Welcome to research Wednesday, a regular feature in which I look at noteworthy and interesting sports media-related research and scholarship.
Today’s Research Wednesday looks at studies from recent issues of Journalism Practice and the Journal of Sports Media.
“I Did What I Do” Versus “I Cover Football” by Michael Mirer (Journalism Practice, 2018, 12, 3)
One of the most interesting developments in sports journalism in the past decade has been the growth of team and league websites as news sources and the hiring of sports journalists by those sites. The journalists often act as “team journalists,” which to traditionally minded sports reporters sounds like an oxymoron but has increased the amount of information available to fans and readers.
Michael Mirer, a friend and future collaborator of mine, has made these issues the focus of his research agenda. His most recent article uses in-depth interviews to examine how journalists working for team sites covered on-field protests during the fall of 2014. These protests included the St. Louis Rams players who walked onto the field with the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” pose, Cleveland Browns’ players wearing shirts in support of Tamir Rice and John Crawford, and Reggie Bush and several NBA players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts.
Mirer found two distinct attitudes among the team journalists. One he describes as “I cover football,” is the attitude the reporters for the NFL teams had — that they are sports journalists and that their job is to cover the game. One reporter said, “Those are primarily things that I leave alone because they don’t have much to do with what’s going on on the field. My job is to be a football reporter.” Another writer in this camp said, "I cover football. I write about football.” The other attitude, from several NBA team journalists, covered the protests as part of their stories. One of the writers in this camp said, “I did what I do, which is I see a storyline and I report and then I write it. Then I send it to the people who disseminate things through the website.”
The clear difference between the coverage on NFL and NBA sites is interesting and ripe for further study, as is the fact that the stories minimized the controversial aspects of the protest (which would be interesting to look at this past fall’s protests in the same light. Mirer found that the team journalists always defended their decisions as proper journalistic ones made with journalistic considerations in mind.
The redefining of journalistic values for use by in-house reporters supports the claim that boundary work is occurring. It suggests that maintaining membership in the professional community comes with status that these workers seek to protect. Using journalistic values to defend those choices serves as a means of asserting authority over sports news and claiming credibility. Yet the reframing of journalistic values and practices may have the effect of neutering journalism’s skeptical stance toward other institutions. In this way, the rise of brand content in sports could have far-reaching consequences for the press. It potentially reshapes the power dynamics between sports teams and the press in ways that could be exported to the political media.
”Looking On From the Sideline: Perceived Role Congruity of Women Sports Journalists” by Michael Murdick and Carolyn Lin (Journal of Sports Media, 2017, 12, 2)
How do readers judge female sports reporters?
Do readers believe that women can cover a traditionally men’s sport as well as a man? Do readers assume that because a woman is attractive, she is not knowledgeable about sports?
These are the big question that Murdick and Lin examine in this fascinating experimental study. They had 328 individuals read mock newspaper stories about either a college football or college volleyball team, written by either a male or female journalist (with a headshot) of either high or low physical attractiveness. The participants then answered a series of scale questions that measured their perceptions of the reporters’ trustworthiness, expertise, and physical attractiveness.
In testing several hypotheses, the researchers found: • Readers felt that females were a better fit for covering a female-appropriate sport than a predominantly male one. Likewise, male reporters were viewed as better fits for covering male-appropriate sports. • There was a significant relationship between the journalists’ physical attractiveness and reader loyalty. • There was also an interaction effect between sport type and reporter gender on reader loyalty — but only for male reporters covering a male-appropriate sport.
This study is among the first to assess the potential impact of gender and physical attractiveness of print sports reporters and the gender-typed sport that they cover on audience perception of their credibility. … In particular, the current study revealed that females employed in sports media who cover sports that are perceived to be male appropriate are seen as incongruent with the rugged characteristics of those sports.
One of the notable findings of the study was that women were not perceived to untrustworthy or lacking in expertise in covering football, which suggests an evolution in audience attitudes toward female sports reporters. However, that is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this study looked at print sports reporters, not broadcast ones.
Our findings suggest that physical attractiveness is an important characteristic for print sports reporters in the news platforms online, despite their lack of regular face time on a big television screen. However, as print news has undergone a convergent shift and become part of sports media organizations’ multimedia platform, all newspaper websites now contain news videos. It is not uncommon to see “print” journalists performing video features that are showcased as online content.
*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.