Participation and interaction play an important role in sport journalism – but in the future, will the corporate journalism of clubs and federations dominate?

Professor Thomas Horky

Posted: June 18, 2014

Sport journalism is in some way different to other parts of journalism. Sport journalism is more emotional, faster, more biased, more merged with forms of advertisement and public relations – all that seems to be clear and could be seen in the coverage of the Football World Cup in Brazil every day. But for a long time sport journalism was also more innovative, perhaps a little more experimental than journalism about politics, business or arts. Sport journalism and the Football World Cup as a motor for innovation of media? A driver of the journalistic development?

A first clarification of facts will give a historical view: Very early the technic of TV was affected by sports, as examples could be seen the introduction of slow motion in the 60’s or new cameras like the sky cam or mobile cams. Instead of that in Germany until the 70’s sport journalism was seen most of all as “the fifth wheel” or the odd one out of journalism, sport journalists count as the “outsider of the editorial department” – this was the title of the PhD thesis of well known German professor of journalism Siegfried Weischenberg (1976). Starting with the going-private of broadcasting companies in Germany mid of the 80’s and the growing skirmish for broadcasting rights of sports especially the German Bundesliga as a fuel for the program this tendency dramatically changed.

Sport journalists developed in the editorial departments „from outsiders to climbers“, written as a PhD by the later on sport journalist Felix Görner (1995). Special cams catch extremely emotional pictures in super-slow motion, extensive feeds of live coverage are boosted by experts and extensive discussions, in Germany on Saturdays the old fashioned summary of the Bundesliga  on public TV moved on to a highly attractive Football show on private TV stations. These patterns of presentation of sports were a role model for many other departments: „TV sports show from Iraq“, wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung during the war in Baghdad 2003, when CNN and German public TV stations staged war coverage as a Bundesliga show.

Proofs for adoption and expansion of patterns for the staging of sports can be found everywhere – but, how innovative is sports journalism nowadays? If you look at the World Cup 2014 in Brazil and its presentation and staging in German TV you could see new formats, new forms of coverage and merging of communication channels which stand for new developments and will have a huge impact on other departments in the future. I will summarize some examples:

–          Live-News-Feeds: Whether the conflict in the Ukraine, the process of German manager Uli Hoeneß, the horrible accident of Formula 1-hero Michael Schumacher or the election of a new pope, no event will not be covered with a live news feed in media. This journalistic element is formed by up-to-date coverage of Football matches, seen every day now at the World Cup. Online news outlets use this possibility to bind users to the site and to extend their length of stay on the site. Beside some journalistic questionable offers one could find live news feeds with high quality combined with graphic elements and statistical information.

–          Public Viewing: 2002 in Japan and South Korea was the starting point for collaborative public use of TV coverage at big Football tournaments called public viewing. 2006 in Germany up to 15 million people watched matches of the German team in big crowds in front of big screens, in bars or other forms of public TV. In Brazil 2014 the World Cup organizers have to build up so called FIFA-Fan-Fests, in Germany more than 500,000 people are expected at the official World Cup fan mile in Berlin. Public viewing is a form of media use which spread out to other broadcasts like well known detective stories (“Tatort”) too.

–          Data driven journalism: The journalistic use of numbers, data and statistics is known since many years in sport, one could say sport journalism is build up on the usage of results for journalistic coverage. In Germany the „ran-Datenbank“ of private TV station SAT.1 could be seen as the prototype of modern data driven journalism. This World Cup in Brazil is kind of a starting point for data driven sport journalism on nearly every platform, not only more international media outlets like Guardian or New York Times as in 2010, even German outlets like Süddeutsche Zeitung filled up its coverage with illustrated data.

–          Social Viewing: Commenting of events by user on platforms via social media, most of all on Twitter, has grown to enormous dimensions. Social screening, a second TV channel especially on mobile devices, has been build up at sport competitions some times as a form of marketing. During the World Cup 2014 there are several tips to the public given by moderators in traditional TV to use social media outlets of the TV station to watch scenes on up to 19 different cams, to give ideas as a form of crowdsourcing (questions for interviews) or just inserts of interesting and often funny tweets inside the broadcast.

–          Social Media/Mobile Media: No program drives the development of offers and applications for mobile devices and formats of social media as strong as sport. Related to the World Cup 2014 in Germany we see interesting journalistic offers like the „Web-Tribune“  of public TV station ZDF or applications of the ARD and the biggest online news outlet Spiegel Online.

–          Broadcasting formats without license rights: The distribution of license rights lead to some broadcasts in free TV without any pictures of the match and further on in sport journalism to new broadcasting formats and contents. In Germany the broadcast of Sport.1 about the Champions League without the right to send any pictures of the on-going live match („Mobilat Fantalk XXL“) can be called kind of funny , other Fantalk- or comedy-formats are content and part of the official program of sport broadcasts of public TV.

This small compilation of innovative formats of sport journalism cannot be called complete and changes very fast. Most of all the impact of the public, the interaction with user seems to be a new driver of innovation – in that view sport have a leading role with its emotional participation and high up-to-dateness. An additional factor is the distribution of license rights, which initiates new formats and forced creativity of journalistic offers.

This situation of broadcasting of relevant events without possibilities to work completely as an independent sport journalist because of accreditation, license rights or „mixed zone-journalism“ will have a huge impact on the future too. More and more corporate journalism of club owned media forms the patterns of sport in the public: TV-broadcasts of the clubs, professionally produced by former traditional journalists like the YouTube-channel „“, accounts on Twitter of players and clubs that are done by professional companies or club-owned audio-streams („BVB-Netradio“) seem to grow very fast. Concerning the financial problems of traditional media, they could be the communication format of the future. In other countries like England with its Premier League and clubs like Manchester United and Manchester City the development seems to be farther than in Germany. When you look at the World Cup 2014 you have to notice that FIFA itself as well as the teams and most of all national federations are working like their own media outlets doing professional journalistic work and dealing with several accounts on social media.

So sport is furthermore a driver of future journalism and initiates new formats and offers – but if this development is really an innovation of journalism this has to be discussed furthermore.

About Professor Thomas Horky

Dr. Thomas Horky is a Professor for Sports Journalism at the Macromedia University of applied Sciences in Hamburg. After studying sports science, journalism and linguistics he worked as a trainee journalist for the German press agency dpa and freelance journalist. He was research assistant at the Department of Sports science at the University of Hamburg and the Hamburg Institute of Sports Journalism as well as a lecturer at the Institute of Sports Journalism at the German Sports University in Cologne. The Head of Media School at Macromedia in Hamburg is member of the editorial board of some international journals. His main research projects are quality of journalism, mediasport and staging and sports journalism and entertainment. He wrote several international contributions concerning sports and media, some books and is the editor of the book-series „Sportkommunikation” and „Sport & Kommunikation”.