August 22, 2005

Box Scores and Bylines

Reporting Style



Opinion

A big issue in journalism today is the level of subjectivity that creeps onto the page, the concern that the distinction between news and opinion has become increasingly hard to make. The front of the sports section seems to contribute to this blurring. The sports reportage here, the study found, is considerably more likely than stories from other sections to include opinion and speculation. Removing opinion columns from the mix, seventeen percent of sports stories contain opinion and speculation, double the numbers for A1 stories (6%) and front-page Metro news stories (2%) combined.

There is without question a unique attitude to the sports page. A Penn State University survey of sports editors in the Southeast found that 39% believed it was okay to lean toward the hometown in its coverage – be something of a “homer.” (1) It is unlikely that other parts of the paper would condone such a rooting interest for a privately-owned city business.

Columns are by nature opinionated and it is hardly surprising to find that nearly all (90%) sports columns studied contained some belief and speculation.

What may be more striking is the number of columns that appear on the front page of the sports section, especially in comparison to other section fronts. Eighteen percent of all front-page sports stories were opinion columns, a considerably higher number than on A1 (1%) or the Metro front (10%).

Sports columns were most likely to appear on the front pages of large and medium-size circulation newspapers where there might be more resources to hire full-time sports columnists. Those papers also tend to cover large markets where sports columnists often become local celebrities who appear on radio and television and help publicize their employer.

Thus, not only are the sports stories themselves more opinionated than those found on other section fronts, but the overall impression of the front page is one defined by a higher level of belief and speculation.

(1) Marie Hardin, “Survey Finds Boosterism, Freebies Remain Problem for Newspaper Sports Departments,” Newspaper Research Journal, Volume 26, No. 1, Winter 2005, page 70.