Survey Examines Extent of Professionalism in Sports Journalism

By Salwen, Michael; Garrison, Bruce | Editor & Publisher, January 15, 1994 | Go to article overview

Survey Examines Extent of Professionalism in Sports Journalism


Salwen, Michael, Garrison, Bruce, Editor & Publisher


A RECENT NATIONAL study of daily newspaper sports editors indicates strong endorsements of the value of journalistic professionalism and ethics but lukewarm support for journalism education.

Members of the Associated Press Sports Editors, a national organization of sports section managers, overwhelmingly endorsed statements that journalism should be regarded as a profession and that newspapers should rely on research to improve their products and serve readers.

They also endorsed, albeit less strongly, the view that it is more important to give the reading public information that it needs rather than what it wants. The sports journalists also strongly endorsed all ethics items.

The study, conducted by the School of Communication at the University of Miami, examined the professional concerns of leading sports journalists during the past five years. It examined broad "professional orientations and specific aspects of professionalism relating to formal training and ethics."

This study is part of an ongoing longitudinal survey of leading sports journalists that attempts to assess their perceptions of the extent to which professionalism is evident in daily sports journalism.

The first set of questionnaires was mailed in 1988 to all active members of APSE, then a 624-member organization. The latest survey took place in mid-1993. Those questionnaires were sent to the 445 members of the organization, down from the earlier total because of economic hardships in the industry. In 1988, 249 members responded, a rate of 40%. In 1993, 219 responded, a rate of 49%.

Both surveys included sets of professionalism, education and ethics statements. In 1988, nine statements were evaluated. The same items were included in 1993 with an additional two items about general ethics. Items were evaluated using a five-point scale, ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Although 1993 data indicated slight movement toward diversity from 1988, :he mean responses indicate that the group remains overwhelmingly white, male, college-educated and "thirty-something."

Education levels also were slightly higher in 1993 compared to those in 1988. Both median age and length of career increased slightly as well.

Overall, the ethics and education findings indicate strong endorsement of the professionalism and ethics statements but lukewarm support at best for the education items.

Members strongly backed statements that journalism is a profession and that newspapers should rely on research in making editorial decisions. They also endorsed--less strongly--the view that it is more important to give readers information that they need rather than simply what they want. The sports journalists also endorsed ethics standards.

"The ethics situation is finally being addressed by the entire industry" said survey respondent Tom Tebbs, sports editor of the Monterey County (Calif.) Herald. "The public's image may not improve because of their view of our integrity, which they assimilate to that of lawyers. This, however, cannot be fought. People are still going to want the in-depth knowledge that newspapers provide. As long as we adapt to what we present, we'll be fine"

But the situation remains a problem, said Jack Sims, a former deputy general sports editor at the Associated Press.

"Although sports editors are policing their staffs better, there are still a lot of sports journalists who are still `cheerleaders' for the home team," he said from Auburn, Ala., where the former APSE treasurer is retired. "I know guys who do the public address announcing at a basketball game for $10 and then write a story about the game. Is that ethical?"

Responses indicate only tepid support for two of the education items-- that the main components of journalism can be learned in school and college and that journalists should be required to return periodically to school to improve skills. …

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