Sourcing, Viewpoints and Stakeholders in Sports Reporting
One way to assess the quality of journalism is to look at sourcing. Specifically, the critical questions are how transparent is the sourcing, how deep is the sourcing, and what is the range of views offered in the story?
To better understand sourcing, we took several steps. First, we looked at how transparent the sourcing was—has the story identified the source and its relationship to the story. Next, we looked at the story’s source depth, or how many identifiable sources the story contained. Thirdly, we measured the number of viewpoints in the story. And finally we looked at the number of stakeholders—groups or individuals with a particular interest in the story—that the reporter consulted.
Withholding columns, sports news stories were less likely than those from other sections of the newspaper to contain the highest level of sourcing. Just 39% of sports news stories had the highest level of transparency—four or more sources. Meanwhile, 64% of all A1 stories and 46% of the Metro front-page news stories used four or more sources. (1) Again, this may have something to do with how sports are covered in the newspaper. Sporting events may be contests, but the results are not often contested. Sources in stories like game recaps are generally used to punctuate points and drive home the thrust of the writer’s piece, not raise issues.
Sports news stories were also much more likely than all A1 stories to contain no fully identified sources – though they were slightly less likely than Metro front-page stories to do so. About 8% of sports news stories contained no fully identified sources. That’s four times as many A1 stories (2%) but again, less than Metro front-page stories (9%).
Sports opinion columns reflected the general nature of opinion columns: only 15% used four or more sources and 17% did not contain any sources.
The shorter length of stories may offer some explanation for having fewer fully identifiable sources but not the lack of any. Very few sports stories were more than a 1,000 words. Only 11% were in that range, compared to 35% from A1, and 13% of Metro. However, it is more likely that the non-controversial, homer attitude is the critical factor.
Number of Viewpoints in Sports Stories
We also looked at the range of views offered in the sports stories we studied. Overall, sports news articles are overwhelmingly one-sided. Only 13% of sports news stories used a mix of opinions, compared to 61% of all A1 stories and 44% of Metro front-page news stories. Perhaps the low percentage of stories with a mix of opinions can be explained by the finding that eight in ten (80%) sports news stories were defined as “non-controversial” in nature – stories that did not move beyond a basic recitation of what happened. These stories could still hold opinion, but did not delve into debates over why something occurred. Comparatively, just 18% of all A1 stories and 31% of front-page Metro news articles could be considered non-controversial.[Not surprisingly, sports columns were even more likely to be one-sided. Just 12% of sports columns presented a mix of opinions and a quarter was of mostly one opinion (6%) or all of one opinion (19%).]
Number of Stakeholders
Finally, the study analyzed the stories in terms of the number of stakeholders represented. Stakeholders are different from viewpoints in that different groups of stakeholders might have the same opinion on a particular subject though they arrived at that opinion from a different starting place. For example, teachers and students might agree on a particular controversial issue though they are obviously stakeholders with different interests.
In general, there is less depth in terms of the number of stakeholders sports reporters use when we compare them to A1 stories and front-page Metro news articles. Nearly six in ten (60%) sports stories included two to three stakeholders. However, only 28% had four or more. This is significantly less than all A1 stories (54%) and slightly fewer than front-page Metro news stories (33%) that had at least four stakeholders.
(1) When we looked at the sourcing for front-page sports and Metro stories, we removed all opinion columns. For A1 stories, totals will include both news stories and opinion columns since there were so few opinion columns on A1 – less than 1 percent of all stories.