As someone who plans to be involved in sports media over the next 20 years, it’s about time I stepped back to take a look at where sports media is now and how it could move forward.
As society grows on into the future, people are only going to become more attached to technology. Newspapers are surviving at the moment, but digital subscriptions will likely eclipse physical papers in a few decades. What that doesn’t mean, however, is the elimination of storytelling. I’d like to get this point out of the way early. The quality of work that goes into sportswriting will not fall victim to time.
If I could throw sports in alongside death and taxes as life’s certainties, I certainly will. How could I not? Every year, people go back to their teams. Sports seasons are a part of society’s routine life. With those sports seasons must come sportswriters. Whether they report, blog, investigate, analyze, overanalyze or criticize, the media will always have a place in sports. Regardless of the medium, the sportswriting will remain as consistent as the sports themselves. The unscripted drama that sports provide is an unmatched thrill that spans generations. The media must take that unscripted drama and interpret in a way that makes the story just as important and memorable as the moment. It seems that the ways in which people receive their news is the only thing that’s changing. Other than that, people will always need their sports and their sports news.
The platforms on which people receive their sports news is a vastly growing horizon. Given that social media platforms are the quickest and easiest way to get news out there, sportswriting has adapted alongside it. Every major news outlet is now on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat or some other sixth one. If there’s a sports media outlet not on social media, they’re losing. As younger athletes of the technology age take over their respective leagues, social media has turned into a place where news is broken first. If a player wants out of their contract or if they are joining a new team or they just so happen to like Lucky Charms, social media provides a mean for reporters to gather content. Considering that social media is where any team or player can connect with their audience, any sportswriter, blogger or media outlet can connect with that same audience.
I don’t really see where social media adapts from here. As of now, the quick, clipped aspect of social media is what’s winning over many eyes. That doesn’t mean that sports media and the work that goes into it should completely put their eggs into the basket of brevity. If ESPN needed to trim a small portion of Lisa Salters’ interview with Kareem Hunt to promote that interview on social media, ESPN nor Salters should get upset with people engaging with that post. I’d say something like that trimmed promotion would get people to go watch the full interview. I think outlets like ESPN should have their interests across many platforms. Judging by the rise in social media, it’s best that all media outlets work just as hard in their social media department as they do in their investigative reporting department. There’s no foreseeable end to the social media platform, so I think that sports media should continue to rise along with it because that’s where both the audience and the athletes are.
For all the voices that are out there, I say keep speaking, writing, blogging, vlogging, or tweeting. The sports media market is home to so many voices. ESPN is clearly the behemoth of them all but places like Bleacher Report, The Athletic, The Undefeated, Sports Illustrated, SB Nation, Barstool Sports or any of the sports sides of the network television channels are all places to consume sports media. Each of them have unique voices and they’re all adapting to modern technologies while also sticking to classic, quality sports journalism. And yes, I include Barstool.
Here’re my two cents on Barstool. They were born out of the social media age and are thriving in it. I’ve noticed purists to sports media trash on Barstool, but I think it’s because they’re the new kid on the block. Just because it’s not sports media in the traditional way, people tend to hate their content. I don’t like all of their content. But I don’t like all the content that ESPN or Bleacher Report put out either. Barstool is good at what they do because they were born in the social media age. Some of the more distinguished outlets have even started mimicking Barstool’s habits whether they’ll admit it or not. I just think Barstool must be given their due in the world of sports media because there’s no foreseeable end to them just like all the others.
Given that there are many voices out there, it’s all about selective hearing in the new world. Technology has provided anyone with a phone or computer the ability to put their voice out there. Not everybody will absorb every bit of content out there. I think with all the voices out there though, each individual voice must continue to produce their content as if everybody will absorb it. ESPN reporters shouldn’t act high and mighty over Ol’ Billy Two-Shoes’ Sports Blog. ESPN clearly has more credibility but they have to stick to their quality guns. Given that they’re the behemoth, they must still report at a level they hold themselves to. That doesn’t mean Ol’ Billy shouldn’t have a blog. He should continue to write and work as if he had the same opportunity that an ESPN reporter has. The ESPN reporter may have a degree and all, but the reality of the situation is that you don’t need a degree to do what we do. It stinks to admit that but it’s true. But in journalism education, we’ve been prepped pretty well for the adapting world and we were taught the ethics and a quality standard. If you’re a better sportswriter than Ol’ Billy, show it. Don’t trash on Billy because he gets an audience. There may not be room for everybody at the top but there is room for everybody. To all sportswriters, just keep writing. Hold yourself to the ethical standards you were taught if you were taught them. If you want your voice out there, put it out there. The world is only going to continue being an open forum.
Of all things presented, I think in 20 years, as long as sportswriters stick to quality, sportswriting will survive in the ever-changing world. Quality has varying degrees of acceptance now but quality is in the eye of the audience. As long as any sportswriter or reporter or blogger etc. respects their audience and they want to continue telling sports stories, the field will exist. Time will only tell if social media or traditional newspapers will outlast the other. The only thing that can be guaranteed is that the Yankees will still suck 20 years from now and somebody will have something to say about it. That’s what sports journalism is about. That’s what it has always been about and that’s what it will always be about.