Helen Lovejoy, Brian Cushing and reporters' roles

Who knew a pretty meaningless award could raise such passion? In case you missed it (and if you did, I'm wondering why you've come to my blog in the first place, but welcome nonetheless), Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans, who was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug and has been suspended for the start of this season. In part because the positive test came in September (the case went through an appeals process), the AP football writers held a revote on the award. The results came out yesterday, and Cushing still won.

This isn't going to be a referendum on coverage of steroids and perf0rmance-enhancing drugs in sports. I find it an incredibly nuanced topic that elicits too much black-and-white opinion, though I find the use of the phrase "Performance Enhancing Drugs" to be a wickedly interesting frame to study. This isn't going to be about the re-vote, though I think that the AP either should have not held a vote and said "This is unfortunate, but our members voted on the information we had at the end of the season, so the award stands" or vacate the award entirely, NCAA-style. I think holding a re-vote turns it into as much a referendum on the process as it does on the player in question, which is what happened here. It's not even going to be about the sad but predictable Helen Lovejoy-esque response too many are taking - as if one guy winning one award is a bad example for the children.

No, since this is my nerdy little blog, this is about journalists' roles - which is evolving into one of my primary research topics.

The academic research has shown that there are four primary roles of a journalist: The disseminator of facts (this is the objective point of view); the interpreter of events (this is the analysis point of view); the adversary of government and business (the comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable); and the facilitator of a conversation with the public. (These are all from Weaver & Wilhoit). The research has also shown that reporters rarely fit into just one but in fact move between the roles. The question of whether or not journalists should vote on awards like this is directly related to these roles.

On the face of it, of course, the dissemination role would seem to hold that reporters should report the news and not make it and therefore not vote, while the interpreter role would hold that reporters should be the ones making these decisions (they're at every game and practice, they have the knowledge to vote). Although, I'd argue that the dissemination role could also be used to argue for voting - that the reporters are, in theory, dispassionate observers who can make objective (read, correct) decisions.

It also speaks to the fact that sports reporters do not have an adversarial relationship with the teams, leagues and players they cover. If they are rewarding them with awards, there's clearly not an adversarial relationship here.

In the end, I'm not sure there's a right or wrong answer (maybe that comes in the second year of grad school). It all comes down to how you see the press' primary role - as a reporter or as an interpreter.

What does everyone else think?