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.

Saturday we will witness the Greatest Match in Basketball History

Op-Ed written as an Assignment for my University of Westminster Sports Journalism Module. Written on March 16th, 2016.

When we cover sports, we are always fascinated by the ‘glorification’ of the past.

Maradona is better than Messi, Jordan is better than Bryant or Schumacher is better than Hamilton.

The 2015-16 edition of the NBA, the most spectacular Sport League in the World, is teaching us that New could be better.

Saturday night will mark Round Two of the ‘Warriors – Spurs Showdown’, a matchup that is rewriting several statistical and history books.

Basketball fans are starting to compare this duel to others that have made sports history.

Like England – Germany in Football or New Zealand – Australia in Rugby or Federer – Nadal in Tennis.

This new edition of the ‘NBA Saturday Primetime’ between Golden State and San Antonio will mark the Greatest Regular Season Match in NBA History.

Warriors and Spurs this season have won, combined, 88% of the games they have played.

Something that has no equal in the League’s 69 years of existence.

San Antonio is the ‘Tradition’.

A ‘Tradition’ that, as of today, is unbeaten in its own court.

No one, before them, had won their first 34 Home games in a NBA Season.

They have dominated these last two decades, pursuing perfection both on and off-the-court.

Since their Franchise Player, Tim Duncan, joined the team in 1997, they have the best winning percentage in all the four American major sports (Basketball, American Football, Hockey and Baseball).

Duncan, in these years, has led the winningest Trio in NBA History.

An International one: he is from the Virgin Islands, and his sidekicks have been the Argentinian Manu Ginobili and the French Tony Parker.

Tim, Manu and Tony have won together almost 700 NBA Games.

Better than any Trio in League History.

Where there is tradition, often there is continuity: since December 1996 the Spurs are led by Gregg Popovich, one of the two coaches in NBA History to have won more than 1,000 games with the same Franchise.

The Spurs Legacy is something that goes beyond simple matches: today’s NBA is filled by Coaches or Managers that somewhere have written, in their CVs, ‘Employer: San Antonio Spurs’.

That is because the Texan Franchise is able to plan and build with an incredible cleverness.

An example of that is Spurs’ next Franchise Player.

Despite being only in his 5th season in the Association, Kawhi Leonard is already one of the three men to have won both the Defensive Player of the Year Award and NBA Finals MVP.

Leonard is in an elite company: the other two in that category are Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan, the Greatest Player of All Time.

Tim, Manu, Tony, Gregg and Kawhi, together with other great Spurs players in multiple-time All Star LaMarcus Aldridge, veterans David West and Boris Diaw or key players as Danny Green and Patty Mills,  will approach Saturday’s game with one desire: Revenge.

In their only matchup so far in the season (Spurs and Warriors will meet twice in the Regular Season final week in mid-April), Golden State have forced their opponent to their worst loss of the season with a final score of 120-88 that leaves no objections.

This is one of the reasons why, after Leicester City in Football, the Golden State Warriors are now the best story in Sports World.

Because they are simply changing the whole concept of Basketball as we know it.

Today the Dubs can exhibit the best start in NBA history after the first 67 games, with 61 wins.

It may seem redundant, but the superlative has been used quite often in this 2015-16 season for the Californian team.

Best Season Start in NBA History, Best Record at the All Star Break, Best Record for a debutant coach in his first two seasons.

And, last but not least, the Best Player in the NBA today in Stephen Curry.

Many people thought that, after an MVP Season last year, he had reached his peak.

But as we are now seeing, the sky is the Limit for Dell Curry’s son.

As of today, Warriors’ iconic guard has converted 330 3-Pointers. Before Stephen Curry, no player in NBA History had scored more than 270 long-distance shots in a Full Season.

But Steph’s historical run is not only made by his shooting ability.

As of today, Curry is having the best ‘after-MVP’ Season in NBA History. His Player Efficiency Rating, a Statistic that measures the successful impact of a player in a team, has no comparison in Basketball’s History.

No Basketball Team is great for having just one legendary player.

For that reason, Warriors’ true success is explained by the so-called Splash Brothers. Klay Thompson, son of former NBA Champion Mychal, is the perfect ‘Robin’ to Bat-Curry, or Dr Watson to Stephen Holmes.

His constant shooting and scoring effort played a huge role in making Golden State’s backcourt into one of the Greatest in NBA History.

As we have seen before, NBA’s Legacy is made by ‘Trios’, or Big Three.

The third, in Warriors’ case, is Draymond Green.

First time All Star this year, Golden State’s big man is the best forward in all NBA for assists, and his efficiency and versatility makes him a hard matchup for the other 29 League teams.

Golden State is on the run for beating the NBA All-Time Winning Record for a Season, established by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls with 72 wins (and 10 losses) exactly 20 years ago. San Antonio is on the pace too for a 70-wins season.

Task will be harder than the usual for the Dubs, due to the injury to their reigning Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala, the perfect veteran player.

If you’re wondering if there has ever been an NBA Season with two teams winning at least 70 games, the answer is simple: Never.

Round one of this incredible matchup, played in January, marked historical television viewing numbers in the US.

Round two, at this stage of the season, with these records on the line and the current teams form, could turn out into the Greatest Basketball Game Ever Played in History.

How will we cover Sports in 2020?

Feature written as an assignment for the Sports Journalism module at University of Westminster. To reflect about the possible future of Sports Journalism, I’ve presented three ‘detailed’ cases of the category from my home nation, Italy, explained in first-hand by interviews I personally conducted between the 20th and the 22nd of February.

Since the Closing Ceremony of London 2012 Olympics, Sports Journalism’s landscape has changed out of all recognition, due mainly to the boom of Digital and Social Media.

How will it be by the time of the next Games, Tokyo 2020? We try to answer that question by looking at the path and possible future of three bright examples of Sports Journalism in Italy.

Globalising a Thematic Network

24 hours Live Channels have changed the way Sports is covered in Television, giving the audience a full understanding of everything is going on with their favourite player or team.

But there is still is a niche able to give audiences and subscribers an absolute 24-hours Access to their favourite Football Team: the Thematic Channels.

alevilla mourinho
Alessandro Villa interviewing former Inter manager Jose Mourinho | Photo via Facebook

Our subscribers know that, for €9 per month, they’ll get access to literally EVERYTHING that involves Inter, from training to special features or interviews: that is a kind of coverage that can’t be matched by bigger players like SKY Sport”. Alessandro Villa, one of Inter Channel Presenters, has no doubt when it comes down to identify the recipe of success.

Since 2000, Inter Channel has always represented an important part of F.C. Internazionale: the important role played by former President, Massimo Moratti, in creating the network is the best example of that thesis.

What could be a sustainable future for these kind of channels? “In these last years”, Villa observes, “We started to think differently, creating more original content and working closer to the team. We will soon launch two new channels in China and Indonesia to extend our audience.”

Going Global and creating new exclusive content for an entirely different audience seems to be a smart way to success, especially if you look at Inter’s background and at the fact that, at the end, we’re still talking about a niche platform.

“Even if we’re watched by relatively few people”, Villa says, “My goal is to make a product for a potential 10 million viewers, and it always will be. We might start to create more digital content exclusively for Social Media or APP, but we will still be a niche. Our subscribers deserve the best possible product.”

Finding different path to success is vital for a Football Club Network, to minimise the impact of disappointing seasons from the team: “Although our effort and our work is the same regardless of results”, Villa concludes, “what is changed by results is the mood, our personal one and especially our audience one.”

Creating a Genre

It may be argued that, in the Digital Media Era, Radio seems like an outdated platform. That couldn’t be more wrong: if we look around, people tend to enjoy more audio than video products.

Considering that, it seems weird that in Italy, the country where Radio was invented, there wasn’t a sport-only Radio Station until five years ago.

Radio Sportiva
Radio Sportiva’s logo and slogan | Photo via Facebook

Radio Sportiva was a fresh idea five years ago”, says Dario Ronzulli, one of the Radio’s Presenters, “and it still is today, because at this stage we’re still the only Sport Radio in Italy.”

Mr Ronzulli has no doubt in identifying his Station’s main reason for success: “Whenever we’re covering a Live Event or simply commenting a performance on one of our Programs, we give the audience the chance to join the talk with WhatsApp messages: they both boost our listeners’ ego and provide us with more Talking Points.”

Radio Sportiva almost entirely airs from its studios in Prato, Tuscany, and sometimes does some Live Coverage of Football or Basketball matches but, as Ronzulli reflects, has no intention to join the radiophonic rights market for any event: “It would deeply change our ‘perfect’ mix between ‘Breaking’ News and Coverage and Programming, it is not worth it to do that and changing our core structure.”

Sport’s Consumption is going towards an on-demand mood, like it is for TV Series or Movies: how can Radio Sportiva join this change? “The easiest answer”, Ronzulli concludes, “Should be ‘creating Podcast and On-demand contents’: I consider them vital for all Radio’s future, and I hope we will pursue that road in the near future.”

Does Size Matter?

From the previous two example, it may be argued that one of the recipes for success is also the ability, for the sport talk, to be short, concise and concrete. But in the US, a different style has emerged in the recent years, the Longform.

Mourinho.png
L’Ultimo Uomo’s cover for the acclaimed longform on José Mourinho | Photo via L’Ultimo Uomo

In 2013 a group of emerging online journalists founded L’Ultimo Uomo, an Online Magazine devoted to cover Sport in a different way from the mainstream one. “It was essentially started”, says Dario Vismara, Magazine’s Editor-In-Chief for Basketball, “bringing to Italy the ‘Grantland Example’: in an era where Sports Journalism goes towards shorter pieces, we try to bring to the audience the ‘longform’, and seeing if Italian audience is fascinated by that genre as we are.”

Even if Vismara joined L’Ultimo Uomo a year and a half after its foundation, you can see in his eyes the pride of being part of this great example of “New Journalism”.

The magazine started with a ‘grass-roots’ mentality”, Vismara continues, “in a pretty simple way: one piece for day, the text at the centre of the screen and nothing else. Our mission is to be, in every feature or profile, interesting, ironic, depth.”

L’Ultimo Uomo’s secret might be found, in addition to its narrative style, on the ‘average guys’ mood: only a few of its bloggers are professional journalists, but all contributors writes just to help people to understand what they see exactly how they do: they rarely attend Live Sport Events.

But how can an Online Longform Magazine survive in the Social Network Era? “Social Network are an opportunity, because a ‘casual’ reader will find us using them”, he says, “Our deep archive allows us to ‘relaunch’ an article if, for example, Ronaldo scores a hat-trick or LeBron James recorded a triple-double. That’s how you get a ‘casual’ reader.”

For L’Ultimo Uomo’s board and writers, the motivation essentially came from the ‘expert reader’: “He’s usually in our niche, and he represent a huge motivation for me”, Vismara says, “I have to be, on a general point of view, more informed and more prepared than him on that topic. That’s how you gain trust and ‘fellowship’

But Vismara is quite pessimistic about the future: “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 in Italy, either about sport or on internet. We should then intercept this audience with new content, by video or Podcast.”

Have you met Bruno?

June 26, 2014. Barclays Center, Brooklyn.

The upcoming NBA Draft is full of hype, rumoured to be the best one in more than 10 years.

The main prospects have been in the mind of several NBA GMs for months, believed to be able to change their teams’ history.

Pick number 20 belongs to the Toronto Raptors and, as Commissioner Adam Silver approached the stage to announce their choice, a lot of names were being debated between fans and expert, given also the fact that nobody had already broken the news on Twitter.

“With the 20th pick, in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Bruno Caboclo, from Brazil.”

It was a shock: almost nobody knew about the existence of this young 6-foot-9 small forward from Osasco, Brazil.

From the little information available online, he looked like a promising player, with some physical resemblance to league MVP Kevin Durant, but he was nothing more than a rough diamond.

At the beginning of Raptors’ Team Practice before the NBA Global Game in London, all the players were surrounded by a big group of reporters. All but one, standing alone, almost waiting to be interviewed by a reporter: Bruno Caboclo.

“I think I’m having a good development and adaptation to the NBA”, he says with a shy voice, looking surprised by the question and by the fact of being actually interviewed by someone, “I keep in growing into the team and the league. I think that this is the best process, a very good one. I’m just doing very well!”

The adaptation to the NBA is a slow and tough process for every young player, but it could be harder for an international player. Especially if, like Caboclo, you come from an average basketball league.

The current season is Bruno’s second with the Raptors, although so far Caboclo has played in just 11 NBA games for Toronto, mostly in the so-called garbage time; the young Brazilian is spending most of his time with his franchise own D-League team, the Raptors 905.

bruno2
Caboclo on his D-League debut with Raptors 905 earlier this season

His numbers are not the greatest, but that’s understandable when you get the chance of meeting with him face to face: you would be in the presence of an athletic ‘freak of nature’, with an incredible wingspan (one of the biggest among all NBA players) and a great athletic potential, but with the face of a young teenager, if not of a child.

He will be 21 years old in September, but you struggle even to give him an age of 14 or 15 years.

Despite all of this, Toronto highly believes in the young Bruno: GM Masai Ujiri has already exercised the team option on his contract for the 2016-17 season, and the team wanted Caboclo to make the trip to London, with the main team, to play in the NBA Global Games against the Orlando Magic.

“I love the chance to play abroad, outside North America”, he says, “I think it’s a great chance to improve my NBA experience and also my relationship with teammates!”

You could feel by the introduction that Bruno’s like a lone wolf in Raptors’ Locker Room.

That couldn’t be more wrong: the presence, in the team, of another Brazilian player in Lucas Nogueira and the overall young age average make the Raptors a perfect environment, something that is easily felt by watching Toronto’s practices, for a shy and timid player and personality like Caboclo’s one.

“It’s also good for the NBA”, Bruno continues, “showing itself in countries like UK or also my hometown Brazil, which usually follows more soccer rather than basketball.”

“Being together for a week, with our families and as a ‘family’ ourselves”, says Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who usually speaks highly of Caboclo, “should help us a lot, especially for guys whom spends less time with the team.”

NBA is not Bruno’s only thought: “I would love to make the team for Rio 2016 Olympics”, he says, “It would be like a dream! But there’s really a lot of work to do and there’s a long road in front of me: I’m still very young and there are other players more ready to perform in the Olympic Games rather than me.”

During that ‘famous’ NBA Draft, ESPN’s analyst Fran Fraschilla made a famous statement about Caboclo, defining him “two years away from being two years away”.

Having passed these first two years, it is worth to ask ourselves about if really the young Bruno is now two years away.

Will the young Brazilian Kevin Durant and his 12-year-old lookalike face disprove the doubters, live up to the hype and make it in the biggest league on the planet?

Ujiri, Casey and the entire Raptors organisation have absolutely no doubt about that.

bruno3