MEDIA: Why sport is challenging news for a first team place

‘It’s going to get much, much worse,’ lamented the Guardian’s star sports writer Richard Williams despairingly on the morning the Daily Mirror declared football war on Germany. He was describing the offensive and coarse way in which the massed forces of the tabloid press, the Sundays as much as the dailies, have been whipping up England’s supporters in recent days with raw sentiments which make the coverage of the beef war look tame.

‘It’s going to get much, much worse,’ lamented the Guardian’s star

sports writer Richard Williams despairingly on the morning the Daily

Mirror declared football war on Germany. He was describing the offensive

and coarse way in which the massed forces of the tabloid press, the

Sundays as much as the dailies, have been whipping up England’s

supporters in recent days with raw sentiments which make the coverage of

the beef war look tame.



But these despicable lapses, using aggressive language in the worst

possible taste, are diverting attention from the underlying truth: that

sports journalism, once a matter for the back pages dominated by male

writers, has become one of the most prestigious and innovative forces

around.



Why this has happened is a matter for debate. I think it is because the

breed has been freed from many of the constraints which, on newspapers,

rob reporters of their individuality. Sports journalists are allowed to

write about their subject with passion and wit. This is why top writers

gravitate into sport, while sports editors, often gutsy, swashbuckling

characters, with a firm grasp of what readers want, are promoted to

powerful mainstream jobs. The genre has fostered individuality: column

writing and colourful opinionated prose, while both Radio 5 and Sky

Sports have discovered the power of converting former sports stars into

proper broadcasters, rather than clumsy commentators wheeled out for say

the Cup Final.



Judging a series of press awards last month, there was one category

which outshone all others and caused the most heartsearching for us:

the sports photographer of the year. It was almost impossible to produce

a clear winner, such was the calibre of the shots on display.



The genre is also assisted by the fact that it has acres of

space/airtime to fill. It is an open secret that Radio 5 Live has

succeeded almost entirely because of its access to live sporting events,

such as golf, new to radio. Before last autumn’s Ryder Cup, live

continuous golf commentary on radio did not exist. But the team pulled

it off and won a Sony award for their efforts.



This year has also seen a massive growth in sports pagination. Perhaps

the most shrewd and successful move by the relaunched Sunday Express has

been to add an arresting broadsheet sports section. The Independent has

followed suit with its Monday sports tabloid, and helped boost sales on

that day, a trick the Daily Telegraph has long been pulling in a bid to

stay over a million copies a day. This forced the Guardian, desperate to

hold its sales above 400,000, to follow suit last Monday.



The message is: if you want to get ahead, forget investigative

journalism, or celebrity interviewing. Take up sports journalism

instead.



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