In light of this summer's many scandals - Michael Vick, Tim Donaghy, the Tour de France - a CBC Radio show invited a sports reporter to take calls from listeners last week. Simon Dingley, who works for the CBC, used the opportunity to take several shots at his profession.
He began by telling how a prominent NHL agent took several members of the hockey media on a junket to Scotland a few years ago, all expenses paid. Of course, the hopeless conflict of interest got no mention in any of their stories. “If you want to be taken seriously as a reporter, you can’t be taking gifts from the people you cover,” says Dingley.
But the more typical problem is the cozy day-to-day relationship between team and reporter. “Many sports media… particularly TV and radio, don’t really question the athletes too hard, because they fear being turned down for future interviews," says Dingley. "They’ll often ask softball questions that, quite frankly, news reporters would be embarrassed to ask.”
It's worse than that, suggests William Houston at Globeandmail.com: "in some cases, it is also about wanting to be an athlete's friend (which isn't going to happen) and trepidation over inciting an unfriendly reaction."
Avoiding conflicts of interest, keeping a professional distance, asking the impolite but necessary question - they teach this stuff in Journalism 101. But it seems the butt-kissers and toadies - the "jock sniffers" as they're known - remain a fixture of the press box.
Of course, there are plenty of irresponsible bloggers too. But the same standards don't apply. Sports blogging isn't a profession. It's the unfiltered, unedited, happily biased voice of the fan. It's great, and it improves the media landscape. But it's not journalism.
Until mid-September you can find the entire phone-in show archived at the "Ontario Today" website, under the heading "Sports Scandal Phone-In."
Photo: Ryan Smyth meets the press (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)