Going beyond the games

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Penn State. Manti Te’o. Star coaches. Programmed players. Twitter. Being first and being right.
It turns out the people who report sports news have a lot more on their minds than scores and stats.
The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association wrapped up its annual awards weekend Monday night here in Salisbury. While the weekend always has a celebratory air — it’s sports reporters’ rare opportunity to receive more bravos than brickbats — an opening panel discussion touched on some of the serious issues shaping the world of sports and sports reporting.
The NSSA members are troubled by the blurring of the line between news and entertainment, even as they participate in it. The story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his fake girlfriend served as Exhibit A of non-news — total voyeurism and a “classic People magazine story,” according to Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan. Contrast that to the child abuse sex scandal at Penn State, one of the most important college sports stories of all time, because of the social ramifications.
Critical issues like that don’t lend themselves to 140-character snippets on Twitter or the race to break stories first. But the pressure to be quick increases even as the news becomes more complex. Reporters who rushed to report unconfirmed details after the Boston Marathon bombing spread misinformation that hurt the journalism profession, many have said. It’s better to be right than to be first, the panelists agreed. Outside of the newsroom, nobody cares who got the scoop. But they’ll continue striving to be right and first.
And they’ll continue to seek interviews with unavailable college coaches, meaningful comments from players and actual information from sports information directors.
When Salisbury restaurant owner Pete DiMizio started the NSSA in 1959, ESPN was not even a glimmer of a twinkle in anyone’s eye. But sports was DiMizio’s love, and his idea to honor the people who report it stuck. DiMizio would never have imagined that the sports industry and the sports-reporting business would become as huge as they are today.
Yet sportscasters and sportswriters continue to travel to Salisbury from all over the country each year to recognize state and national winners, honor Hall of Fame inductees and enjoy rare time together. The announcement Monday night that Catawba College will provide a home for NSSA and offer a sports communication major further strengthens the bond. Sports may be a matter of games and matches, but to these professionals and many others, it’s serious business. Congratulations to this year’s winners. We hope to see a lot more of you.