Sports ‘journalism’: Top of the 9th?

Full disclosure: I’m no sports fan. So take what I saw about the possible the decline of sports ‘journalism’ with that grain of salt.

Consider: Penn State surveys local TV people in the top 50 markets and finds that sports ‘news’ is heading downhill fast. 76 percent agree that the role of sports in local news broadcasts is diminishing. 55 percent agree that someday sports may not be a part of local TV news. Now see this story about college programs not even trying to get on TV; they’re going to the web. Finally, see this panel discussion with sports bloggers saying they just won’t need sports beat writers because they can see the sports themselves.

On newspapers, the latest readership figures I find show less than half read sports sections, which is a helluva lot more than read fashion and food sections. But fashion and food sections bring lots of endemic (that is, related) ads. Sport sections get tire ads. Sports costs a lot more to produce and is less profitable.

When you think about it, sports is most vulnerable to online, which is up-to-the-minute, highly targeted, multimedia, interactive. Sports scores are a commodity. Columnists are expensive — and, according to my sports-fan friends, generally useless — and, besides, in forums and blogs today, everybody’s a columnist. Local TV sports reports can’t compete with ESPN. And they really get local — down to high schools — in four-minutes on air.

So what happens to sports journalism? Is it replaced by specialty networks on cable and online? Does it go hyperlocal to survive? Does it disappear from some outlets? Whither the jocks?

  • If journalism is an act, there are remarkable journalists on the web regarding sports, journalists like Charley Rosen at, who breaks down plays and players in details that teach me about how to understand the game as I read.

    Also, there’s, which does not dumb down analysis and discussion of the sport by any means.

    Exactly what sort of “sports journalism” is in decline, then?

  • is an interesting example of a “fan” sports news site whose enthusiastic and at-times bombastic coverage of the Boston Red Sox was coopted by the traditional media — in 2004 the fansite was acquired by, part of New York Times Digital, the digital business unit of The New York Times Company. I don’t expect the old guard to shrivel up and fade away so much as get with the times and fuse with grass-roots fandom. But as for sports columnists being useless? From a town that is absolutely passionate/rabid/jihaderrific about its professional athletics, I see no evidence of this whatsoever. Whereas I’d rather get the play-by-play recap straight from the online gamecast, I very much look forward to the analysis from those professional experts you love to hate so much. Besides, sports columnists are slightly different from entertainment critics, insofar as they really do get levels of behind-the-scenes access that the average fan could only dream of. Part of the fun of reading these features is getting the insider’s view.

  • Sports journalism is most often an oxymoron. It’s usually boosterism and free advertising for big businesses. Example: The PGA Tour’s slogan is “These Guys Are Good.” If that’s the case then it’s news when these guys are bad, yet that’s very rarely the story.

    I love sports and think Brian Gumbel’s program on HBO is the model for sports journalism. HBO doesn’t give a crap if the NFL doesn’t like what they say, but ESPN has proven — by canceling the series “Playmakers” when the league complained — that it does.

    The relationship between sports and the media is symbiotic, which is why the term “sports journalism” is problematic.

  • Rich Banner

    Sorry, but it’s a silly example, professional golfers are a pretty straight laced group of people. It’s just the nature of the sport and the people who play it at a professional level. John Daly was often in the news with his antics. But if you really want to get the down and dirty on professional golfers I would suggest the shocking new video “Golfers Gone Wild”. But it’s not for the feint of heart.

    By the way, it’s Bryant not Brian.

  • Of course, if the New York Times and the Washington Post had done the same level of invesitgative journalism on Iraq as Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada did with Barry Bonds, we never would have gone to war. That reporting– and the book that came out of it– was one of the best investigative pieces I’ve ever read.

  • Toblerone2

    “…and, besides, in forums and blogs today, everybody’s a columnist…”

    Not only is everyone a columnist, everyone is an athlete, either virtual or real. Why read about or watch sports, when I can be setting my own records? Don’t play real sports? That’s what the Xbox is for!!!

  • Calvinist

    I think you are underestimating the number of people who read a paper primarily for the sports section.

    I don’t need to read the LA Times for its news, but I still read its sports section everyday online, as I don’t live there anymore. Same with the SF Chronicle, my local paper.

    As better sports writing migrates online, it’s another bad development for print papers. Dodger Thoughts, for example, is better written than the LA Times Dodger coverage. Forum Blue and Gold and True Hoop are at least as well written as the Times basketball coverage.

  • Jeff, I think you missed something else about sports coverage. If you’re a expatriate fan of a team you need to go online for coverage. I’m a Houston Astros fan living in Phoenix, after 6 years in New England. The only way I could get Astros news was online.

    There’s also a level of detail and professionalism that can be found online that you’re never going to get with a local writer. A site like Baseball Prospectus will do a level of analysis into the value of a stolen base that would make an MIT grad’s eye spin. You’re just not going to see that from your local columnist. And it’s something which I, as a fan, will pay a good amount of money for.

  • Regarding the previous comment, I agree that sports journalism is hardly in a decline. Yes, it may be true that sports segments on newscasts are becoming antiquated and unnecessary, but other media outlets are bursting at the seams with sports journalism. Similar to everything else in the world, the future of sports journalism is on the Internet. I believe the most revolutionary site is The site is self-titled as a “Community and News for Sports Fans by Sports Fan.” The owners of the website allow writers to submit their opinions and articles which are then edited and published by professionals. People who know sports best can become journalists and have their voice heard. Currently the site centers on European soccer and tennis, but the concept of the site is certain to breakthrough to all sports and change the way we view sports journalism. So while we might be losing some varieties of sports journalism, the Internet is providing a forum in which all sports fans can help pick up the slack.

  • Pingback: The irrelevnacy of professional sports commentators « John Bracken()

  • Well, these are interesting thoughts. I think they are true. However, everything is
    relative and ambiguous to my mind.

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  • I live outside of the DFW market and have access to a ton of sports info. Even the number one sports talk station hardly talks sports. When they do, it’s topic stuff and not much up to the minute breaking things. Sure if there is something big going on, they will discuss it. But the sports reporting is a thing of the past, when anyone can flick on ESPN News or online resources.

    By the time the newspaper hits the stand it’s old news. But I know a lot of people that still religously read the sports section. I doubt that continues as we move forward. I’d also be interested in seeing how Sports Illustrated fares in the future.