Media leaders discuss sports journalism trends at Medill panel

Skylar Zhang/The Daily Northwestern

Athletic director Jim Phillips introduced the panel of five leading journalists who discussed recent trends in sports journalism in the McCormick Tribune Center Thursday.

Tal Axelrod, Reporter
February 7, 2013 •

As sports journalism becomes more prominent in society, leading sports journalists are questioning their role because of an increased ability to find information online and decreased access to athletes.

Thursday’s panel, “Beyond the Box Score: Storytelling in Sports,” featured Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrmann, CNN contributor and ESPN columnist LZ Granderson, ESPNChicago.com columnist Melissa Isaacson and ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap. Jonathan Eig, editor in chief and co-founder of the online sports magazine ChicagoSide, moderated the event, which drew about 100 people to the McCormick Tribune Center forum.

The panelists focused on how sports journalism is changing, the current credibility of sports media and their past experiences, which included one-on-one chats with Michael Jordan.

“Sports journalism is exploding right now, at a time when so much of journalism is shriveling, even dying,” Eig (Medill ‘86) said.

He did admit, however, that sports journalists might have missed a few beats recently, in light of the controversy surrounding the Te’o hoax and the coverup of child abuse at Penn State. The prospect of sports journalists “blowing it” was a big topic at the panel.

“We’ve seen some terribly embarrassing moments that really reflect some of the principles of journalism being abandoned,” he said.

However, Granderson said the scandals represent the overall greater scrutiny on the media in an era where readers can instantly fact check stories themselves on the Internet.

“I think that what’s happening is that people are paying attention to the gap in media, and right now that gap is being focused on sports media,” he said.

Isaacson did not go so far as to say sports journalists have dropped the ball, but he did point out some imperfections, including a lack of original reporting and accountability. Schaap warned that sports journalists need to be careful about being “too deferential” by not digging further into investigative stories.

Another topic discussed at length was the current standing of sports journalism in society.

Isaacson said it is becoming harder and harder to be a sports journalist because the industry is “all about relationships,” yet at the same time athletes are becoming more estranged from journalists.

“Along the way, we’ve become the enemy,” she said.

Medill senior Zach Wichter said he was especially interested in the event because he personally knew LZ Granderson from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He said the event posed relevant questions about issues facing sports journalists today.

“The discussion of how journalism fits into sports media is a really interesting question, and I think it was well handled,” Wichter said.

The event drew many student attendees, both aspiring sports journalists and students interested in sports. Weinberg senior Spencer Jackman said he was looking forward to seeing the panelists in the flesh.

“I read these journalists,” he said. “I read their work. So I thought it would be interesting to hear what their perspective is somewhat off the record.”

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