When you consider everything that the advent of the internet and the increasing use of technology has changed in society, you probably think of the widespread use of smartphones and social media. Less frequently do people think about sports journalism. The transformation of the latter has been complete and striking over the past two decades, however, and today’s journalism looks very different from the journalism of years past. Gone are the days of waiting for the day’s newspaper to see the final scores of the game. Today, up-to-date scores and odds are available at any time – all you have to do is log on.
In the digital age, sports journalism has expanded far beyond newspapers. This article will look at how it has reached new platforms over the past few years and what that means for the future of the industry.
Why does sports journalism matter to today’s fans?
Before we dive into how fans are accessing their favorite sports journalism sources, let’s talk about why they are searching for reliable sources of information.
In general, sports news analysis and coverage have a big impact on how fans perceive teams and sports. Think about the fans listening to experts debate the pros and cons of a particular athlete, and it might be easier to understand this point. Sports journalists often operate as the primary source of news and other information for fans, and sports reporting can often increase the popularity of a particular team or team member or decrease it.
Sports journalism creates narratives that help people connect to their favorite teams and players and relate to their successes and failures. These narratives, when used for good, can significantly improve the good press surrounding the subject of the narrative. Consider a team that has plenty of talent but often struggles to make it to the final games. A sports reporter might frame this as an “underdog” tale hyping the team and their unusual ascension to the greats. This narrative excites fans and drums up support for the team, even if that’s not the reporter’s goal.
Journalists also have access to a wealth of information and data. They can back up their opinions with relevant and recent statistics and analytics, making their words more credible and further exciting readers. Whether they do this in writing or on video, or somewhere in between, reporters can use this information to provide highly detailed analyses of the sport in question.
The rise of “any time” digital sports journalism
In 1979, a network called ESPN launched live out of Milwaukee. The newcomer would quickly take over the sports industry and become so ubiquitous in sports journalism that it was more or less the only name around for years. Everyone turned on ESPN when they wanted to know breaking news from the industry. Up until then, this was mostly the purview of print papers, but ESPN truly took it into prime time. No matter the sport you wanted to know about, all you had to do was tune into an ESPN broadcast, and you were sure to hear something about it sooner or later.
Now, thanks to the rise and widespread use of digital technology, sports media has shifted once more from a prime time to an “any time” medium. While ESPN is still an important part of the industry, it is now joined by a host of popular digital-exclusive websites and podcasts. The spread of sports journalism has been incredible to see, and it doesn’t seem poised to stop any time soon.
What exactly does this “any time” sports access look like in practice, and what does it mean for the industry? Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which sports journalism has expanded over the past several years.
Perhaps the most obvious answer is that sports journalism has spread to websites. Instead of focusing primarily on live broadcasts, you could say that sports journalism has returned to its “roots” in some ways. The written word is once more a popular option, but not because it is the only widespread source. Today’s sports fans appreciate sports news websites because they aggregate information about many different sports in the industry in one place. Fans don’t have to spend much time on Google searching for reliable news when they have a favorite website to check because chances are good that the story will end up there eventually.
Another reason content on websites, including blogs, is so popular in sports journalism is that they make it easier for experts to provide analysis. Instead of waiting for a panel to make its way to ESPN, fans can instead check their favorite text-based news source and read the thoughts resident experts have on the latest game or bits of breaking news. For avid fans with the desire to be the first to hear about anything, this has been a great boon. They can find the opinions that interest them almost in real time.
Note that some sports journalism websites integrate everything we talk about above with live casting of the games people are interested in seeing. This includes sometimes offering their own sports announcers and commentators to watch the game and react in real time. We’ll talk more about this later in our section on video and live stream reporting, but it is an interesting connection to mention up front. This combination of the written word and live announcements is another reason sports websites have become such a popular choice.
Social media has become something of a surprising haven for sports journalism. This is especially true for Twitter, which has quickly grown into a behemoth of a social media website over the past decade or so. Social media makes it easier for journalists to not only reach the people interested in their news but also to do so quickly and reliably, offering their comments in real time as a game is playing out. Twitter offers a combination of written and video, just like websites but in much shorter bites, making it an easier option for fans interested in consuming their news bit by bit as they work.
Another reason social media has become so popular for sports fans is the rise of influencer culture. While journalists might not be influencers, they offer the same kind of parasocial relationship that allows fans to follow their interests and recommendations easily.
Jack Milko, for example, a St. Bonaventure graduate, has built an impressive community around his knowledge and expertise. This is especially popular with newer sports fans who have yet to form strong opinions about their favorite teams and the industry as a whole. St. Bonaventure offers a degree program in sports journalism that teaches students how to create and cater content to sports fans.
Once you find a reporter you appreciate on social media, you can easily follow them and get updates every time they post or go live. These platforms also often serve as an archive of sorts, allowing users to go back and relive exciting moments.
Social media isn’t the most popular way to consume sports journalism, but it has become a very real option for thousands of fans around the world. The platform is most often combined with another medium of sports journalism for long-form coverage.
Podcasts are an interesting topic in sports journalism. They are rarely mentioned on mainstream sports programs, even those that mention alternate means of sports journalism, but they are an incredibly popular option for today’s sports fans. According to Forbes, nearly 40% of Americans listened to one or more podcasts every month in 2021. This number is still growing, and more people find themselves listening to podcasts regularly every year. Despite the fact that they are not often discussed, they are a massive medium with huge potential for sports journalism.
Think of podcasts as an on-demand newscast. Depending on the podcast you select, you can expect to find hosts breaking down the most exciting news in the industry on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Because you can choose when to listen, you are free to download the episodes on your way to work or at the gym. Because of their portability, podcasts are an incredibly convenient option for busy people, as so much of society seems to be.
Sports podcasting is a quickly growing industry. Not only are they a good solution for fans interested in industry news, but they are also a lucrative option for sports journalists and commentators. Podcasts have low overhead costs aside from a microphone and a recording device, both of which can be found on most mobile devices. They also have incredible reach, with fans around the world able to easily find and listen to a show as the urge strikes.
Finally, podcasts tie into influencer culture. Hosts are often personable and funny and relate to their audiences in very personal ways. Once you find a podcaster you “click” with, you can often branch out and find similar content, further diversifying your news feed.
If there is any industry that is growing rapidly and introducing people to a new and interesting way of consuming information, it is the livestreaming community. You might see in this area a tie-in to more traditional ways of consuming sports media, such as ESPN or the evening news, and to a certain extent, this is an accurate comparison. Today’s livestreams differ from traditional broadcasts in a few ways, however, so let’s take a closer look.
First, today’s livestreams don’t necessarily have to be through a network at all. While past sporting events were tied to a certain channel or provider, modern streams can be accessed on a plethora of different devices through different subscriptions and channels. If you have a cable package with Sky, for example, you have access to all of the sports they offer directly. If you don’t have a cable package, you can probably still access those streams, just through a different provider. Big networks sometimes “lease” some of their livestreams to smaller cable and internet providers, allowing viewers to pay for the game they want to see and nothing else or pay for a subscription to a smaller, often sports-focused platform.
Second, not all sports livestream the game itself. While there are certainly many different ways to access sporting events, most of them offering the full stream “experience,” some independent streamers instead provide commentary on the game live rather than the game itself. This is helpful for users who can’t watch the game but can listen to audio (such as those at work, for example), as well as for users who are more interested in the commentary than they are in watching the actual plays on the field.
Sports journalists have a few different opportunities to consider for both livestream options. For the first, many journalists host sports streams on smaller platforms. They act as commentators for a smaller audience, often offering more in-depth analysis on the go than official broadcast announcers. For the second livestream option, some journalists are taking to smaller streams focused on their own commentary rather than the game itself. These are reporters who have built a user base of loyal listeners who enjoy hearing what they have to say rather than watching the game in its entirety.
Both kinds of livestreams allow sports journalists the opportunity to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge with people who want to hear it. Picking these smaller streams is usually a choice rather than a given – people tend to seek out specific journalists rather than simply listening to the commentators hired by the main network showing the livestream. Because of this, users are more engaged with the reporters, which allows them to share more detailed analysis throughout the games.
How to become a sports journalist
If you are interested in sports journalism, why not consider a career in the field? You can start by earning an undergraduate degree in journalism and then specializing in sports journalism in graduate school. This gives you time to master the basics of journalism before adding sports-specific knowledge on top of a solid foundation. Just make sure you pick a respected school that offers accredited classes taught by professors familiar with the industry.
The future of sports journalism
We know how sports journalism has spread to different platforms during the rise of digital technology, but what does that mean for its future? The trend towards real-time analysis and reporting is likely to continue even as technology changes, and it is very likely that new technology will make sharing that information and experience even easier. As the demand for real-time information rises, more and more journalists will likely turn to video or even internet radio options to meet that growing need.
In addition to live reporting, we expect the use of statistics, data and analytics in the industry to continue to rise. Sports journalists already have access to more sophisticated tools than their counterparts did a decade ago, and these allow them to make informed predictions on the fly. We predict that this will become even more widespread in the coming years, and it is likely that additional tools will be developed that make interpreting and sharing data even easier.
What do you think about the future of sports journalism? It has already grown and evolved an incredible amount over just a few decades, and we believe that it will continue to do so as time moves forward. The industry is an incredibly adaptable one, and fans can expect great things in the future. We are excited to see what the future has to hold for this very unique field and expect to see even more experienced reporters entering the scene within the next few years.