Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Survey says...

I recently read about a survey done by the College of Communications at Penn State University on the ethics involved in sports writing. And let's not have any smart remarks that it was an extremely brief paper. Being the inquisitive type, as the title of the blog says, I wrote Penn State to get a copy of the results. It's interesting stuff.

The survey authors surveyed 285 sports journalists across the country. More than 91 percent were male, 85 percent were white, 91 percent were college graduates, and almost 96 percent were full-time sports journalists. That sounds about right, based on personal observation.

In terms of career conditions and outlook, about 39 percent of sports writers say they have been threatened with violence by athletes, coaches or fans. Well, John Muckler once shook his finger at me, but otherwise I think I've been lucky. About 53 percent have considered quitting the job, which sounds low if anything to me. About 94 percent say they are satisfied with their job, which seems something of a contradiction to the previous answer. And almost 75 percent say they have a good job future; those people must not have looked at the business climate in journalism these days.

Next up is the conflict of interest behaviors, as it is called the survey results. A total of 11.6 percent say they have given free tickets to friends. I was a little surprised by that; most sports organizations don't even ask that question any more. More of a surprise was the fact that 26.3 percent of respondants got free tickets for their supervisor. I could argue that it's good that the sports editor attend events when possible; it's always nice to be on the scene. But that should be in the form of a press pass and not tickets (and note the plural form, ndicating "company.")

For the record, we have a policy of not accepting anything of value. So a box of popcorn at HSBC Arena is OK, which may tell you something about its taste. However, I have turned down all offers of free entries to area running races, which usually go for about $20 each.

Now comes the most surprising part. Care to guess what percentage of sportswriters gamble on sporting events? Try 41.1 percent. Breaking it down a little more, 4.6 percent of sportswriters say they gamble on sports that they cover. I'm not sure that covers fantasy sports, but my guess would be that it doesn't.

Statistically speaking then, if you see 21 sportswriters covering a particular game, the odds are pretty good that one of them has bet on the contest you both are watching. And remember that hardly anyone is covering horse racing regularly these days, where betting is legal and predictions of winners are more or less expected and frequently followed by trips to the betting window.

Here's one last survey result. Respondants were asked to grade from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree) on the statement, "If I were to gamble on a team or sport that I was covering, I think it would have an effect on my ability to cover that team or sport objectively." The median score was 3.45. That sure sounds like some writers are going to be angry if the team they bet on loses, no matter what the actual outcome is. As in "That last-second field goal cost me $500, so I'm not going to make him sound like a hero."

My guess is that the industry may have to be a bit more vigilant on this issue. But I wouldn't bet on it.

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