If you follow me on any social media, you probably know that I’m a big Red Sox fan; I don’t attempt to hide it. In my four years of journalism courses at UConn, the topic of bias has come up many times. Political reporters are advised to not declare a party affiliation, not to attend rallies or protests and to monitor their political opinion postings and sharing on social media. For aspiring sports journalists, a similar suggestion is often made: remain neutral, and don’t affiliate yourself with a certain team. While there is some value in this advice, I think it’s fairly outdated.
Chances are if you’re in this industry, you have an interest in sports. That interest likely stems from growing up as a sports fan, and more specifically a fan of certain teams. Being a fan involves knowledge as well as passion, two traits I consider to be highly valuable in this career. Rather than abandon a fandom when entering this field, you should embrace it, while also practicing objectivity.
“Old school” sports reporters may suggest that being a fan in this career makes you less credible, and is potentially inappropriate. The credibility argument has always baffled me. I know few fans, if any, who do nothing but praise their team and their organization. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Fans are the biggest critics, constantly analyzing their team’s performance and management decisions. As a sports journalist, this is a useful tool if you apply it to all teams rather than just your own. Disguising your fandom arguably makes you less credible, as you’re ignoring a part of your life.
Balancing being a fan and a professional sports reporter provides a human element to your work while giving your readers/viewers honest insight.
Another issue that seems to arise within sports reporting is player interaction. The question of what’s appropriate in terms of how you gather information, and how comfortable you should be with the players and coaches you work with.
Rob Bradford is a columnist for WEEI, and the Boston Herald’s former Red Sox columnist. A few weeks ago, Bradford hosted Sox pitcher’s Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello on his podcast. The set up of the podcast caused some stirring among the industry, as the three guys did the podcast from a bar. But wait there’s more! There were even beers involved. The old school guys probably passed out at the mere idea of a professional reporter sharing drinks with athletes while doing their job.
While there is still value in the reporters that gather stats and attend press conferences faithfully, the fact is, that stuff has gotten boring. Sure, there’s still a huge interest in hearing what athletes and coaches have to say post game/practice, but fans want more than that. Fans want personal stories, athletes opening up beyond the often robotic post game pressers where they recite cliché lines you’ve heard 1,001 times before. Those stories and moments don’t come in conference rooms or offices, those stories come from comfortable, relaxed environments (such as bars) where athletes have a built up trust with their interviewer. Of course there are lines to be conscious of crossing, but this form of interaction is incredibly valuable for sports media.
As a student reporter, I’ve faced similar situations with being a fan and also with player interaction. The athletes I cover are also my classmates, and in some cases, my friends. Maintaining both a personal and professional relationship with the athletes you cover is possible, and adds value to your reporting if done appropriately. Being cautious of crossing lines and remaining objective are vital in this industry, but the personal connections we have to teams and players is not something to be ignored, but embraced.