9

Fourth estate or fan club? Sports
journalism engages the popular
David Rowe
To whom are journalists primarily responsible – their employers or their public?
Should sports journalists be representative of, or distinguishable from, their audiences?
How dependent should journalists be on particular sources?
Should journalists always be committed to critical coverage of their 'round', even if this means that key sources will no longer speak to them?
Is it acceptable for some journalists in popular fields, such as the sports round, to leave 'hard', investigative and critical journalism to others on the more 'serious' journalistic rounds like politics, law and business?

Introduction: questions of the popular

Since the inception of journalism as a key mode of communication in modernity (Hartley 1996), journalists have been confronted by several difficult questions of practice. These have concerned issues of commercial influence and critical independence that are relevant to all journalists, especially those who cover the burgeoning areas of popular culture, celebrity and entertainment (Turner et al. 2000). Newspapers have always covered areas of 'light entertainment' as well as 'hard news', but today, under pressure from many other news and entertainment sources, there is a detectable shift in the balance of newspaper content towards lighter, more 'user-friendly' topics (Bennett 2003).

Sport, as an important subject for journalism, is perfectly positioned to discharge both a news role based on immediacy and an entertainment function founded on celebrity (Turner 2004), while also offering many rich

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