By Professor Raymond Boyle
A major sporting transfer has taken place and for once a Premiership club wasnâ€™t involved. The new year will see the distinguished sports journalist Mihir Bose leave the Daily Telegraph after 12 years to join the BBC as its first sports editor.
This post has been specifically created to strengthen the journalistic engagement the corporation has with the seemingly ever expanding world of sport. The BBC hopes that a heavy-hitting sports editor will add weight and impact to their sports journalism across all their platforms, from television to the web.
Bringing a rigorous journalistic enquiry to the BBC’s coverage of sport marks a step change in how broadcasters, and television in particular, deal with sport. It will be a difficult beat, as Bose (pictured left, at work with Lord Coe) will be working for both BBC News and BBC Sport. The later has historically viewed sport as purely entertainment, while the former has never really seen sport as a journalistic priority. Indeed, broadcasters in general have a less than glorious tradition in bringing investigative journalism to their sports coverage.
And don’t just take my word for it.
Greg Dyke, the former Director General of the BBC, writing in 2004 argued that in the past, “television broadcasters traditionally avoid making controversial programmes about sport for obvious reasons. If you expose wrong doing or inefficiency in a sporting organisation they are unlikely to sell you the rights again”.
While from across the Irish Sea, sportswriter, political journalist and broadcaster Eamon Dunphy has suggested that journalists “can be inhibited if you are in a contractual arrangement with an organization. You do not hear the idiosyncratic voice on television as much a you ought to. Itâ€™s not cultivated. The media should be working for it readers and viewers, if that leads you into direct conflict with managers and players, then you have got to do that”.
While reporting on live sport is a form of broadcast journalism, over the years there has been a view that broadcast sport is above all a form of entertainment, and as a result not deemed worthy of the same level of scrutiny and rules of engagement as other areas of news.
So what has changed?
Well, sport has changed, and it has done so because of television. It is the media that now financially underwrites elite sport and has helped facilitate the vast amounts of both public and private money that flow through contemporary sports culture. This has resulted in an ever-closer relationship developing between broadcasting organisations in particular and the sports they cover, often with a shared vested interest in “selling the box office” side of sport to their audience. And this presents real challenges for broadcast journalists as they attempt to make sense of the expanded position of sport in our political, economic and cultural life.
It has also tended to be the print, rather than broadcast media, that has broken most of the big sports stories. These are then often picked up by other media, but one challenge for Bose will be to help the BBC to break more sports news stories.
In truth, investigative print sports journalism is often pretty limited because of the investment of resources and time required. The relentless television-driven nature of the all-year round global sports calendar means that there is always something new to move on to, without the need to dig beneath the veneer of contemporary sport.
In the broadcast sports journalism arena, the public service BBC is really the only game in town. ITV is obsessed with driving advertising and sponsorship revenue from its shrinking sports portfolio. The overtly commercially driven Sky continues to transform how sports look on television and does cover routine areas of sports news well, without ever fully committing to a journalism that digs below the corporate surface of sport.
So a window of opportunity opens for the BBC, if it is prepared to deal head on with the tensions that should arise from dealing with sport as both entertainment and as journalism within the one organisation.
Bose comes from the print media tradition that many still view as the “engine room” of sports journalism. He also has an award-winning background in business journalism and as an author has a broad range of interests in popular culture â€“ his most recent book was on the Bollywood film industry for example.
More than most he will be well versed in the arguments about the “toothless” nature of much sport broadcast journalism. It will be fascinating to see how he adapts and shifts the BBCâ€™s journalistic agenda around the reporting and engagement with sport over the coming months. Breaking stories and making sports-related news more central to mainstream BBC journalism will be two items in his in-tray.
I for one wish him well.
Professor Raymond Boyle (email@example.com) is author of Sports Journalism: Context and Issues (Sage: London) and from January will be taking up a post at the Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Glasgow
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