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Sports journalism

Sports journalism is a form of journalism that reports on sports topics and events. While the sports department within some newspapers has been mockingly called the toy department, because sports journalists do not concern themselves with the 'serious' topics covered by the news desk, sports coverage has grown in importance as sport has grown in wealth, power and influence.

Sports journalism is an essential element of any news media organization. Sports journalism includes organizations devoted entirely to sports reporting ' newspapers such as L'Equipe in France, La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, Marca in Spain, and the defunct Sporting Life in Britain, American magazines such as Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News, all-sports talk radio stations, and television networks such as Eurosport, ESPN and The Sports Network (TSN).


[edit] Sports journalists' access

In professional and some collegiate sports in the United States, it is common practice to allow properly accredited sports reporters into locker rooms for interviews with players and coaching staff after games, while the sports teams provide extensive information support.

Sports including American football, ice hockey, basketball and baseball understand the essential commercial relationship between media coverage and increased ticket, merchandise and advertising sales.

Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the coverage of soccer, the journalist's role often seems to be barely tolerated by the clubs and players. For example, despite contractual media requirements in the English Premier League, prominent managers Sir Alex Ferguson (of Manchester United) and Harry Redknapp (first at Portsmouth, now at Tottenham Hotspur), refused to conduct post-match interviews on occasions with the rights-holder BBC because of perceived unfavorable coverage.

As with reporters on other news beats, sports journalism should involve investigating the story, rather than simply relying on press releases and prepared statements from the sports team, coaching staff, or players. Sports journalists are expected to verify facts given to them by the athletes, teams, leagues, or organizations they are covering.

[edit] Socio-political significance

Major League Baseball gave print journalists a special role in its games. They were named official scorers and kept statistics that were considered part of the official record of the league. Active sportswriters were removed from this role in 1980. Although their statistical judgment calls could not affect the outcome of a game in progress, the awarding of errors and wins/saves were seen as powerful influences on pitching staff selections and play lists when coach decisions seemed unusual. The removal of writers, who could benefit fiscally from sensational sports stories, was done to remove this perception of a conflict of interest, and to vincrease statistics volume, consistency, and accuracy.

Sports stories occasionally transcend the games themselves and take on socio-political significance: Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball is an example of this. Modern controversies regarding the hyper-compensation of top athletes, the use of anabolic steroids and other, banned performance-enhancing drugs, and the cost to local and national governments to build sports venues and related infrastructure, especially for Olympic Games, also demonstrate how sports can intrude on to the news pages.

Sportswriters regularly face more deadline pressure than other reporters because sporting events tend to occur late in the day and closer to the deadlines many organizations must observe. Yet they are expected to use the same tools as news journalists, and to uphold the same professional and ethical standards. They must take care not to show bias for any team.

Many of the most talented and respected print journalists have been sportswriters. (See List of sports writers.)

[edit] Sports journalism in Europe

The tradition of sports reporting attracting some of the finest writers in journalism can be traced to the coverage of sport in Victorian England, where several modern sports - such as association football, cricket, athletics and rugby - were first organized and codified into something resembling what we would recognize today.

Cricket, possibly because of its esteemed place in society, has regularly attracted the most elegant of writers. The Manchester Guardian, in the first half of the 20th Century, employed Neville Cardus as its cricket correspondent as well as its music critic. Cardus was later knighted for his services to journalism. One of his successors, John Arlott, who became a worldwide favorite because of his radio commentaries on the BBC, and was also known for his poetry.

The first London Olympic Games in 1908 attracted such widespread public interest that many newspapers assigned their very best-known writers to the event. The Daily Mail even had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the White City Stadium to cover the finish of the Marathon.

Such was the drama of that race, in which Dorando Pietri collapsed within sight of the finishing line when leading, that Conan Doyle led a public subscription campaign to see the gallant Italian, having been denied the gold medal through his disqualification, awarded a special silver cup, which was presented by Queen Alexandra. And the public imagination was so well caught by the event that annual races in Boston, Ma, and London, and at future Olympics, were henceforward staged over exactly the same, 26-mile, 385-yard distance used for the 1908 Olympic Marathon, and the official length of the event worldwide to this day.

The London race, called the Polytechnic Marathon and originally staged over the 1908 Olympic route from outside the royal residence at Windsor Castle to White City, was first sponsored by the Sporting Life, which in those Edwardian times was a daily newspaper which sought to cover all sporting events, rather than just a betting paper for horse racing and greyhounds that it became in the years after the Second World War.

In France, L'Auto, the predecessor of L'Equipe, had already played an equally influential part in the sporting fabric of society when it announced in 1903 that it would stage an annual bicycle race around the country. The Tour de France was born, and sports journalism's role in its foundation is still reflected today in the leading rider wearing a yellow jersey - the color of the paper on which L'Auto was published (in Italy, the Giro d'Italia established a similar tradition, with the leading rider wearing a jersey the same pink color as the sponsoring newspaper, La Gazzetta).

[edit] Sports stars in the press box

After the Second World War, the sports sections of British national daily and Sunday newspapers continued to expand, to the point where many papers now have separate standalone sports sections; some Sunday tabloids even have sections, additional to the sports pages, devoted solely to the previous day's football reports. In some respects, this has replaced the earlier practice of many regional newspapers which - until overtaken by the pace of modern electronic media - would produce special results editions rushed out on Saturday evenings.

Some newspapers, such as The Sunday Times, with 1924 Olympic 100 m champion Harold Abrahams, or the London Evening News using former England cricket captain Sir Leonard Hutton, began to adopt the policy of hiring former sports stars to pen columns, which were often ghost written. Some such ghosted columns, however, did little to further the reputation of sports journalism, which is increasingly becoming the subject of academic scrutiny of its standards.

Many "ghosted" columns were often run by independent sports agencies, based in Fleet Street or in the provinces, who had signed up the sports star to a contract and then syndicated their material among various titles. These agencies included Pardons, or the Cricket Reporting Agency, which routinely provided the editors of the Wisden cricket almanac, and Hayters.

Sportswriting in Britain has attracted some of the finest journalistic talents. The Daily Mirror's Peter Wilson, Hugh McIlvanney, first at The Observer and lately at the Sunday Times, Ian Wooldridge of the Daily Mail and soccer writer Brian Glanville, best known at the Sunday Times, and columnist Patrick Collins, of the Mail on Sunday, five times the winner of the Sports Writer of the Year Award.

Many became household names in the late 20th Century through their trenchant reporting of often earth-shattering events that have transcended the back pages and been reported on the front pages: the Massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972; Muhammad Ali's fight career, including his 1974 title bout against George Foreman; the Heysel Stadium disaster; and the career highs and lows of the likes of Tiger Woods, George Best, David Beckham, Lester Piggott and other high profile stars.

McIlvanney and Wooldridge, who died in March 2007, aged 75, both enjoyed careers that saw them frequently work in television. During his career, Wooldridge became so famous that, like the sports stars he reported upon, he hired the services of IMG, the agency founded by the American businessman, Mark McCormack, to manage his affairs. Glanville wrote several books, including novels, as well as scripting the memorable official film to the 1966 World Cup staged in England.

[edit] Investigative journalism and sport

Since the 1990s, the growing importance of sport, its impact as a global business and the huge amounts of money involved in the staging of events such as the Olympic Games and football World Cups, has also attracted the attention of investigative journalists. The sensitive nature of the relationships between sports journalists and the subjects of their reporting, as well as declining budgets experienced by most Fleet Street newspapers, has meant that such long-term projects have often emanated from television documentary makers.

Tom Bower, with his 2003 sports book of the year Broken Dreams, which analyzed British football, followed in the tradition established a decade earlier by Andrew Jennings and Vyv Simson with their controversial investigation of corruption within the International Olympic Committee. Jennings and Simson's The Lords of the Rings in many ways predicted the scandals that were to emerge around the staging of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; Jennings would follow-up with two further books on the Olympics and one on FIFA, the world football body.

Likewise, award-winning writers Duncan Mackay, of The Guardian, and Steven Downes unravelled many scandals involving doping, fixed races and bribery in international athletics in their 1996 book, Running Scared, which offered an account of the threats by a senior track official that led to the suicide of their sports journalist colleague, Cliff Temple.

But the writing of such exposes - referred to as "spitting in the soup" by Paul Kimmage, the former Tour de France professional cyclist, now an award-winning writer for the Sunday Times - often requires the view of an outsider who is not compromised by the need of day-to-day dealings with sportsmen and officials, as required by "beat" correspondents.

The stakes can be high when upsetting sport's powers: when in 2007, the England's FA opted to switch its multi-million pound contract for UK coverage rights of the FA Cup and England international matches from the BBC to rival broadcasters ITV, one of the reasons cited was that the BBC had been too critical of the performances of the England football team.

[edit] Sports books

Increasingly, sports journalists have turned to long-form writing, producing popular books on a range of sporting topics, including biographies, history and investigations.

In London, through the 1980s and 1990s, one shop on Charing Cross Road - the area known for its book shops - was entirely devoted to sport, although the growth of online book sales through websites such as Amazon eventually led to the closure of Sports Books.

This was not before, though, the establishment, through sponsorship from William Hill, the bookmakers, of an annual prize for the sports book of the year. This was first held in 1989, when Dan Topolski's book about one of the most controversial University Boat Races was declared the winner.

The status of the awards, and of sports books generally, were enhanced greatly in 1992 when Nick Hornby's first novel, Fever Pitch, took first prize. Both Fever Pitch and True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny have subsequently been adapted into feature-length motion pictures. In the first 21 years of the award, only two writers, Donald McRae, in 1996 and 2002, Duncan Hamilton, in 2007 and 2009, have won the William Hill award more than once.

Unsurprisingly, given cricket writers' often literary aspirations and the appetite for books on cricket, by 2009 the summer game had six times been the subject of the prize-winning book.

The same panel of judges is used each year, chaired by John Gstaad, the founder of the Sports Books shop, and including broadcaster John Inverdale and acclaimed sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney.

The award has not been without controversy. In 2000, the award went for the first time to a "ghosted" book, Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike. At the time, some also observed the irony of the award going to the American Tour de France winner, when, in 1990, Paul Kimmage's stern critique of doping in cycling, Rough Ride, had been declared the winner.

The judges' choice in 2006, Geoffrey Ward's Unforgivable Blackness, was criticised because it had been first published in 2004.

Winners of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year

2009: Harold Larwood: The World's Fastest Bowler, Duncan Hamilton
2008: Coming Back To Me, Marcus Trescothick (with Peter Hayter)
2007: Provided You Don't Kiss Me, Duncan Hamilton
2006: Unforgivable Blackness, Geoffrey Ward
2005: My Father and other Working Football Class Heroes, Gary Imlach
2004: Basil D'Oliveira, Peter Oborne
2003: Broken Dreams, Tom Bower
2002: In Black & White, Donald McRae
2001: Seabiscuit - The True Story Of 3 Men & A Race Horse, Laura Hillenbrand
2000: It's Not About the Bike - My Journey Back to Life, Lance Armstrong
1999: A Social History of English Cricket, Derek Birley
1998: Angry White Pyjamas, Robert Twigger
1997: A Lot Of Hard Yakka, Simon Hughes
1996: Dark Trade, Donald McRae
1995: A Good Walk Spoiled, John Feinstein
1994: Football Against The Enemy, Simon Kuper
1993: Endless Winter, Stephen Jonesand Ashley Grover
1992: Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby
1991: Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times, Thomas Hauser
1990: Rough Ride, Paul Kimmage
1989: True Blue, Dan Topolski

[edit] Sports journalism organizations

Most countries have their own national association of sports journalists. Many sports also have their own clubs and associations for specialist journalists. These organizations attempt to maintain the standard of press provision at sports venues, oversee fair accreditation procedures and to celebrate high standards of sports journalism.

In Britain, the Sports Journalists' Association was founded in 1948. It stages two prestigious awards events, an annual Sports Awards ceremony which recognises outstanding performances by British sportsmen and women during the previous year, and the British Sports Journalism Awards, the industry's "Oscars", sponsored by UK Sport and presented each March.

Originally founded as the Sports Writers' Association, following a merger with the Professional Sports Photographers' Association in 2002 the organization changed its title to the more inclusive SJA.

Its President is the veteran broadcaster and columnist, Sir Michael Parkinson.

The SJA represents the British sports media on the British Olympic Association's press advisory committee and acts as a consultant to organizers of major events who need guidance on media requirements as well as seeking to represent its members' interests in a range of activities.

In March 2008, Martin Samuel, then the chief football correspondent of The Times, was named British Sportswriter of the Year, the first time any journalist had managed to win the award three years in succession.

At the same awards, Jeff Stelling, of Sky Sports, was named Sports Broadcaster of the Year for the third time, a prize determined by a ballot of SJA members. Stelling won the vote again the following year, when the Sunday Times's Paul Kimmage won the interviewer of the year prize for a fifth time.

The International Sports Press Association, AIPS, was founded in 1924 during the Olympic Games in Paris, at the headquarters of the Sporting Club de France, by Frantz Reichel, the press chief of the Paris Games, and the Belgian, Victor Boin.

The first statutes of AIPS mentioned these objectives:

to enhance the cooperation between its member associations in defending sport and the professional interest of their members.

to strengthen the friendship, solidarity and common interests between sports journalists of all countries.

to assure the best possible working conditions for the members.

AIPS operates through a system of continental sub-associations and national associations, and liaises closely with some of the world's biggest sports federations, including the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, football's world governing body and the IAAF, the international track and field body.

In the United States, the Indianapolis-based National Sports Journalism Center monitors trends and strategy within the sports media industry. The center is also home to the Associated Press Sports Editors, the largest group of sports media professionals in the country.

[edit] Fanzines and blogs

Through the 1970s and '80s, a rise in "citizen journalism" in Europe was witnessed in the rapid growth in popularity of soccer "fanzines" - cheaply printed magazines written by fans for fans that bypassed often stilted official club match programs and traditional media. Many continue today and thrive.

Some authors have been adopted by their clubs - Jim Munro, once editor of the West Ham United fanzine Fortune's Always Dreaming, was hired by the club to write for its matchday magazine and is now sports editor of The Sun Online. Other titles, such as the irreverent monthly soccer magazine When Saturday Comes, have effectively gone mainstream.

The advent of the internet has seen much of this fan-generated energy directed into sports blogs. Ranging from team-centric blogs to those that cover the sports media itself, Deadspin.com, ProFootballTalk.com, AOL Fanhouse, the blogs in the Yardbarker Network, and others have garnered massive followings.

Blogging has also been taken up by sportsmen and women such as Curt Schilling, Paula Radcliffe, Greg Oden, Donovan McNabb, and Chris Cooley.

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

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