Ethics and Sport Media
The enormous power and reach of the media make it especially important to consider well the ethical standards to which the profession aspires on a daily basis. To that end, every reporter for a major newspaper, radio station, or television network has studied those standards and been briefed on them in corporate meetings. The ascendance of new media, however, has brought with it substantial concern about media ethics. Specifically, what ethical responsibility do bloggers and other members of the new media bear in the world of 21st-century sport? Do new media operators have an obligation to host commentators who don’t hide behind anonymous noms de plume on the web? Do the dynamics of the web encourage irresponsible posting of gossip on some sport sites?
Truth is a major foundation of all responsible media. Readers, listeners, and viewers must be able to rely on what they read and hear from the media. The media must also demonstrate that they are responsible enough to get the story right. Accuracy involves making that extra phone call, checking that final time with a source, and spending that extra time in the library to understand the industry, team, league, or company that the reporter is covering. Most codes of ethics published by newspapers, radio stations, and television networks call for their employees to stay away from reporting on people or issues where they have too much personal interest at stake. They are also urged not to accept lavish gifts from, say, the owner of the local professional sport team, since doing so could compromise (or be seen as compromising) their ability to function as an independent reporter rather than being a booster of a particular athlete, team, or coach.
A reporter who gets too close to a coach or athlete may find his or her independence tested. For example, if an athlete or coach gets into trouble with the law in the United States, he or she has the same presumption of innocence that all American citizens are guaranteed. On the other hand, it is also possible that the accused person is guilty, but what if the sports reporter has grown too close to the player or coach? Members of the public depend on the media to gather information that they themselves don’t have the ability to find, and the building blocks for a great story are still the basic questions of journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how? If members of the public see that these questions are not being asked, they lose trust in the media. They also question the media’s credibility if they get a sense of piling on in the reporting of a story. Such perceptions can hinge not only on what is reported but also what is left out, which sometimes serves as a subtle indication of bias.
The new media of bloggers, tweeters, podcasters, and Facebook posters will and should be judged according to the same measuring sticks used for traditional media. A blogger, for instance, must check facts. More broadly, when reporters or sport management professionals tweet, post to Facebook, or otherwise post online, they are publishing information. And when they do so, they have satisfied one of the requirements of a defamation charge. Sport management professionals simply must ensure that the information they post online or produce in print is accurate. Indeed, tweets and Facebook entries are in some ways more permanent than a newspaper story. A newspaper publisher prints only so many newspapers, and they are usually available only in a limited geographic area. In contrast, a Facebook post or a tweet can be read anywhere in the world, and that should give the writer pause. Moreover, a blogger’s audience is just as human as the readership of the newspaper reporter who writes for the local daily, and words can damage reputations, feelings, and job prospects.
Many resources publish discussions about ethical issues in journalism—for example, Broadcasting & Cable and the Columbia Journalism Review. Many newspapers and television networks also publish their own code of ethics on their website.