey player like Lafleur, when you have heard and admired him all your life?"

On writing a review of a bad performance when you have to sit in the same plane with the player the next day: "If you have written a fair story and a good story, you should having nothing to worry about."

The question of cleaning up the act in the sportswriting beat is not easy to answer. Farber said "that you can really look at it two ways and I think it's very valid—that we are giving Charles Bronfman, the owner of the Expos, free publicity. General Motors couldn't buy that publicity. The Expos or any private corporation couldn't buy the publicity that we're giving them—free—in the guise of news. And Ross Grimsley's arm is news and, therefore, Charles Bronfman and his corporation get a lot of publicity. I accept that and I think that a valid case can be made for that and, therefore, you can say 'What's wrong with accepting something from the corporation? It goes on all the time.' Maybe we can get into that later. I'm not sure I have all the answers."

It was not brought up during question-and-answer period, so this question will have to wait for another day.


Published in Sources May/June 1980


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