"It needs to be less dog bites man, more man bites dog" is an oft quoted statement in editorial meetings when a news story is pitched. As journalists we are trained to discover the extraordinary, exceptional and unbelievable and bring the story to the attention of our consumers. A good journalist is discerning and thorough and as a result a number of these to good to be true "man bites dog" stories prove to be just false. A good journalist will either right a short piece explaining the confusion or decide that editorially the piece isn’t worth their time and move on. Both are acceptable courses of action, what isn’t acceptable is the lazy journalism that all to often appears when sport enters the realm of news.
I’ll use two recent examples to highlight my point. The NFL, a league I follow closely, has understandably faced criticism for the poor way it dealt with the spate of domestic assault cases amongst it’s players, has also faced unwarranted and widespread criticism over a separate incident that entered the public spectrum after poor journalism intervened. The headline reported throughout the world on the bbc, independent and daily mail amongst others suggested that Kansas City Chiefs player Hussain Abdullah had received a penalty for praying to Allah. Articles were written suggesting that the league had discriminated against Abdullah and his faith as the league rolled into another crisis. On the face of it this was pretty shocking. However, a quick chat with the league or at consultation with the league’s rulebook would reveal that Abdullah was in fact penalised for “going to ground in celebration”. The rule is universally enforced and is very similar to the penalty applied in football for players removing their shirts, none of this was referenced in any article and instead the league were forced into a bumbling apology. I think the penalty is a nonsense whenever it’s applied but the suggestion that the refereeing crew were inherently racist for applying it was atrocious journalism.
On a similar note the coverage of Jules Bianchi’s horrendous crash has at times left me open mouthed in horror. I’ve seen several articles today that claim formula one has effectively become complacent because nobody had died in the sport since Ayrton Senna in 1994 and that safety was no longer a priority. This was idiocy of the highest order and again easily disproven. The race, a wet one, began under a safety car, a recent alteration to proceedings that first occurred in 1997, in order to ensure drivers were safe. Two laps into the race the conditions were deemed unsafe and the race was suspended. When the race restarted, again under the safety car, a number of drivers were heard calling for racing to begin via race radio as the conditions were drastically better. Bianchi’s accident occurred during a late downpour after he slid into a tractor removing the car of fellow driver Adrian Sutil. Which resulted in a third safety car and a decision to abandon the race.
Driver’s safety was paramount in all the decisions made on the day, safety technology including the HANS device (introduced in 2005) that reduces whiplash like injuries and stronger helmets (2011) will have protected Jules in his crash and the majority of the drivers including the too three supported the decisions made on race day yet some seem determined to pin the blame on someone.
Certainly a large industrial vehicle on track poses risks to drivers and I’d imagine rule and procedural changes are inevitable but it’s unfair to criticise f1 for this particular oversight given that formula one has placed safety over spectacle and aesthetics as recently as 2013 with the reprofiling of nose sections.
As I briefly alluded to earlier, sport has a role to play in the news under certain circumstances and can be covered extremely well if the same journalistic standards for other news are applied. Make sure you meet them when you cover sport in your publication or broadcast