Welcome to research Wednesday, a new in which I look at noteworthy and interesting sports media-related research and scholarship.
How should we conceptualize “sports journalism?”
Seriously what is it?
Is it a profession? Is it a job? Is it a discipline? Is it a subset of this larger thing we call “journalism” that just happens to be focused on sports, or is it its own distinct entity?
This is a question that lies at the heart of so much of our research into sports journalism. As an example, my work tends to focus on sports journalism as an organizational field — a group of related institutions that perform many of the same tasks (the classic example is the study of hospitals, and how despite differences, hospitals all work pretty much the same way). But in the 1990s, Barb Zelizer suggested that a better way to define journalism would be as a “community of practice,” in which journalists are seen “as members of an interpretive community instead, one united by its shared discourse and collective interpretations of key public events.” This, Zelizer argues, is a better way to understand how journalists do their work.
Using that landmark framework, Brett Hutchins and Raymond Boyle examine sports journalism as a community of practice in their research published in this year’s special sports journalism issue of Digital Journalism (Vol 5, 5). They conducted 10 in-depth interviews with sports reporters in Scotland and Australia as part of the research.
What Hutchins and Boyle found were dramatic changes at both the individual and institutional levels of sports journalism. “Adaptability is a requirement of spot news and journalism,” they found in talking to journalists. Even in the past 10 years, things have changed so much for journalists that perhaps the most important characteristic, both for individual journalists and for sport news institutions, is the ability to adapt to new technologies and new audience behaviors.
One of this paper’s main findings was the emphasis being placed within daily sports journalism on mobile news. The researchers found “repeated references were made during our interviews to mobile media as where the audience is going,” and quoted one writer as saying “We’ve got to accept that eventually our audience will be in the majority on those devices. so we’ve got to write a little bit shorter.” In many ways, mobile is the defining feature of media in 2017, not just at a macro institutional level (think ESPN rolling out its new app in 2018) but also for journalists on a day to day basis. A story that used to be 18 paragraphs, the researchers found, may now only be 10-11. “Mobile media and communications are central to how news producers think about the presentation of stories and content into the future. The triumvirate of shorter usage sessions, concise stories and compact mobile screens is changing the practice of journalists and, in the process, their expectations.”
“The evidence here suggests that the institutionally legitimated interpretive authority of sports journalism is fragmenting,” Hutchins and Boyle write in the conclusion. Indeed, there are so many places to get sports news, so many ways to get information on their mobile devices, so many different types of information available, that those organizations that have had had authority — daily newspapers, TV networks, ESPN — have less now because of the media landscape. The challenge facing sports journalists and sports journalism is to find its place in this fragmented media universe.
*The great thing about research is that everyone has a different view on what they read. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Post a comment on Twitter (@bpmoritz) or on Facebook.