Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Telling the Story: Narrative in Newspaper Accounts of a Men's Collegiate Basketball Tournament

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Telling the Story: Narrative in Newspaper Accounts of a Men's Collegiate Basketball Tournament

Article excerpt

sporting events reinforce capitalism and other dominant American ideologies (Kinkema & Harris, 1992). Yet the narrative form that underlies many of these renderings has not been examined with regard to the ways in which it may lend realism and truthfulness to the ideological messages they contain. Several hints of this were found in this study, but more fine-grained analyses of narratives in media portrayals of sporting events should be done to shed more light on this.

Janet C. Harris is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Laura A. Hills was a graduate assistant in the same The concept of narrative or story is increasingly being used as a theoretical model for informing research dealing with a wide array of sociocultural phenomena, especially those concerned with communication (Fisher, 1987; Kozloff, 1987; Martin, 1986). Individual newspaper articles as well as collections of articles are often structured to tell a story (cf. Dahlgren, 1988; Mander, 1987; Sims, 1984). These journalistic accounts of real-life events contain many of the elements of fictional narratives (cf. Brooks & Warren, 1959; Chatman, 1978; Rimmon-Kenan, 1983). Especially important elements are plots, characters, and themes.

Sport seems particularly well suited to news coverage using a narrative framework because of its inherent storylike structure. Whether the story involves a single game, a tournament, a season, or a series of seasons, initial tensions or uncertainties--usually connected with winning--are at least partially resolved as actions unfold (cf. Bury, 1986; Kupfer, 1991; Morris & Nydahl, 1985; Nimmo & Combs, 1983, p. 126). In tournaments or complete seasons, events occur in serialized form with time passing between specific games or "episodes." Spectators must maintain sufficient interest to keep returning for the next installment. Full resolution of initial uncertainties is unlikely because, even though winners emerge periodically, subsequent contests and future seasons serve as continuing sources of conflict and tension. This makes closure extremely elusive, and sport coverage takes on the open, serialized quality of dramatic offerings in daytime television soap operas.

Narrative is used pervasively to structure conceptions of daily events in American society, and storytelling or recounting of narratives is a major means of sharing this information. Furthermore, information about elite sport is most often obtained by the American public via the mass media--newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. Television and radio provide instantaneous coverage of live sporting events; increasingly, however, television coverage is taped, edited, and shown later. Newspaper coverage is somewhat delayed in time but often involves immediate accounts of games and related events written by reporters who were on the scene themselves. Magazine coverage is delayed even longer and often includes a considerable amount of material that extends beyond coverage of the game itself.

Different forms of mass communication (e.g., newspapers, magazines, radio, television) as well as different aspects of each form (e.g., specific television shows or newspaper articles) are widely believed to influence one another in complex interactive processes often referred to as intertextuality (Fiske, 1987). Furthermore, even though the nature of the media accounts themselves undoubtedly influence people's interpretations of them (Condit, 1989), members of the audience--viewers, readers, listeners--are undoubtedly involved in active construction of a variety of different meanings (Condit, 1989; Fiske, 1987). Therefore any particular media portrayal of a sporting event is likely to influence and be influenced by other media portrayals, and the sporting event is open to multiple interpretations by those in the general public who encounter it. People's interpretations, however, generally overlap considerably. …

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