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Where Lies The Reputation of a Sports Journalist?

Alden SingCorrespondent INovember 28, 2008

I know many of you peeps out there who are writing articles for this community aspire to be sports journalists.

Contrary to popular belief, however, sports journalism isn't as glamorous as it seems to be. 

In fact, many people have very poor opinions of sports journalists.

Stereotypes ranging from sloppy, lazy, low prospects, easy, and even intrusive have been banded around to describe the sports journalist.

How many times have we flipped over a sports page, saying, "Does this writer even know what he/she is talking about?"

Certainly, tabloids like The Sun and The Mirror in England have contributed to the notion that sports journalists are just a bunch of sensationalists who have no regard for checking the validity of their sources. 

In fact, Raymond Boyle, in his book, Sports Journalism: Context and Issues, posited that sports journalists have traditionally been positioned at the bottom end of the journalism hierarchy. 

Such is the impression formed of sports journalists that many aspiring club reporters refuse to enter this section of the newspaper for the fear that it may be a graveyard for their career.  

Sports journalism may seem like a heaven for any sports fan. In fact, it is about every sports enthusiast's dream job. Who wouldn't want to be paid for writing about their favourite team, or for that matter, getting up close with their sporting heroes for an exclusive interview?

The truth is, this glamour comes with the pain of meeting extremely tight deadlines. 

Richard Williams, the chief sportswriter of The Guardian, describes vividly the pain of being a sports journalist.  "I had to file a 850-word piece 10 minutes before the final whistle," he says.

"I had to write a piece that couldn't be invalidated by anything which happened in the last 10 minutes, sometimes that is very hard to do."

Williams goes on to explain how the match between Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Champions League final totally made a mickey out of him.

"I remember the 1999 Champions League final, a goal in the last minute, and we had all filed, then you have five minutes to turn the piece on its head, and then they scored again."

This may sound exhilarating in hindsight, but it is obvious that this industry requires quick thinking and imagination to meet deadlines. 

Then there is always the quality of the publication you work for. Big and popular broadsheets like The Independent and The Guardian often don't devote as much space to sports as compared to tabloids like The Sun and The Mirror

As Patrick Barclay of The Sunday Telegraph fame noted, when he worked in The Independent, there was only one meeting with the newspaper editor in which he discussed an article that would appear on the front page. And that was concerning an article about the Hillsborough Stadium disaster that claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.  

It is a clear statement that broadsheets do not hold sports journalists in such high esteem.

Of course, in recent times, the image of sports journalism has evolved. Sports is no longer merely confined to action on the pitch. Instead, there has been an increasing number of instances in which sports has been interlinked with supposedly more important issues like politics and the economy. 

Take the recent coverage of the Beijing Olympics for example. The hype that surrounded this recently concluded event did not merely centre upon the preparation of the athletes. Instead, the political climate, economic consequences, and environmental aspect were widely discussed as well.  

Ditto for the upcoming London Olympics in 2012. 

Sports no longer affects just the fans and players.  It has increased focus on politicians and economists. 

Nevertheless, it is often the case that writing about such interrelated issues with politics and economics at the core would be tasked to either the politics or economics correspondent.  This, once again, condemns the sports journalists to the periphery. 

As Boyle notes in his book, sports has often been categorized with entertainment and lifestyle journalism. Hence, the journalists who write for these sections often do not possess the capacity to embark on any of the serious issues that affect politics, the economy, and society as a whole. 

Invariably, sports journalism is suffering from its paradox. Almost every newspaper in the world has a section devoted entirely to sports, yet the people who write about it are subjected to much disdain. 

And the glittering prospect of having your own space in a newspaper to rant and rave about sports is about as possible as having your own home on Mars. 

The very best make it there, but that doesn't mean you will still be held in high regard. 

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