Sports journalists have a saying they often refer to when discussing their jobs: Rooting for the story.
The phrase came up several times over the course of the interviews conducted for my dissertation research. It’s used as a central description of the job and also often as a defense when readers accuse reporters of rooting for — or more frequently against — a given team. In many ways, it’s a central, normative belief that encapsulates the sports journalists’ job. It distinguishes journalists as a professional field from sports fans. Fans live and die with their teams’ successes and failures, their wins and losses. Sports journalists don’t care who wins and loses. They have a job to do either way. They root for the best story — the most interesting, compelling account to them and to their readers.
But if you look at it, it flies in the face of the notion of objectivity in sports journalism.
If you are rooting for the story, you are not being “objective.” Being objective means you have absolutely no interest in the result. You have no rooting interest — for a team, a player, an outcome, or a story. You are simply documenting what happens in front of you.
Sports journalists don’t do that. They root for the story.
This is not a bad thing. This does not mean sports journalists are doing it wrong. Rooting for a story is perfectly fine.
But it does mean that objectivity is not the norm. Objectivity is not the goal, nor should it be.
Fairness and accuracy should be the goal for sports journalists.
(Note: The first two paragraphs of this post came from my dissertation as well as my article for the International Journal of Sports Communications.)