This is Part 1 in a series about access in sports journalism. Most of this series is being taken from the previously unpublished parts of my 2014 dissertation. Rather than let it sit on a library shelf in Syracuse, I’m sharing parts of it here. Before we get into the heart of access in sports journalism, let’s start with some key background.
First - all the discussion about access to sources in journalism is part of what media sociologists call “the social construction of news.”
Here’s what that means: To professional journalists, news is something that exists out there in the world, and it’s a reporter’s job to go out there and find it. News is something to be discovered. That is a core belief of the news paradigm.
For those of us who take the sociological view, news is a social construct. You can’t go out into the world, point to something and say “that’s news” the way you can say “that is a pine tree” or “that’s oxygen.” News is a man-made creation, a social construct. Journalists, academics, and the public have collectively, over time, defined what we mean when we say something is news.
Gaye Tuchman found that news is not a reflection of reality (as the traditional journalistic ethos holds) but instead a construction of reality, which is made by journalists through their routines. Mark Fishman wrote that news is a social construct, something that is created through journalistic norms, attitudes, practices, and routines. Herbert Gans wrote that news construction is a complex interplay of journalists’ attitudes and practices, and organizational goals and constraints.
The other thing to know: The relationship between reporters and sources is central to journalism.
Since journalists rarely see news events as they happen, they are reliant upon sources for the information needed to produce their stories.
In his seminal work, Gans defined sources as “the actors whom journalists observe or interview, including interviewees who appear on the air or who are quoted in magazine articles, and those who supply background information or story suggestion.” Put plainly, a source is someone who provides information about an event to a journalist. Researchers have called news “a product of transactions between journalists and their sources, and Gans referred to the journalist-source relationship as both a game of tug-of-war and a dance.
In terms of sports journalism, David Rowe found that sports journalists tend to use star athletes, coaches and administrators as sources in stories, and Mark Douglas Lowes wrote that sportswriters are reliant upon access to athletes, which leads to a culture that promotes more positive than critical coverage.
Next: What access looks like in sports journalism.