Dave Krieger says "Sports Journalism" is Almost an Oxymoron

Sports Media Guide has an eye-opening interview with Rocky Mountain News columnist Dave Krieger:

Q. Does sports journalism tend to be promotional?

A. Yes. It's very different than being a city side reporter--it's more akin to entertainment, rock, and movies. From a traditional journalism standpoint in which one judges the value of news based on its significance to society at large � who wins these games couldn't matter less. Yes, the ancillary economic factors are important - who wins doesn't matter. It's entertainment and we give it more space and attention than it should get because people are so into it. We're serving a market function but it's not a traditional function of journalism. It's the same thing as people writing endlessly about Jennifer Aniston -- it's nonsense from a news point of view.

When you get guys approaching sports from a hard news point of view that's revolutionary. It's not coincidental that the two (SF) Chronicle reporters (Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada) were not sports beat guys. It takes an outsider's perspective. If you talk to the beat guys you'll find they're much closer to the teams they cover than to their newsrooms. As an NBA writer I was never in my newsroom but I was around the coaches and players constantly. You have a tendency to identify more with your sport than with your paper.

Q. How do you approach it?

A. I understand it's entertainment. I'm writing a column today about the Broncos that has very little journalistic value but huge entertainment value � the Broncos get huge attention in this marketplace. If I see myself that way � as an entertainer � then what I write doesn't have to have significance. That's fine � that's what I'm being paid to produce because there's a market for it. But when big issues like steroids come in, then we have trouble finding our footing because we're in a different role than the traditional journalist.

I swear I could quote this whole interview. Here's another chunk that's too interesting not to quote:

Q. Is access an advantage?

A. Less and less. When I covered the Nuggets in the late 80s they flew on commercial flights and stayed in hotels that didn't charge $400. I was around them all the time -- sitting in airports and coffee shops. Doug Moe would hold court in coffee shops -- the media and hangers on would come down and sit for hours and hours. All of that is gone now. The teams are on charters and they stay in places we can't afford. I sat next to Dikembe Mutombo when he was a rookie -- we were on a 747 and he didn't get one of the eight first-class seats -- and this 7-1 guy was assigned a middle seat in coach. I was next to him -- his knees were almost in his mouth -- and he was good-natured about it. There's nothing like that to get to know somebody. Now I can go in a lockerroom after a game all season long and never develop that kind of rapport.

The reality is that access means less and less. They moved us off the floor this year -- all over the country. They really don't care anymore. I asked an NBA official, "Don't you want us to communicate the sights and sounds?" He said, "We can do that ourselves now." Access is limited and formulaic. There's so much on TV -- there will come a point where we won't have any more access than the fans. The business model of NBA TV and nba.com and NFL TV and nfl.com is to eliminate the middle man - we are the middle man - and to provide access directly to fans.

Q. Is traditional print media going the way of the blacksmith?

A. I think that's right. NBA TV came in last fall to cover the Nuggets training camp -- it was going live on-air from camp. Nuggets practices have been closed to reporters for nine years -- if I went to practice as a reporter I would sit outside the door until 15 minutes remained and they would let us in. If I stayed home and watched on NBA TV I could watch the whole thing -- fans had more access than reporters -- that's the way it's going. We will eventually be in the role of a blogger. We'll do analysis and commentary but in terms of information we won't have more.