The field of sports journalism is as unpredictable as Lou Piniella after a bad call at the plate. In fact, sports journalists can sometimes face a superstar interviewee who will either (a) echo a slew of monosyllabic responses, (b) regurgitate safe and expected answers or (c) formulate a few surprising and well-expressed ideas.
As such, Concordia’s fourth annual Workshop in Sports Journalism and Broadcasting took place this past Saturday and tackled the often subjective nature of the beast known as sports writing.
“It’s very nice to have the means with which to invite people from across the country to Concordia and bring together scholars and journalists to have a conversation,” said Journalism Program Director Mike Gasher.
Organized in collaboration with Rogers Sportsnet, the day’s theme was “Sports as a Media Spectacle”, and while conversations touched upon various themes, they constantly returned to the fast-approaching 2010 Vancouver Olympic games.
Panelists ranged from Sportsnet anchor Rob Faulds to University of Alberta professor David Whitson, as well as Montreal’s own Pat Hickey, a sports columnist at the Montreal Gazette, a clear audience favourite.
Hickey explained that after being in the business for so many years, he could describe how sports, and the spectacle of sport, have changed over time.
“Everything has become bigger and more spectacular,” he said. “We’ve allowed sports to become such a huge part of our lives.”
Hickey started covering the Olympics in 1976, and his last games were in 1996 in Atlanta. Due to increased logistics and security concerns, reporters can no longer go right up to athletes during the Olympics as once was possible, he explained.
“You don’t actually get to talk to the athletes themselves,” Hickey said. “As the spectacle gets bigger, these events are becoming more and more difficult to cover.”
Vancouver Province journalist Kent Gilchrist agreed. “The media has a partnership with big events like the Olympics. And there’s nothing that could happen that’s going to change that,” Gilchrist said.
While there is often a lack of critical coverage when covering these sporting events, if you’re going to find any, it’s going to be in newspapers, Gilchrist explained.
“There’s still more critical coverage in the newspaper than you’re going to find in television or the radio,” he said.
Despite this, the spectacle of sport is still present on television, as part-time Concordia professor and Montreal director, writer and researcher Bob Babinski described.
“For me, a great TV spectacle is one that provides a great moment, and it’s that moment that becomes etched in our collective psyche,” he said.
Babinski explained the importance of the main characters in sports as being the links the audience can relate to, and it is these characters the fans will rejoice or cry alongside.
“Characters have to perform something unusual or produce an unusual result through their actions,” he added. As such, Babinski presented an excerpt of the documentary When We Were Kings, which showcases Muhammad Ali’s famous “rumble in the jungle” against George Foreman.
With that, Babinski showed that sports can truly tell a story, and can not only entertain the audience, but incite them in discussion and an exchange of ideas.
“It’s refreshing to hear both sides of discussion in regards to the issues we’ve presented so far,” Dave Rashford, Rogers Sportsnet’s director of communication and promotions concluded. “Once again, Mike Gasher and the group here at Concordia have done a great job.”