What does it mean dreaming to become a Sport Journalist in 2016?

Academic Essay written as Final Assignment for the Sports Journalism Module, University of Westminster.

It is often said that Journalism is a vocation.

Considering Sports Media as a prominent form of popular culture (Hutchins & Rowe, 2012), understandable if we think of Sports itself as one of the greatest passions of the twentieth century (Boyle & Haynes, 2009), it can be argued that Sports Journalism is a vocation as well.

The dream of being a Sports Journalist has always accompanied me through my adolescence, and still is the fuel that feeds my engine.

But what does it mean dreaming to become a Sports Journalist in 2016?

Attending the Sports Journalism Module helped me to broaden my expertise and my ability to write on different sports and produce various types of reports and writings. The Course has been helpful in terms of working under pressure, simulating a real newsroom: something that not much Sports-Journalists-hopeful have the chance to experience.

Learning a career is a process made of practice.

Practice is essential, vital and fundamental. Especially if being on the path to be a Sports Journalist. And during the 12 weekly appointment every Wednesday night in Marylebone Road, I have had the chance to do exactly that.

But is practice (and practice and practice) the best way to drive yourself into the world of Sports Journalism?

It could be argued that the Media Revolution has changed the ‘games rules’.

Bull (2008) wonders if in a world of 24-hour Sports Coverage we have lost all judgement of what is actually worth reporting, and he definitely may be right: does the Social Media ‘boom’ change Journalism’s Gatekeeping process and its dogma?

Are we able today to cover Sports in the best possible way, without being affected by personal judgements or feelings? How does Social Media help us in order to pursue this goal?

And given all this assumption, what does it mean, for a young adult, dreaming to become a Sports Journalist today?

Someone dreaming that job should be prepared to face several dynamic and continuous changes while being inside a fast-paced world.

I will now consider a recent example on what is Sports Journalism to me.

Weeks ago, Juventus was preparing to face Bayern Munich in the 2nd leg of UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

A few hours before the match, Bayern’s Twitter account posted this goliardic image, joking about Juve’s motto #finoallafine (literally, ‘till the end) and transforming it into “Qui è la fine” (This is the end).

It seemed like an average pun, often portrayed between Sports Teams on Social Networks nowadays.

Neuer1

Instead of simple fun and joking, the rail tracks in the Photoshop image were confused with the ones leading to Auschwitz Nazi Lager.

Although it took only a few minutes for a Twitter user to find out the real origin of those rail tracks, several Italian journalists embraced the controversy by tweeting or writing about the scandalous Bayern’s tweet.

It was easy to understand how Bayern’s Tweet was a simple excuse, for many, to express their anger against the opponent, in a game that was crucial for Italian Football.

Juventus eventually lost the match in Extra Time, leaving Italy without any teams in European Competitions Quarterfinals for the first time since 2001, marking another low chapter in Italy’s Football recent history.

What this story taught me is the fine line between covering and cheering.

Something that is not remembered as it should be while today’s journalists cover Sports Events or News.

Would this huge number of Italian Journalists complained about Bayern’s pun if it was not aimed to an Italian team? If it was directed, for example, to an English or French one?

I don’t think so.

The advent of Social Networks like Twitter have opened new and direct forms of communications between Sports Club, Fans and Journalists (Price, Farrington, & Hall, 2013), and those changes have had a significant impact on the accessibility of any potential news and facts.

In my opinion, those changes could have a negative side.

Sports Journalists, today, are often too sensitive and subjected to be influenced by their personal opinions and passions about (or against) particular teams.

This kind of behaviour is not only damaging the reputation of those journalists, but also the image of journalism itself.

Where opinions overshadow facts there is no Journalism, there are no facts.

Studying Sports Journalism in the ‘old fashioned way’ could be a remedy to this drift.

Learning the basics and develop a standard and aseptic style should avoid a derailment in journalistic principles.

With this in mind, the focus can move to analysing what could be the best possible use of these new technologies and platforms.

Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Blogs, anyone could launch a story, anyone could spark a rumour; fact checking is often overlooked in order not to lose time.

Sometimes the use of those platforms by athletes themselves bypasses the Gatekeeping function of journalists, publicists and even sports officials. (Hutchins B. , 2011)

There are also new examples, like The Players’ Tribune (a website launched by MLB star Derek Jeter that is managed and written entirely by athletes), where the true protagonists of the Sports competitions can become also the next Reporters (McCue, 2014), posing themselves as competitor also in the Journalistic Field.

For example, The Players’ Tribune became an Internet sensation when NBA star Kobe Bryant decided to announce his retirement from basketball in a letter published on the website, or when another NBA star in Kevin Durant worked as a photographer, for the same site, at Superbowl 50 earlier this year.

PlayersTribune

Despite the fact that these examples surely give those platforms an extra-kick and a particular appeal compared to traditional Journalism Portals.

So, from the ‘traditional side’, the value added can be found into the deep analysis and the extended research.

The Grantland Example, referring to the website once founded by HBO’s Bill Simmons, has generated a large longform base, with several bloggers and young journalists dedicated to write these long, detailed and slow-paced pieces that, even in an Era of a short attention span, are drawing more and more audience.

But longform can’t be the solution to all the problems.

Emerging sports journalists, in order to succeed today, needs to embrace those changed by adapting in the best possible way, but without changing the nature of Gatekeeping and the true essence of what being a journalist really is.

So it may be argued that Sports Journalism is going all the way towards an era of Convergent Sports Journalism, defined by Hutchins and Rowe (2012) as a mode that requires journalists to produce and reuse stories for several media platforms at the same time.

This could lead to a case where these several work demands led to a ‘creative cannibalisation’ of the content (Curran, 2011), where professional journalists and general media ‘stakeholders’ are producing heated arguments over the rightful ownership of these new forms of intellectual property (Hutchins and Rowe, 2012).

While attending the module, I have tried to rethink my passion for Sports Journalism and channel it into a critical analysis of its future and the profiles I currently follow with interest and curiosity.

Changing my style and adapting to a different atmosphere and environment has been the challenge of a lifetime.

As my lecturer often joked about, Italians often have a too-rhetoric and language-dense writing style.

For me, this is something totally distant from what is supposed to be any kind of Journalism in 2016.

People don’t read.

And when they do, they usually read for a short period of time with a passive attention span.

I still believe that good journalism will have an audience if it will be able to adapt to this changes and will be ‘on board’ with the new world.

Even if most people read less than in the past, they still rely on Journalists as people to tell them the truth and, especially, why what happened has happened.

In building my dream and learning a future career I have always tried to look up to the best examples in Sports Journalism.

I consider myself lucky when I think that I have had the luck to meet, interview, and sometimes get to know, my ‘inspiring models’.

I will start with the duo that represent, for my generation, the Basketball coverage in Italy.

Flavio Tranquillo and Federico Buffa for almost 20 years have been the principal voices of Basketball in Italian Television.

A faithful generation not only of fans, but also of aspiring journalists, have studied their work and learnt, almost by heart, their catchphrases and their style.

I think that an aspiring journalist can properly define someone as ‘Role Model’ if he had the chance to know him better and confront him on what does it mean to be a Sports Journalist.

Their work is considered remarkable also because they were able to do in the right way, without being conditioned by the negative stuff I have mentioned earlier in this piece.

In an interview I’ve recently done with Tranquillo, he states how a continuous interaction with Social Media Followers for a journalist is “important, but is not news, and it is not to be confused with an Editorial Line” (Interview, 2015).

I agree with him on this point, and we both concur that “Social Media are important and they’re one possible source. But they’re not the only one. And they should be subjected to Fact-Checking.” (Interview, 2015)

Mu Lin (2013) says, speaking about the previously mentioned Gatekeeping process, that “Web and mobile platforms demand us to adopt a platform-free mind-set for an all-inclusive production approach”, by creating the digital contents first, and then distributing them via appropriate platforms.

In conclusion, being a Sports Journalist in 2016 means being able to take on Mu Lin’s definition and make it work, in harmony, with the other examples previously mentioned, and always aim to the best.

Even if our audience is composed by 1, or 100, or 100,000 viewers, the Journalist’s job is to be always able to explain what happens (or happened, or will happen) to who’s reading or listening or watching. And to do it in the best possible way.

In an interview I made for this module with my friend Dario Vismara, an esteemed Basketball Journalist in Italy, he states (on the future of Sports Journalism) that “There’s a reason why Grantland has closed. Social Media created a ‘Numbers Hunting’, overshadowing the quality. Future is complicated, because people don’t read a lot, either about sport or on internet. We should then intercept audience with new content, by video or Podcast.

That is why, in my opinion, the truly successful Sports Journalists of 2016 (and 2026, and 2036) are and will be the most motivated one.

Because Sports Journalism is truly a Vocation.

Reference List

Bull, A. (2008, May 13). Bland, decrepit, unrelenting: the depressing state of our sports news culture. The Guardian.

Boyle, R., & Haynes, R. (2009). Power Play: Sport, the Media and Popular Culture. Edinbrugh: Edinbrugh University Press.

Curran, J. (2011). Media and Democracy. London: Routledge.

Hutchins, B. (2011). The acceleration of Media Sport Culture. Information, Communication & Society , 14 (2), 237-257.

Hutchins, B., & Rowe, D. (2012). Sports Beyond Television. London: Routledge.

Lin, M. (2013). A primer for journalism students: What is digital-first strategy? Accessed on March 23, 2016 from MulinBlog: A Digital Communication Blog: http://www.mulinblog.com/what-is-digital-first-media-a-primer-for-journalism-students/

McCue, M. (2014, October 9). Will The Future Of Sports Reporting Include Sports Reporters? From Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com/3036764/innovation-agents/will-the-future-of-sports-reporting-include-sports-reporters

Price, J., Farrington, N., & Hall, L. (2013). Changing the Game? The impact of Twitter on relationships between football clubs, supporters and sports media. Soccer&Society , 14 (4), 446-461.

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