Sports Journalism & Social Media – A parable for our times?

posted by Brendan Hodgson

So, in the March 27th issue of Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard writes a 5000+ word tome – on the impact of the Internet (and blogging) on media coverage of sport.  

(Unfortunately, only subscribers or purchasers of the hard copy will be able to access it.)

Read it. It is an entertaining and insightful peek into the business of sports journalism, and professional sport itself, and how the Internet is empowering fans, and “changing the relationships between athletes, fans and journalists.” Moreover, it clearly articulates all the reasons why the Internet is changing the media landscape, and thus the business of communications.

Best of all, it places the Web (and Social media, to some extent) into a context to which many of my own colleagues (and clients) – being sports fans – can relate. In fact, one colleage - being a huge NFL fan – recently cited this article as a wake-up call to the whole social media movement, and who will be using many of the insights within this article in future presentations on the changing nature of media and crisis.

“Reporters are becoming bloggers, teams are ‘filtering’ information, fans are getting exclusive interviews with G.M’s, and anyone with a camera phone can document a rookie’s philandering or a gridiron hero’s binge drinking.”

That’s it. In a nutshell. The world in which we now live and work. Give it a business context, and the analogy is complete.

The article recounts how in 2005 the Washington Redskins “pulled an end run on print reporters, saying that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was unavailable for interviews about his contract extension; then they gave one to the team’s official website.”  Would that have happened even 5 years ago?

Today, ahletes, such as Barry Bonds and Tiger Woods, regularly break news on their personal websites, says Ballard.

The article goes on to describe how the Oakland A’s are cultivating relationships with fan bloggers such as Tyler Bleszinski, author of Athletics Nation, an unapologetically pro-Oakland A’s blog, even providing exclusive interviews with A’s GM Billy Beane, “the best of all possible worlds for a G.M looking to spread his gospel.”

“The link between the player and the sport and the fan has changed forever,” says former SI editor Sandy Padwe. And not always for the better.

Some examples:

Chicago Bears rookie QB Kyle Orton is photographed drunk in a bar. Photos appear the next day in, and within a week, Orton is answering questions about it in the media.

Sites such as “On the DL“ promise unsourced scandal and dirt on professional baseball players — including transcripts of IM exchanges, photos and unconfirmed accusations of impropriety.

“This is the power – and the danger – of the Internet,” says Ballard. “Any girl or guy at a bar can bring down an athlete, and a rumor can be fanned into a full-fledged conflagration.”

An accompanying article – “Anatomy of a Rumour” – by Albert Chen, recounted how false rumours about two of MLB’s biggest stars testing positive for steroids, fanned online, spread into the mainstream media within 48 hours — picked up by the Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, and Los Angeles Times.  

The old adage still stands. If  it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. The threats posed by the Internet are no longer restricted to new economy companies, their employees and their customers. We’re all at risk. Play Ball!!!

1 Comment


Chris Clarke

I’ve been a sports blogger for over half a year, and I’ve been a PR student for nearly the same amount of time. Both have been great experiences, but I believe there is still a lot more to come from both PR and sports blogs/podcasts. Of course, new media doesn’t replace old media, but sports teams and athletes are already figuring out that saying something through a blog is much easier and direct than telling it to a reporter, who can write anything they choose around a few words. I believe it won’t be long before big moves are made in the sports blogging world.

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