Sports journalism is a branch of journalism that reports on sports topics and events. Journalists within a newspaper always mockingly refer to the sports section as the toy department, because sports reporters do not concern themselves with serious topics covered by the news desk. But sports coverage over the years has grown in importance as sport has grown in wealth, power and influence.
Sports journalism is an essential element of any media organization. Sports have grown in popularity that no media can afford to do without it. In fact in most developed country and some African country too, they have newspapers entirely devoted to sports reporting, newspapers like L’Equipe in France, La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, Marca in Spain and Abola in Portugal. In America, they have magazines such as Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News, sports radio stations and television networks such as Eurosport, ESPN and The Sports Network (TSN).
Sportswriters regularly face more deadline pressure than other reporters because sporting events tend to occur late in the day and closer to 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. 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.
What is it like to cover a professional sports team? That’s one of the questions you get most when you are a sportscasters or sports writer. What is it like to cover a professional locker room? Well, in some instances, not much fun. Post-game settings are often a war zone, a minefield of bruised egos that have undergone rejection, dejection and in some cases, ejection. And after all that, they have to answer the: who, what, where, why and how it all happened. This is done while many are half naked and exhausted.
Many sports editors always remember days when they have had to cram into limited space they have been allotted details of some sporting events that are of significance. They have got to mention everything and some fans would want to know happened, even if it is only the score or the result. On our own papers in Sierra Leone, it is easy to deal with because most of our readership interest is in football especially international. We could easily get the stories and do the layout without any strain.
But in newspaper that are based where the action is, it is far more hectic. Sport over a wider area is being covered; consequently there is more of it and it is not confined to weekend. Professional sport goes on all week. Soccer, rugby, cricket, basketball, base ball and volleyball will need to be reported, but also there will be fringe activities and gossip and reports to be written about sports like tennis, horse racing, fencing and archery, as well as interviews with players wanting transfers and talks with managers of un successful clubs or clubs doing business and consequently there will be a bigger staff to cope.
The tree of the sports department is the sports editor who is a senior staff, followed by the deputy sports editor, who takes over when the editor is away. When the sports editor is present, the deputy will act as his assistant, briefing correspondents, designing pages and covering his or her own area of specialization.
The rest of the sports staff might consist of a chief sports sub-editor, a senior sports sub-editor and two or three other general sub-editors. These will do the same sort of work as the news sub-editors, except that they will be working on a more restricted range of stories and will be expected to have more specialized in-depth knowledge of sporting matters.
There will also be sports writers who will be out of the office most of the time. These might include a basketball correspondent, a soccer reporter, a cricket correspondent, perhaps a rugby and tennis reporter and probably a columnist who would also report rugby and soccer matches.
Sports stories occasionally transcend the games themselves and take on socio-political significance: Example of the drug case in baseball when Jackie Robinson break the color barrier in the sport 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 intrudes on to the news pages.
In the 1950s and 60s saw a rapid growth in sports coverage, both in print and on broadcast media. It also saw the development of specialist sports news and photographic agencies. Photographer Tony Duffy founded the picture agency AllSport in south London shortly after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and, through some outstanding photography such as Duffy’s iconic image of the American long jumper Bob Beamon flying through the air towards his world record at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the astute marketing of its images, saw the business grow into a multi-million pound, worldwide concern that ultimately would be bought and re-named Getty Images.
Since the 1990s, the growing importance of sport, its impact as a global business and the huge amounts of money involved from sponsorship and in the staging of the Olympic Games and football World Cups, has also attracted the attention of well-known 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 newspapers has meant that such long-term projects have often emanated from television documentary makers.
We have seen many investigative sports journalists that have done remarkably well to bring out the misfortunes in the sporting world. Andrew Jennings and Vyv Simson were the ones who brought out the corruption within the IOC for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Before the SLFA elections last year, I wrote stories of how corruption and bribery would re-elect Nahim Kadi and how football would never be successful so long the clubs secretaries are not up to the task.
I was proved right and football in the country is degenerating everyday with no solution in sight, because the SLFA is corrupt and inept to make the positive changes that are required within the sport. There is no calendar of events, the clubs are in abject poverty and lacks direction like the administrators, at the end, it is just the same thing that happens year in year out.
But the writing of such expose – referred to as spitting in the soup by Paul Kimmage, the former Tour de France professional cyclist, who now writes 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 English 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.
It’s part of the turf of professional athletes. Interviews are part of the game, part of the process. The sports triangle has always been the players, fans and media, even though the pay scale of one totally dwarfs the other two. The press of media is there to get the scoop, the story and quotes so that the fans not present can read all about it. What you do see and read in the finished product of post-game interviews and one-on-ones, are edited and watered down, if you will, for time constraints and content. While many of the quotes are not gems, for equal time, neither are some of the questions.
Some players talk to the media, a few don’t. Some who do talk don’t say anything, giving you a kaleidoscope of clichés just to fill the time. They don’t want to blow you off, but again they don’t want to say anything meaningful or controversial. And the sad part of this process is that many teams are coached on how to do this.
Obviously, it’s safer to go into a locker room after a victory. The atmosphere is more upbeat, and the stories and players are more accessible. However, after a bitter loss, watch it. There is a funeral-like dirge around the cubicles. The wrong question or follow-up can set off fireworks. On some occasions, violence is in the air.
This is for more professional reporting and not for us in Sierra Leone as most of the fans don’t care whether Blackpool or Lions win or loose as it is not important to them because there are no stakes and they are just playing football for fun. The fans will only be interested when there is an international match and we have to interview the foreign players and get their views on the match.
In my studies, sports’ reporting is very fascinating and enjoyable if it is done in the right atmosphere. Sports have become a big industry with billionaires becoming interested. Most of the basketball and baseball teams in America are owned by billionaires as well as football teams across Europe. Sports are no more a child’s play and the media has taken it very seriously in the last two decades.
Many newspaper dedicate between 15 and 20 pages for sports reporting and the department within is almost equally staffed like the news room. Every day there are sporting events, sporting stories and interviews as well gossips. To put all these information into the newspaper, the pages have to be increased as well as the staff.
These days it couldn’t be easier. If you want to find out details about sporting results or analysis or statistics as they happen, you just go to your 24-hour TV service or the internet or the phone.
It wasn’t always like this. While sports reporting may no longer be so special, there’s just too much of it, remarkably, I am particularly grateful to the BBC for it’s coverage of sports that enhanced my knowledge widely.
With so much sport taking place and so many matches in each sport, it often becomes necessary for many of the reports to be read and a précis written of them all under one headline. This is known as a round-up. It will probably consist of twelve to fifteen paragraphs, one or two paragraphs being devoted to each match, in a particular sport, picking out the main feature.
Don’t think that in the widely read newspapers, however, that when a round-up is used on, say, cricket or soccer, that all the Daily Post’s cricket and soccer correspondents have the day off and one of the subeditors looks at the news agency reports and scores, and sits down to summarize them. That would be too easy, too inflexible and too dull.
Many papers print several editions. On a paper like The Times each edition will go to a different part of the country and its readers will obviously be interested in sport happening in their area. So the first edition of the Times printed in London might go to West Wales, Cornwall and Lincolnshire. We assume that The Times has a Manchester office which prints the editions for Scotland, Ireland and the north of England.
In drafting a page layout, pictures will be positioned first, because on this the appearance of the page largely depends. The sports editor may, if he has a lot of news to get in, decide on one bold picture and a smaller one. Strategically placed in the layout, they will give him scope for varied typographical presentation of the news. His chief concern will be to see that his layout ensures that the page is well broken-up and will not look too heavy and dense. This means that he must assess the length for each item and instruct the sub-editors accordingly.
When the Beijing Olympic Games kicked off with a spectacular four-hour opening ceremony on August 8, more than 840 million people in China, perhaps the largest television audience in history, tuned in to watch. The 2008 Beijing Olympics did shatter records, but it also marked a milestone in the history of Chinese sports reporting.