16 June 2017: It’s one of the plum gigs in journalism, but even sports reporting isn’t immune to the increasing influence of social media in newsrooms around the world.
The rise of a variety of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter has changed the way journalists work and sports reporters are no exception.
Long envied for getting paid to watch fixtures and mix with elite athletes and coaches, sports writers are now being forced to change the way they operate to remain relevant.
University of Canberra Assistant Professor of Sports Management Olan Scott, who has been researching the impact of social media on the sports industry, said the traditional gatekeeper role of the sports journalist has diminished.
“In the past, journalists would invest a lot of time building relationships with various teams, officials and players to gather information from these sources,” Dr Scott said.
“Now any information the clubs or athletes want their fans to know can be delivered to them via social media.
Dr Scott recently spoke about sportspeople and social media on ABC Radio Canberra, alongside former University of Canberra Capitals star Carly Wilson, and ABC sports journalist and commentator Tim Gavel.
“It builds a two-way relationship between fans and the sportspeople they follow, and that can lead to better ticket or merchandise sales. It can also expose athletes to more people, which may elicit more lucrative sponsorship deals.”
Dr Scott argued sports reporters must re-examine their role as a result of the digital revolution.
As part of his research, he has analysed the way sports journalists in China are using social media as a tool. He said a lot of the challenges faced by Chinese writers were similar to the issues facing journalists in Australia.
“Western Social media platforms are restricted in China, but as a country it still has the highest number of internet users in the world and its local social platforms, Weibo and WeChat, rank well in the top 10 for number of users,” he said.
“Some of the journalists who participated in the research told me they’ve even been directed by teams and athletes to get their information from the social media feed, rather than trying to schedule an interview.”
The adoption of social media is a reflection of the changing nature of the sports industry and the increasing need to convert fans into paying members and spectators rather than just casual consumers.
Dr Scott said when teams and players can engage directly with fans it increases their emotional investment in the club and also has the potential to boost their financial investment.
“Accessing your main supporter base directly cuts out the sports reporter ‘gatekeepers’, it short circuits their entire role,” he said.
“As in China, Australian reporters have to adapt to this disruptive technology. They need to be willing to analyse or critique team or player performances, which the club or athlete may be less likely to do themselves.
“It is crucial sports reporters draw on their accumulated knowledge to avoid the risk of becoming obsolete.”