Are sports reporters up to scratch?
By Orville Higgins
Ask the average man who are the top 10 journalists in the country over, say, the last 10 years, and invariably the same names will keep coming up. Just off the top of my head: Wilmot Perkins, John Maxwell, Ian Boyne, Cliff Hughes, Dionne Jackson-Miller will more than likely feature. An extension to that list may see names like Garfield Burford, Gary Spaulding, Earl Moxam, and so on.
What's interesting is that it's unlikely that any sports journalist will be mentioned. With the possible exception of the late Hugh Crosskill, very few Jamaicans would rate a sports journalist among the elite - partly because Hugh was not seen as a sports journalist only.
I've done my own rather informal survey and have found that in most media houses that cover both news and sports, the manager or supervisor of the news department is almost always better paid than his/her peer in the sports department. The news manager is generally regarded as higher up in the management pecking order.
No one can remember the last time a sports journalist was chosen as the Press Association of Jamaica's Journalist of the Year. Why?
Higher ratings for news
Generally, media owners and the public tend to give higher ratings to journalists specialising in 'hard news' and current affairs than to those in sports.
But is hard news necessarily a more serious genre than sports?
The reason the sportscast inevitably comes after the newscast is simply because the decision makers give the former less priority. The other reason may make me some enemies among my sports colleagues, but I think the newsmen do far better at preparing themselves before they go on air or in print. They are more vigilant in going after all the facts, more astute at going after all the angles to make the story. They therefore tend to put out more high-quality work and, therefore, get greater respect.
There are exceptions, of course. For example, there is no news anchor on television or radio who enunciates better than Lance Whittaker, nor is anyone as adept at rationalising points in news as Lance does in sports. Hubert Lawrence's ability to discuss track and field puts him in a class above any hard-news journalist in the country. He's world-class.
There are others, of course. Sadly, though, these exceptions prove the rule. Too often, sports discussions are chock-full of emotional drivel than high-class analysis. Too many of those who parade in front of a microphone or write in the papers come across as being biased and, therefore, not credible.
Too often sports journalists take argumentative positions which don't depend on facts. I have heard and seen too many of my colleagues defending the indefensible. Sometimes, the absence of common sense rankles me. But the commentators get away with it because, after all, it is 'only sports'.
In news, emotional outbursts about, say, the prime minister are not encouraged, or allowed, if one can't substantiate the claims, but in sports, it's fair game for media people to castigate a sportsman simply because they don't like him, or her.
Less inclined to sue
One reason why Jamaican sports journalists tend to be so sloppy in their research and analysis is because few persons have been inclined to sue for defamation of character. The man in news knows that he has to be factual and fair in his criticism of public persons, because he knows that a lawsuit is always looming.
In sports, that isn't so. I have heard people on radio blatantly suggesting that a top female US athlete is on drugs. No news journalist would get away with saying something equally damaging about a public official.
Finally, too many of those who pass off as sports journalists are usually nothing more than a man (or woman) who used to be good at a particular sport. They may know a particular sport well, but the tenets of good journalism escapes them. They were never trained in the craft. That is less true in the news departments.
Those who are on the front line of news are more likely to be schooled, formally, in journalism.
Unless sports journalists step up our game, we will always be regarded as poor second cousins to our news colleagues. Until then, when people talk about the 'real' journalists in Jamaica, none of us in sports will be mentioned.
Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to email@example.com.