Newspapers Are Gone With The Wind

A close look at sports journalism in the digital age, how good really is it?

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iving in the 21st century it is hard to imagine sports news not found on a mobile device or TV screen. However, before the shift from print to digital happened, journalism was pretty different.

News production used to be largely controlled by big news institutions, it was a one-way channel of communication from the top down.

The news was distributed in print (newspapers) or broadcasted (TV and radio). In addition, it was scheduled, and audiences had to shape their lives around it. Media theorist David Gauntlet described it as “the gods” passing down information to “the little people”.

Convergence Culture

The proliferation of smartphones and convergence of media technologies has meant that news is increasingly accessed via mobile applications, the internet, and social media platforms. Social media also allows for audiences to be prosumers, reporting news events themselves, changing the communication channel to “many-to-many”.

Traditional methods of distribution, such as print, still exist but have been increasingly joined by digital methods of distribution online. Additionally, there are robots in newsrooms reporting the news instead of journalists. Making the role of the journalist significantly less important.

The decline of traditional news

According to an analysis of ABC circulation data by Press Gazette, UK national newspaper sales have fallen by nearly two-thirds over the last two decades, as a result of the digital shift.

Newspaper publishers have been forced to expand online in order to survive.

Back in 2016 The Independent stopped printing completely and started focussing on a digital-only future.

Despite sales in print falling, there are several benefits to going digital.

News outlets are able to achieve more news values by taking advantage of a wider range of media forms not possible in print media, such as video.

News values that can be satisfied with going digital:

Harcup and O’Neil propose a set of 15 contemporary news values, three of which are easily satisfied when writing news digitally.

Audio-visuals:

Stories can have photographs, video, audio and can be illustrated with infographics. Meaning that the reader will get a better picture of the story.

Shareability:

Stories that are thought likely to generate sharing and comments via Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media

Follow-up:

Stories about subjects already in the news. This can be done easily online by reposting.

But how has it affected sports journalism in particular and what exactly are the pros and the cons?

How has digital technology affected sports journalism?

Websites

Sports fans/readers can click on and read the news they want to read. They can access it all in one place and rather quickly. You don’t have to watch TV and sit through all the other sports that you’re not interested in.

Readers also have the option to watch videos related to the article they are reading online, for example, match highlights or interviews with athletes. This improves the quality of journalistic storytelling and provides readers with a better understanding of the news they consume.

Social Media

Social media, Twitter, in particular, is an outlet where professional and non-professional media are accessed side by side. It has decentralised the power of big institutions by allowing fans to create their own content.

Social media is the main cause of the introduction, and rise of, citizen journalism. Fans are now full participants, they go to watch a game, or an event, and then write about it.

Furthermore, social media is an area where professional journalists can communicate with their audience, and where sports teams/athletes can share their voice. This can be done by reacting to news stories or writing their own news. Hypothetically, this should improve the quality of news because there are shared facts and opinions.

However, as beneficial as social media is, it has also encouraged the spread of fake news.

Citizen journalists don’t always check their sources before they share information, so information isn’t always credible. Therefore, it is a hotspot for rumours, especially in the transfer window for sports.

Mobile Apps

Sports news apps like BBC Sport and Sky Sports allow for fans to see sports news all in one place in a more concise way. The apps allow readers to curate the news they see to their interests. For example, only following a specific sport or a specific team/athlete.

Also, readers can have notifications turned on so that they are instantly updated with the most important sports news related to their sport or team.

Timeliness is an important factor in terms of news values, and nothing can quite beat the speed of sports apps. If a football team scores in a match, almost simultaneously the fans will be notified by the app.

Talk about audience-centric sports journalism!

Automated Reporting

You might have wondered how it is humanly possible for someone to instantly publish sports news around the clock for every single sport.

Well, it isn’t always humanly possible.

There are now robots in place of humans who write the news. They use technology to track all of the statistics in real-time and then build a report and/or article following set templates. It can produce something as small as a notification update to something as large as an article.

This allows journalists to save time and focus on more interesting stories. It is also much more cost-effective as a machine is far cheaper than a human.

Advantages and disadvantages

The main benefits of the digital age on sports journalism is how audience-centred it is. Readers are able to curate the news to what they want to see and can get it instantly.

A lot of time is saved in the production, distribution, and reading of the news. As well as money, since most websites and apps are free.

However, the rise of social media means that fans already know most of the information so sports journalists have to come up with ways to keep their readers engaged and give them more information.

This means that news might be rushed, lowering the quality and risking the credibility of what is written.

Digital sports news vs traditional sports news?

Peter and I outside the Tottenham Ground.

I spoke to Peter Wynne, and avid Tottenham Hotspur fan, who has grown up following football. He has witnessed the transition from traditional news to digital and therefore is able to compare the two.

“I have a print subscription for The Times, which I am actually planning on cancelling”

Peter gets his sports news from predominantly radio, online (websites), and occasionally TV:

I won’t turn the TV on to find out the latest sports news, I go to the radio, or websites for that, but sports news on TV is still very good”.

I asked him what the quality of the sports section in The Times newspaper was like, he claimed that it was:

“Very good, but it’s not worth the money when you can find that information online for free”.

Peter is one of many who has made the shift from traditional to digital news. Still, despite the rise of social media, he refuses to use it as a source of news:

“I won’t ever get my news from social media because I totally don’t trust it. Also, i’m not interested in the other stuff that comes with twitter, I just wan’t plain old news”.

His thoughts back up the disadvantages of social media and news consumption which I outlined earlier.

If used correctly, social media can be a great tool for news consumption. However, there are too many people online who spread fake news, and social media itself is crowded with too many distractions.

What do you think, is social media a good platform to get your sports news fix? Or would you rather go directly to news websites? Or more traditional methods?

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