Indiana University

Indiana University Journalism

Sports journalists debate effects of hype, evolving media pressures

Zachary Osterman | March 12, 2009
sports panel
Photo by Zach Dobson
From left, panelists Steve Lavin, Sage Steele and Bob Kravitz discussed covering sports at the National Sports Journalism Center Wednesday night at IUPUI.
Is sports coverage better today, or is there just more of it?

Sports journalists debated that notion and others during a panel discussion Wednesday, the inaugural event for the IU School of Journalism’s National Sports Journalism Center in Indianapolis. Located on the IUPUI campus’ Information and Communications Technology Complex, the center launched at the beginning of the year.

Center Director Tim Franklin moderated the talk with panelists Steve Lavin of ABC-TV and ESPN; Sage Steele, ESPN SportsCenter anchor; Gene Wojciechowski, senior writer for ESPN. com; and Bob Kravitz, sports columnist at the Indianapolis Star and EPSN Radio co-host.

The event’s topic, “Heroes, Hype and the Truth: Separating fact from fiction in today’s sports world,” covered a range of issues, including evolving multimedia, blogging and the influence of athletes' star power. 

The central question revolved around the proliferation of media and subsequent explosion of coverage from all corners – newspapers, blogs, Web sites.

Lavin, the first to answer, offered a mixed opinion. While he said the extra coverage is better simply because there is more of it, he worries about the depth of such added coverage.

Steve Lavin
Photo by Zach Dobson
Broadcaster Steve Lavin worries about the depth of added coverage. "You could build a strong argument that it's not better," he said.
“You could build a strong argument that it’s not better,” said the former UCLA men’s basketball coach. “It’s a fine line. You want to give access to the media, access so that your fans can follow your program.”

As the discussion flowed between the panelists, Steele talked about ESPN’s recent decision to add another daily SportsCenter broadcast, aired during the day and aimed at providing breaking news. Steele said the new show has proved challenging, since the rush to break news must also be balanced with accuracy and factual confirmation.

“There were even people at ESPN who said, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Steele said. “The reason is, if there’s breaking news, then we are there and we are ready to go.”

The discussion came back to the idea of hype and whether media outlets are guilty of over-covering events to create more of it to drive up ratings or readership. Kravitz said he this stems from athletes’ recent awareness of their ability to influence coverage through their actions and character.

“Dennis Rodman was a genius,” Kravitz said, using the mercurial former NBA star as an example. “I think a lot of these guys are realizing they have more control of the message than they previously realized.”

Wojciechowski admitted that perhaps news outlets are guilty of hype, but he also pointed out that “sports should be entertaining.”

Gene Wojciechowski
Photo by Zach Dobson
“Sports is about people,” said ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski. "And sometimes, those people are odd, bizarre, very human, very fragile.”
“Sports is about people,” Wojciechowski said. “And sometimes, those people are odd, bizarre, very human, very fragile.”

The event concluded with some question-and-answer interaction with the audience, which included Bloomington students and faculty.

Center Director Tim Franklin, former editor at the Baltimore Sun, said the center’s location “makes perfect sense” because Indianapolis has cultivated its reputation as an amateur and professional sports venue.

“I also think that there’s a void in this curriculum nationally,” Franklin said Wednesday. “This is still pretty novel.”

Since taking up his post at the beginning of this year, Franklin already has lined up potential internships for students with ESPN, the Big Ten Network, the Chicago Tribune, the Associated Press and MLB.com.

Franklin talked about the future of the center within the future of sports journalism, one that is murky. He said the now up-and-running program will strive to keep up, especially with Web-oriented journalism.

“It’s going to have to be an organic process, and one that we evolve over time,” he said.

Questions? Comments? Email the Web editor.