3. Sports and the Press

By Beck, Daniel; Bosshart, Louis | Communication Research Trends, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

3. Sports and the Press


Beck, Daniel, Bosshart, Louis, Communication Research Trends


The press is the oldest medium regularly informing people about sports. From the beginning, sports teams showed keen interest in print media coverage: Newspapers formed the principal means of bringing news of coming events and results of past events. News of coming events built audiences for sporting contests and, together with the results of past events, helped to sell newspapers (Lever & Wheeler, 1993, p. 130). Lamprecht and Stamm distinguish three categories of print media dealing with sports:

* sports pages in daily newspapers

* sports papers and magazines (with general topics or specialized in certain kinds of sports)

* periodicals published by sport clubs and associations (Lamprecht & Stamm, 2002, pp. 148-149)

Sports pages in daily newspapers

The first newspapers were published in the beginning of the 17th century and about 150 years later the first sports-related articles appeared. In the middle of the 18th century sports became a topic in newspapers of the United States: In 1733 the Boston Gazette described a local boxing match between the athletes John Faulcomer and Bob Russel. Such reports about sporting events originally formed a part of the newspapers' local section. The first newspaper with a special sports section was the Morning Herald in England (1817), followed by other English and American papers: The Globe (England, 1818), The American Farmer (USA, 1819), and Bell's Life (England, 1824, published on Sundays). The Times, the conservative London paper, introduced its sports section in 1829. All these sports sections contained local news, as telegraph transmission was not yet available.

With the rising popularity of sports such as baseball in the U.S. or soccer and cycling in Europe after 1870, the sports sections became more important. At that time, telegraph transmission made it possible to report sports news instantaneously from outside the local area, thus allowing for the first time in history collective involvement in distant sporting events. The telegraph was not only used by print media journalists, but also by sports fans themselves--bettors went to pool rooms and saloons equipped with receiving sets (Lever & Wheeler, 1993, p. 127). At the same time, very fast rotary press techniques came along with lower production costs and therefore lower consumer prices. Newspapers and magazines became a good for everybody.

A lot of the newspaper readers were now interested in popular sports. The New York World became the first newspaper with a special sports newsroom in 1883. In the 1920s 40% of the local news of the New York World and 60% of the local news of the New York Tribune consisted of sports news. At that time the early way of sports reporting--describing an event chronologically--had already been replaced by the modern style of journalism, placing the most important information at the beginning of the article (Garrison & Sabljak, 1993, p. 23).

After the introduction of electronic media, especially television, the function of the sports pages changed. Other media were able to report the results and the course of a match or a race much faster than the newspapers. Nevertheless, the sports pages did not become useless. Live reporting on radio and television increased the general interest in sports, but due to a lack of time TV and radio reporters could not give enough background information. So it became the newspaper journalists' task to provide this kind of news: analyses, comments, reports from beside the field, track, or arena floor. The most important question for them was no longer who won, but why he or she or the team did. Sports journalism in newspapers became more demanding and achieved a higher level of professionalism than before.

For a long time, the popular press wanted to show sports "from the inside," being close to the events and to the athletes. Quality papers also adopted this style to a certain extent (in Europe since the 1960s). …

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